Friday, May 28, 2010

EPA settles lawsuit with enviros over factory farms and vows to step up water-pollution enforcement

The Environmental Protection Agency has announced it will take tougher action to regulate factory farms. "The EPA has agreed to propose a rule that will require concentrated animal feeding operations to report detailed data to the agency every five years, including information on type and capacity of manure storage facilities, quantity of manure generated, available land acreage to apply manure and how excess manure is disposed of." Sindya N. Bhanoo of The New York Times reports on the Green blog. This week EPA reached a settlement with environmental groups who filed a lawsuit last year arguing that the agency needs to pay closer attention to the effects of the livestock industry on waterways.

"Believe or not – the EPA and the public don’t have this basic information for thousands of factory farms because historically many have been able to avoid pollution control requirements," John Devine, an attorney for the National Resources Defense Council, one of the groups that filed the lawsuit, told Bhanoo. The groups say animal waste, bacteria and parasites from chickens, pigs and cows drain into streams and rivers, posing a threat to human health. "EPA has committed to proposing the rule by May 25, 2011, and finalizing it by May 25, 2012" Bhanoo writes. (Read more)

EPA objects to rural co-op's proposed coal-fired plant; state regulators say they followed the law

The Environmental Protection Agency has objected to the way Kentucky state regulators addressed particulate pollution in the air-quality permit for a proposed coal-fired power plant. "In a letter dated May 24 to state environmental regulators, EPA officials said the state didn't require an adequate assessment of soot and other dangerous particles that the plant was expected to emit" in considering the permit for East Kentucky Power Cooperative's proposed J.K. Smith power plant in Clark County, The Courier-Journal reports.

Karen Wilson, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet, told the Louisville newspaper that state officials had based their permit on actual regulations, and EPA was now asking them to follow more stringent "guidance" that hasn't been formalized. Wilson said state regulators plan to " discuss the EPA objection with cooperative officials," the newspaper reports. Andrew Melnykovych, a state Public Service Commission spokesman, told the paper the cooperative had planned to start construction later this year but last month, it filed with the state PSC to withdraw a request for approval of up to $900 million in private financing. (Read more)

School-based rural health clinics in southeast Tenn. provide example for rest of the nation

A network of school-based health clinics in rural Monroe County, Tennessee, says its program has made medical care available to thousands of children and their families and could be duplicated across the country. Barbara Levin, chief executive officer of Chota Community Health Services, the non-profit agency that runs the school clinics, detailed her program at a hearing held by the U.S. Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Michael Collins of Scripps Howard Newspapers reports for the Knoxville News Sentinel.

"To change the status of America's health, we must focus on our children," Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., told the committee. "What is at stake here is actually the future of our country." The Monroe County program began 10 years ago with the help of a federal grant and now includes eight clinics serving students and staff. "The clