Friday, February 05, 2010

Bipartisan bill would cut sulfur, nitrogen and mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants

Climate-change legislation has been a hot topic in the Senate in recent weeks, but two senators filed a bill Thursday to reduce three chemicals other than carbon dioxide from the air. The bipartisan proposal from Delaware Democratic Sen. Tom Carper and Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander targets coal-fired power plants to cut soot-forming sulfur dioxide (SO2) by 80 percent by 2018, smog-forming oxides of nitrogen (NOx) by 53 percent by 2015 and mercury by 90 percent by 2015, Robin Bravender of Environment and Energy Daily reports.

"We have a number of different things to work out on carbon," Alexander told Bravender. "But there's no excuse for waiting a minute on SOx, NOx and mercury because we have the technology, we know what to do, and we shouldn't be operating coal plants without pollution control equipment." The new bill would codify the Clean Air Interstate Rule program through 2011 and then impose even stricter limits than the Bush-era program.

The bill is co-sponsored by South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham and Connecticut Independent Joe Lieberman, who are also working on a bipartisan climate-change and energy bill. "Environmental groups and utilities applauded the bipartisan bill, calling it a much-needed step forward to ensure emission reductions and regulatory certainty for the power sector," Bravender reports. But Republican Sens. Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma and George Voinovich of Ohio issued a statement saying they had "significant problems with key proposals of the Carper-Alexander legislation." (Read more)

Columnist: Rural youth should leave for a while

The rural brain drain has become a catch phrase to describe the outmigration of high-achieving rural youth, but one rural columnist has a different take. "The rural brain drain is the collective expression of thousands of individuals pursuing their best economic-development strategy.," freelance columnist Curtis Seltzer writes for "When the reasons that brought people to the countryside no longer exist, it will make economic sense for people to leave and force these communities to find a new — and, admittedly, often lower — level of sustainability."

Seltzer describes the phenomenon reported by Patrick J. Carr and Maria J. Kefalas in Hollowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brain Drain and What It Means for America as one of numbers, not quality. "My impression of watching local kids leave over more than 25 years doesn’t square with the finding of Carr and Kefalas," Seltzer writes. "Both stayers and leavers in this county of 2,500 are a cross-section of their group. All the best don’t leave, and all the worst don’t stay—the pattern that Carr and Kefalas report."

Seltzer uses his own daughter's experience in leaving a rural area to go to New York City for a job to reach a provocative conclusion. "I’ve come to believe that all rural kids should leave their hometowns for a while, whether or not they go to college," he writes. "They improve themselves when they function on their own in a broader world. They learn skills and develop networks. They rub intellectual and financial elbows with people unlike themselves. They return better able to make a living and a difference." (Read more)

Outbreak of horse ailment uncommon to U.S. traced to famous ranch in Texas

A famous South Texas ranch is the epicenter of a deadly horse disease with a 20 percent mortality rate. Through Jan. 20, "364 cases of equine piroplasmosis had been confirmed," Jaime Powell of the Scripps Howard News Service reports. "Of those, 289 are on the sprawling King Ranch." The World Animal Health Information System also reports cases in Indiana, Texas, Alabama, California, Florida, Louisiana, Minnesota, North Carolina, New Jersey, Tennessee, Utah and Wisconsin.

The Texas Animal Health Commission has identified the King Ranch, right, between Corpus Christi and Brownsville, as the source of the outbreak. The ranch has sold horses with equine piroplasmosis in 15 states since 2004. "Horses, donkeys, mules and zebras are susceptible to the disease, which is caused by two parasitic organisms," Powell writes. "More severely affected animals can have fever, anemia, jaundiced mucous membranes, swollen abdomens and labored breathing." (King Ranch map)

While the disease has a high mortality rate, no horses in Texas have died yet and the ranch's 300-plus horses have been quarantined. The case marks the first occurrence of piroplasmosis in Texas, Powell reports. The disease rarely appears in the U.S., but it is prevalent in 90 percent of the world and commonly found in Mexico. 1946 Triple Crown winner Assault and 1950 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes winner Middleground were bred at the 825,000-acre King Ranch. (Read more)

Wild hog proliferation reaches all but six states; hunting preserves may contribute to spread

Wild swine populations are spreading across the country at a record pace, with only six states remaining without documented herds. Researcher Jack Mayer, a wild-hog expert at the Savannah River National Laboratory in South Carolina, tells Isaac Wolf and Jason Bartz of the Scripps Howard News Service that the population has doubled in size and range over the last 20 years. In 1982 feral hogs were documented in 17 states; now all but six states have populations.

"Wildlife experts say the hogs, which can weigh as much as 500 to 750 pounds, are increasingly running roughshod in rural areas, suburbs and even a few cities, digging up cemeteries, gardens and lawns; causing car wrecks -- and occasionally attacking people," Wolf and Bartz write. Feral pigs cause an estimated $800 million in property and crop damage, and 27,000 auto collisions, and Mayer tells the reporters a federal intervention with enforcement of animal transportation laws is needed to solve the problem.

Much of the spread can be attributed to hunting. Swine are transported from "Southern states like Texas and Florida, where wild hogs have been documented in every county, into backwoods areas several states away where they are let loose on private land for hunters," the reporters write. The pigs that aren't killed by hunters ignore property lines and are prolific breeders. (Read more)

Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute, a fan of this topic, passes along several hog-reporting resources in his "Morning Meeting," including Scripps' state-by-state list of known populations.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Utah governor's office cashed coal company check on same day permit application was fast-tracked

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert's campaign aides cashed a $10,000 check from a coal company on the same day in September that he met with the company to hear complaints about delays in the permitting of a strip mine. State regulators at the meeting listened to Alton Coal Development LLC's pleas and "agreed to fast-track a decision approving the mine near Panguitch, despite opposition from residents," Paul Foy of The Associated Press reports.

Herbert's office told Foy the governor never ordered regulators to give their approval and didn't know about the company's donation. "The decision has some residents of the small tourist town about 200 miles south of Salt Lake City concerned," Foy writes. Environmental groups are claiming the strip mine would raise dust and foul air quality 10 miles from the Bryce Canyon National Park. "This mine will damage the pristine air and water quality and wildlife of the area, increase dangerous truck traffic and have negative impacts on tourism and the visitor experience at Bryce Canyon National Park," Clair Jones of the Utah Sierra Club, told Foy.

AP obtained a 33-page memo from the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining showing the result of the company's meeting with the governor was fast-tracking of a decision by regulators. While a Jan. 11 filing by Herbert's political action committee indicated that the coal company made its $10,00 donation on the same day it met with Herbert, spokeswoman Angie Welling told Foy the check actually arrived four days earlier and was deposited on the day of the meeting. (Read more)

ASARCO bankruptcy settlement will pay for 80 toxic-waste cleanups in up to 20 states

In December, the Justice Department announced the American Smelting and Refining Co. will pay a record $1.79 billion to settle claims for hazardous waste pollution at 80 sites in as many as 20 states. The ruling represents one of the largest environmental bankruptcies in U.S. history, John Burnett of National Public Radio reports. Cleanup at the copper smelter in El Paso, one of ASARCO's most notorious polluters, is scheduled to begin this year.

"A landmark study by the Centers for Disease Control in the early 1970s found that more than half of the children living within a mile of the smelter had levels of lead in their blood four times today's acceptable limit," Burnett reports. Children in Juarez, Mexico, just across the border, were found to have similar blood-lead levels. "We found in these children who seemed to be healthy that they had reduced IQ, slowing of their reflexes, impairment of their motor coordination," Dr. Philip Landrigan, the epidemiologist who led the research nearly 40 years ago, told Burnett. "This was one of the very first demonstrations that lead could cause toxicity on the human brain in children who appeared to have no symptoms." (Read more)

ASARCO toxic industrial sites in Tacoma, Wash., and Omaha, Neb., have been reused for condos, office buildings and a convention center after cleaning. Approximately $1 billion of the settlement goes to the Environmental Protection Agency for cleanup of 26 Superfund sites. Of that $1 billion, $436 million was a cash payment toward future cleanup costs at the Bunker Hill & Metallurgical Complex site in Idaho, the largest "cashout" amount ever for the Superfund enforcement program, EPA reported in a news release.

Study: Climate change will dry up prairie wetlands

A new study reveals the prairie wetlands in the Upper Midwest's "Pothole Prairie" region may be more sensitive to global warming that previously thought, and climate change there could affect millions of waterfowl that depend on the region for food, shelter and raising their young.

The study, published in the research journal BioScience, used a new wetland model that projected major reductions in water volume, shortening of the time water remains in wetlands and changes to wetland vegetation dynamics, Newswise reports. "The impact to the millions of wetlands that attract countless ducks to these breeding grounds in spring makes it difficult to imagine how to maintain today’s level of waterfowl populations in altered climate conditions," Dr. Glenn Guntenspergen, a U.S. Geological Survey researcher and one of the authors, said in a news release. "Parents may not have time to raise their young to where they can fly because of wetlands drying up too quickly in the warming climate of the future." Many wetland species require a minimum time in water to complete their life cycles.

"Unfortunately, the model simulations show that under forecasted climate-change scenarios for this region (an increase of 4 degrees Celsius), the western prairie potholes will be too dry and the eastern ones will have too few functional wetlands and nesting habitat to support historical levels of waterfowl and other wetland-dependent species," Dr. W. Carter Johnson, another study author and a researcher at South Dakota State University, said in the release. (Read more)

Obama publicly acknowledges that Senate may pass energy bill without cap-and-trade system

Last week we reported rumors of the growing chance of Congress moving ahead with a climate bill without a system for capping and trading greenhouse-gas emissions. Yesterday President Obama publicly voiced that possibility for the first time. "We may be able to separate these things out," Obama said at town-hall meeting in Nashua, N.H. "And it's conceivable that that's where the Senate ends up. But the concept of incentivizing clean energy so that it's the cheaper, more effective kind of energy is one that is proven to work, and is actually a market-based approach."

"I think cap and trade has a long road here obviously," New Hampshire Republican Sen. Judd Gregg told Darren Samuelsohn of ClimateWire and The New York Times. "There's a lot of good initiatives on energy policy that are on a shorter track and will hopefully be pursued aggressively." North Dakota Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan told Samuelsohn he wants the Senate to pass the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee bill, which would establish a nationwide renewable electricity standard along with a host of other energy incentives.

Obama told the crowd his energy agenda is centered on promoting energy efficiency and clean technologies, including renewables, nuclear power and carbon capture and storage at coal-fired power plants. He said going for an energy bill alone is like saying, "let's do the fun stuff before we do the hard stuff." A White House spokesman told Samuelsohn Obama's comments were simply observationsabout the Senate debate, and his views about comprehensive energy and climate-change legislation were made clear in last week's State of the Union address. Advocates of a broad Senate climate bill "were quick to downplay the president's remarks," Samuelsohn reports. (Read more)

Betting on the come, feds say corn ethanol can be produced with a smaller carbon footprint, so is OK

The Obama administration yesterday unveiled a broad new vision of biofuels development to meet the mandate for 36 billion gallons of biofuels by 2022. Chief among the new strategies is a change of opinion from the Environmental Protection Agency that the corn-based ethanol and soy-diesel industries can have a carbon footprint small enough to be part of the plan, Jessica Leber of Environment and Energy Daily reports. Most of the current 12-billion-gallon biofuel supply comes from corn ethanol, but Leber writes, "much of the remaining mandate will be met by cellulosic fuels that have a smaller carbon footprint and aren't made with food or feed grains."

Biofuel companies were relieved by the long-delayed regulations, which provide some stability for the industry. "Still, the controversial regulation drew simultaneous praise and criticism from special interests on all sides of the issue, from the biofuels industry itself and from environmental groups," Leber writes.

Some environmentalists questioned EPA's decision to include corn ethanol because it relied on improvements in the industry to mitigate water, land and carbon impacts that are not yet in place. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson defended the decision, saying it came after EPA "revised models to incorporate updated crop yield estimates and the use of animal feed co-products" to calculate the carbon footprint, Leber writes.

EPA also included "120 additional countries in their estimates of the international carbon emissions spurred by an expanded domestic ethanol market," Leber reports. Environmentalists want the footprint calculation to include estimates of indirect emissions, caused when farmers abroad clear forests to plant grain, but some in Congress say they will keep fighting the idea. "To think that we can credibly measure the impact of international indirect land use is completely unrealistic, and I will continue to push for legislation that prevents unreliable methods and unfair standards from burdening the biofuels industry," said House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., who this week introduced a bill to that effect. (Read more)

Ken Anderson of Brownfield Network, citing the Nebraska Corn Board, says "EPA estimated that corn-based ethanol reduces greenhouse gases 21 percent over gasoline. Without that penalty, corn ethanol would achieve a 52 percent reduction rating." The board applauded EPA's higher rating for distillers' grains, the leftover feedstock that is fed to animals. (Read more)

Weekly papers decry proposed Postal Service rule

A proposed U.S. Postal Service rule may be the last straw for some weekly newspapers that depend on the mail to reach most of their readers, the editor-publisher of a crusading weekly in the Texas Panhandle wrote in a letter reprinted in this month's newsletter of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors.

"Our number will surely be smaller" because most papers will fail the "droop test," in which a paper is dangled from a flat surface, writes Laurie Ezzell Brown, left, of The Canadian Record. The old rule allowed a paper to droop four inches and still qualify for discount mailing rate; under the proposed rule, if a paper droops more than three inches, its rates will go up 54 to 78 percent, according to the National Newspaper Association, the main lobbying group for weeklies. "NNA hasn’t seen any evidence than one inch of ‘droop’ more or less is going to affect handling costs one iota," NNA Postal Chairman Max Heath told USPS in a letter.

What galls many weekly publishers is that the Postal Service increasingly fails to live up to the last word in its name: "I am interrupted repeatedly by telephone calls from subscribers to The Record in surrounding communities who did not receive this week’s newspaper in the mail today," Brown writes. "Each caller has told us how important the newspaper is to him, and how much he enjoys reading it." She is especially moved by those who refer to it as "my Canadian Record," which to us helps define whether a newspaper is a community paper or not.

The Record is online, but "We find that most of our customers — even the young ones — prefer the more tactile experience of leafing through the pages of their community newspaper," Brown writes. "If there is a last straw, this new and rather aptly named 'droop' test may well be it. Most lightweight periodicals like newspapers will almost certainly fail the new deflection test." And she adds, "The new standards are likely to affect the Postal Service’s delivery standards as well, promising more calls of complaint and more — yes, more — cancellations of subscriptions by readers who alue the product we create but have lost faith in our ability to deliver it."

Brown's letter is a strong case for rural newspapers. The ISWNE newsletter is online here. The comment period for the new rule ended Jan. 13.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Recycling wastewater may be key to tapping tight gas fields in more environmentally friendly way

We've been following the natural-gas "fracking" boom closely, but now the country's largest news agency is on the story. "A drilling technique that is beginning to unlock staggering quantities of natural gas underneath Appalachia also yields a troubling byproduct: powerfully briny wastewater that can kill fish and give tap water a foul taste and odor," Marc Levy and Vicki Smith of The Associated Press report. (AP map by P. Prengman)

Fracking, short for "fracturing," is a drilling method in which "millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are blasted into each well to fracture tightly compacted shale and release trapped natural gas," the reporters explain. It has opened the Marcellus Shale's deep, vast gas reserves for the first time, but the industry must develop proper wastewater disposal and recycling techniques before moving ahead, Levy and Smith write. "The Marcellus Shale in on its way to being the nation's first gas field where drilling water is widely reused," they predict.

"Many doubt the hard Appalachian geology is porous enough to absorb all the wastewater, and the climate is too humid for evaporating ponds," the reporters write. "That leaves recycling as the most obvious option." Entrepreneurs are currently marketing systems to distill the wastewater at well sites, Levy and Smith report, and Range Resources Corp. in southwest Pennsylvania already "pipes wastewater into a central holding pond, dilutes it with fresh water and reuses it for fracking." Levy is based in Pennsylvania, Smith in West Virginia. (Read more)

Meat industry prepares for a negative report from CBS-TV on antibiotics in livestock production

The meat industry is bracing for what it fears will be an unflatering CBS Evening News two-part series about antibiotic use in livestock production. The story will air tonight and tomorrow after being pushed back from its original scheduled airing by the Haiti earthquake coverage, Rita Jane Gabbett of reports. UPDATE, Feb. 4: Looks like it has been pushed back again. Nothing last night or tonight. (Ditto for Feb. 5.)

"Feedback from pork producers suggest the segments will be highly critical of livestock and poultry production," Dave Wamer, National Pork Producers spokesman, told Gabbett. CBS also interviewed Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., sponsor of a bill that would control antibiotic use in livestock. The crew also visited farms where free-range and antibiotic-free livestock are raised. (Read more, subscription required)

Government to amp up biofuel production efforts

To meet the nation's biofuel goal, the government must accelerate the development of biofuel crops and products, says a new report from the White House. In the report to be released today, "An administration task force said the government needs, among other things, to set targets for commercializing new types of fuel crops, such as switchgrass," Phillip Brasher of the Des Monies Register reports. The report also advocates a regional approach that promoted specific fuels to suit particular regions.

Not everything in the report will please the biofuel industry, though. It suggests federal agencies identify "environmental and social issues that may confront biofuels development," Brasher writes, and it says new biofuel refineries must have guaranteed markets. The industry has been outspoken in its belief that such a requirement would make it virtually impossible for companies to obtain federal loan guarantees.

"Past performance and business as usual will not get us there," the report says of the 2022 mandate for the nation to use 36 billion gallons of biofuels. "Today, only 12 billion gallons of biofuels are produced annually." The report did not say how the agency would deal with the 10-percent cap on the amount of ethanol that can be added to gasoline, and greenhouse-gas reduction standards that could limit the increased production of ethanol and biodiesel, Brasher reports. (Read more)

Kansas reporter must testify in murder trial; expected to be asked to reveal confidential source

Last month we reported the Kansas Supreme Court had granted Dodge City Daily Globe reporter Clair O'Brien a stay of a lower-court order preventing her from being forced to reveal a confidential source. Now the court has refused to quash a subpoena ordering O'Brien to testify about her jailhouse interview with murder suspect Samuel Bonilla, Editor and Publisher reports. Ford County Attorney Terry Malone issued the subpoena just days after the initial stay was granted. (Read more)

Obama budget again calls for stopping farm subsidies to wealthy, but prospects remain dim

As part of his proposed fiscal 2011 budget, President Obama has again proposed slashing crop subsidies to "wealthy farmers." Obama targeted those payments last year, but failed to pass the cuts. Charles Abbott of Reuters reports the chances of passage this year may be slim.

The plan would "end crop subsidies to people with more than $250,000 adjusted gross income (AGI) from off-farm sources or more than $500,000 on-farm AGI," Abbott reports. The caps now are $500,000 off-farm AGI and $750,000 on-farm AGI. The budget proposal also calls for reforming "administration of the federally subsidized crop insurance system to end 'huge windfall profits,' Abbott writes.

Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., said she will oppose "cuts that will harm farmers, ranchers and rural communities." House committee chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., added, "It is Congress's job to write the annual budget, and based on my conversations with House leadership, no one is interested in making cuts to the Farm Bill after the battle we just fought to pass it a year and a half ago." (Read more)

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Obama's education budget bad for rural schools, National Schools Boards Association says

President Obama has proposed big changes to federal education funding and the No Child Left Behind Act with the unveiling of his fiscal 2011 budget. It includes a 6.2 percent increase in funding for the Department of Education, but most of that money will go to competitively awarded programs, Alyson Klein of Education Week reports. Programs that use set formulas to allocate funding such as Title I, based on the number of poor children in a school or district, received little or no increase in budget.

"The focus on competitive grants and the decision to provide no increase to Title I means rural districts and children in the poorest parts of the country will be left behind," said Anne Bryant, the executive director of the National School Boards Association. "Those districts do not have the capacity to compete for grants—unless you want to shift money from teachers to grant writers."

The budget renames the Title I program "College-and-Career Ready Students," but does not provide an increase from the fiscal 2010 budget of $14.5 billion. (Some money was added to the program by the economic stimulus, Klein reports.) "While there is much to applaud in the budget, we are concerned that virtually all of the proposed increase is for competitive grants, while Title I — the lifeblood for our most disadvantaged children — is flat-funded," Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement. "Students with the most needs should not have to rely on how well adults compete for dollars." The proposed budget does include a "substantial boost for the Title I School Improvement Grants, a program that helps districts target interventions to schools struggling to meet the goals" of the law, Klein reports. (Read more)

Hunger up across U.S., especially in Appalachia

An unprecedented number of Americans are seeking charity food, says a new study from the nation's largest domestic hunger-relief organization. Feeding America reports in a news release "more than 37 million people, one in eight Americans -- including 14 million children and nearly 3 million seniors -- receive emergency food each year through the nation's network of food banks and the agencies they serve." The data represents a 40 percent increase from the organization's last comprehensive study in 2006.

The study, "Hunger in America 2010," includes data collected from February through June 2009 from 61,000 face-to-face, in-depth interviews with people seeking emergency food assistance at the organization's network of pantries and emergency feeding programs across the country. One of the regional groups participating in the study was God's Pantry, which reports it now serves one in seven people in Central and Eastern Kentucky.

God's Pantry's report, "Hunger in Central and Eastern Kentucky," says 73 percent of client households reported food insecurity, defined as fear of being unable to provide food to oneself or family. The organization reports 310,170 people in the 50-county service area (See map below) live in poverty and the group serves 12 of the 25 poorest counties in the nation. Among those served: Owsley and Clay counties, which the U.S. Census Bureau ranks as the third and fourth poorest counties in the country.

Wind farm brings neighborhood feud to Wisconsin

Complaints from residents living near wind farms have become more numerous in recent months as the farms proliferate. Now many of those complaints regarding noise, shadows and bird deaths have surfaced in Wisconsin, Scott Williams of the Green Bay Press-Gazette reports. In the town of Byron, some families have given up fighting the turbines and plan to move, while others have embraced them as needed progress.

"I really like them," Rose Vanderzwan told Williams. "I think they're beautiful. And I think it's a good idea to get some cheaper energy." Larry Wunsch disagreed, saying "This is not for me. It's an invasion." Vanderzwan receives $17,500 a year for permitting thre turbines to be built on the family dairy farm, but some neighbors are so angry they won't speak to her anymore. "Every project will have some opposition, as with anything that is new to a community," Invenergy vice president Bryan Schueler told Williams. "For every opponent, there's usually many, many more supporters." (Read more) (Press-Gazette video)

Growth in wind power has added few 'green' jobs

Last week we reported the wind power industry had record capacity growth of 39 percent in 2009, but new "green jobs" haven't necessarily accompanied the surge. "Even though a record 10,000 megawatts of new generating capacity came on line, few jobs were created overall and wind power manufacturing employment, in particular, fell -- a setback for President Obama's pledge to create millions of green jobs," Jim Tankersley of the Los Angeles Times reports.

Green jobs have been slow to materialize, especially "skilled, good-paying, blue-collar jobs such as assembling wind turbines, retrofitting homes to use less energy and working on solar panels in the desert," Tankersley writes. During the 2008 campaign, Obama promised to create 5 billion green jobs over a decade, but administration officials admit they are nowhere near that pace with an estimated 52,000 green jobs created or saved by the stimulus. (Read more)

In rural Tunica County, Mississippi, locals are still waiting for the hundreds of green jobs from the billion-dollar electric and hybrid automobile plant promised by GreenTech Automotive Inc. CEO Xiaolin "Charles" Wang during an October groundbreaking ceremony. Wang is trying to shore up funding for the project, Richard Fausett of the Times reports, but Tunica needs help now after a recession-driven decrease in gambling hurt the nine local casinos. "They done had a bunch of things that's been supposed to come in," one local unemployed man told Fausett. "You hear about it, then after several months you don't hear anything again." (Read more)

Number of jobs lost since 2007 varies widely across rural America, county by county

During his State of the Union address last week President Obama said "small towns and rural communities have been hit especially hard" by the recession, but that may not be the case in all such places. Many rural Great Plains and Midwest farming counties have lost fewer jobs than other rural areas, Bill Bishop and Roberto Gallardo report in the Daily Yonder. Still, only 25 rural counties registered decreases in their unemployment rate between 2007 and 2009. Unemployment in rural areas roughly mirrored urban rates in 2009.

"Fourteen of the 50 rural counties that showed the smallest increases in unemployment were in Kansas," Bishop and Gallardo report. "Another 11 were in Nebraska. And 12 more were in the Dakotas," the reporters write. Alabama, site of 12 of the 50 counties with the largest rise in unemployment rates, and South Carolina, home of nines, were hit especially hard by the recession. (Read more) (Click the map to view a larger version)

Monday, February 01, 2010

Rural weekly writer, larger-media colleagues picked for 9-day health fellowship in Boston area

A reporter for a thrice-weekly newspaper in southeastern Kentucky is among 11 medical journalists chosen for a prestigious fellowship that will take them to the Boston area this spring to study health care and how to cover it.

Tara Kaprowy, right, of The Sentinel-Echo in London was chosen for The Health Coverage Fellowship with the support of her employer and its owner, Community Newspaper Holdings Inc., and of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based at the University of Kentucky.

"The fellowship, the first of its kind in the country, is designed to help the media do a better job covering critical health care issues. It does that by bringing in as speakers more than 50 top health officials, policy people, and researchers. It also brings the fellows out to watch first-hand how the system works," says a news release from Babson College. The fellowship is housed at the college's Center for Executive Education in Wellesley and is directed by Larry Tye, former health and environment reporter at The Boston Globe and author of five books.

The eight-year-old program is sponsored by the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts Foundation, with help from the Maine Health Access Foundation, New Hampshire’s Endowment for Health, Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, and the Texas-based Hogg Foundation for Mental Health. The contributions from outlying states helped create slots for reporters from those states.

Joining Kaprowy will be Robert Weisman of the Globe, Cathy Corman of WGBH Radio in Boston, Shawn Cunningham of WAGM-TV in Maine, Jennifer Huberdeau of the North Adams (Mass.) Transcript, Cynthia McCormick of the Cape Cod Times, Karen Nugent of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, Denis Paiste of the New Hampshire Union Leader, Jason Roberson of the Dallas Morning News, Kathryn Tolbert of The Washington Post, Laura Ungar of The Courier-Journal of Louisville.

As states seek to revive horse slaughter, for a floor in the market, a bill in Congress would ban it

We've been following the economic trouble in the horse industry closely, and one common factor cited in the trouble is the closing of the last U.S. horse slaughtering facility, which removed the floor from horse prices. Now some states are considering legislation to reopen slaughter facilities, even as some U.S. lawmakers move to ban the sale of horse meat. In 2006, Congress barred any federal funds from being spent by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on inspecting the nation's three remaining horse slaughtering plants, one factor that led to their eventual closure.

Advocates of horse slaughtering say plants represent a better option for desperate horse owners who have taken drastic measures in disposing of their unwanted horses since the last plant closed. "It is more humane to dispose of old and unwanted horses in this manner than to just abandon them, dumping them out randomly, with no food, water or protection from the weather, not to mention the hazards of hitting a 1,000-pound abandoned horse standing in the middle of the road," Phil Mills of Zanesville, Ohio, argues in a letter to the editor in the Times-Record.

In Missouri where the ban has "killed the horse industry," says veterinarian Jim Joyce, right, Republican state Rep. Jim Viebrock is sponsoring legislation "aimed at bypassing a federal ban on meat inspectors working in horse slaughtering plants by getting processors to pay for the inspections," Chad Livengood reports for the Springfield News Leader. Even if the bill makes it through the legislature, USDA may not honor the attempt to circumvent the law, Livengood writes. "That is the big hurdle," Viebrock told him. "We'll find out how powerful the animal rights lobby really is if (USDA allows) it." (Read more) (News-Leader photo by Bob Linder)

In April the Illinois legislature voted down a bill that would have authorized horse slaughtering in that state, but Republican state Rep. Jim Sacia has submitted a new bill. Meanwhile, foreign investors considering Hardin, Mont., for a horse-slaughtering plant recently toured the area looking for potential sites, Tom Lutey of the Billings Gazette reports. The tour was arranged by Republican Rep. Ed Butcher, "author of a 2009 state law promoting construction of a horse slaughter facility."

While several states continue to explore horse slaughtering, national lawmakers have started a push to permanently ban the practice with the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act, Lutey reports. The bill, which is endorsed by the Humane Society of the U.S., would "make marketing horse flesh for human consumption punishable by up to three years in prison." The Senate version is sponsored by Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and the House version is sponsored by Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky. (Read more)

Head of rural community foundation wants laws to encourage localized rural philanthropy

Philanthropy has been instrumental in shoring up causes based in metropolitan areas, but not so much in rural America. "Historically urban-centered, wealthy people have created legacies directed at specific regions or institutions, or coveted areas of individual passion. But there aren't many examples of such magnitude devoted to comprehensive community development," Gerry Roll, above, executive director of the Community Foundation of Hazard and Perry County, Kentucky, wrotes in an op-ed piece for the Lexington Herald-Leader and The Courier-Journal of Louisville.

Roll advocates legislation to encourage creation of, and investment in, community foundations. "They are rarely in rural areas, and certainly not in the rural counties of Kentucky," she notes. Rural areas are still the places where many of the state's resources are spent on programs like Medicaid for the poor and disabled, and that's one reason Kentucky ranks near the bottom of most national lists, Roll writes.

"A relatively new national movement in rural development philanthropy is a promising model for helping community foundations and other community-based initiatives engage in convening, fund-raising, endowment-building, grant-making and other community-building opportunities to strengthen and supplement the limited resources provided through state and local general funds for education and other services," she explains, adding that community foundations engage a broad range of institutions and individuals to build stronger and healthier communities. Those include rural expatriates who may want to help their hometowns but don't know of a vehicle that they consider trustworthy.

Roll says 2006 legislation in Iowa to stimulate local endowment building has led to an endowment in every county in the state, "and they are growing exponentially." Roll's foundation started last year, and she writes that it still has a long way to go, but it is "building an endowment, making grants and working with the community to create ways to improve our schools, our environment, our health, our housing and our culture." She calls for the state legislature to encourage donations to local endowments to allow "people to contribute to the communities they love." Roll's article also appeared in the Messenger-Inquirer of Owensboro.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

W.Va. wind farm moves ahead after settlement

In October and December we reported about an unusual battle between environmental groups about a proposed wind farm in Greenbrier County, W.Va. The two groups were at odds about the effect the project would have on the endangered Indiana bat, and a federal judge ruled in December the project violated federal wildlife law. Now Chicago-based Invenergy LLC and Mountain Communities for Responsible Energy have forged an agreement that will allow construction to begin immediately, Jessica Y. Lilly of West Virginia Public Broadcasting reports.

The agreement cuts 24 of the 124 proposed turbines that were deemed most harmful to the bat population. The company will start construction at 67 locations now and build 33 more after obtaining an "incidental take" permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (Read more)

Reports of animal thrill killings up across nation

Poaching reports are up across the country, and some of the new cases have a disturbing twist: animals being killed just for the thrill of killing. "Poachers run down deer with cars or snowmobiles, and chase raccoons, then beat them to death with clubs," Jeff DeLong of the Reno Gazette-Journal reports for USA Today. "They also shoot deer, elk and antelope, sometimes removing valuable antlers but often leaving the carcass to rot on the ground."

Scott Talbott, an assistant division chief with Wyoming's Fish and Game Department, describes the trend as "wanton destruction" that goes beyond shooting. "It's thrill killing — people just going out and killing stuff," Talbott told DeLong. "We have seen a significant increase of that in Wyoming. It's disturbing." State wildlife officials in Wisconsin are working with researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and have determined "the thrill killing usually involves youths ages 14 to 23, who gather in groups with the intent of killing as many animals as possible," DeLong writes.

"These are cases where they're just looking for something to do," Chuck Horn of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources told DeLong. "It seems like in some of these cases kids are looking for instant gratification, like a video game." DeLong also details reports of the same trend in Montana, Pennsylvania and Washington. (Read more)

New feature shows the value of a good obituary

Journalists who place a high value on well-written obituaries and tributes should like a new monthly feature in The Courier-Journal of Louisville, "A Life Well Lived." Lifestyles Editor David Daley says it will "go beyond the obituary page to bring out the full color and dimension of a life. There's an extraordinary tale to tell at the end of every life." We agree, and think everyone deserves a good sendoff.

We're also happy that the first "Life Well Lived" is that of Tommy Dyer, left, whom we knew as the keeper of an old-fashioned general store in flood-prone Boston, Ky., for 65 years. "Dyer's store supplied the necessities for life in a rural community, from slop jars and saddles to the stoves and refrigerators he would deliver, Paula Burba writes. Her key source was Tommy's friend Don Skaggs, who said, "He lived and breathed that store. ... He sold a little bit of everything: Horse collars, televisions, refrigerators. ...They had seeds for the farmers to plant. And he had clothes. ... You don't have enough space in your newspaper for me to tell you the qualities of Tommy Dyer. Tommy Dyer was honest. … There was not a crooked streak in his body at all. He always had a smile and good cheer. Money was never the object." (Read more)

Invasive, exotic species gaining ground, or water, and posing major threat to native U.S. wildlife

Those Asian carp we reported on a few weeks ago have finally invaded the Great Lakes, putting themselves at the top of a long list of invasive species posing a wide range of problems. Sam Hamilton, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, told Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post that exotic species are "probably the single greatest threat in our country to our native wildlife." Eilperin sums up the problem nicely:

"Which is worse? Closing two locks on a waterway that's used to ship millions of dollars' worth of goods from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi basin? Or allowing a voracious Asian carp to deplete the food supply of native fish sustaining a Midwestern fishing industry that nets $7 billion a year? And how do you put a price tag on the damage caused by the Burmese python and other constrictor snakes that are strangling the precious ecology of the Everglades?"

The U.S. Army Cops of Engineers has failed twice to stop the carp with electric barriers in the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, but is hoping a third try will be charmed. "The barriers are not surefire," Eilperin reminds readers, "and experts say it's difficult to say how many Asian carp would have to make it through to establish a viable population." She notes that the carp were imported by Southern fish farmers to eat pond algae and escaped during floods, and "Now the fish so thoroughly dominate the Illinois River that communities have annual fishing tournaments targeting them." (Read more)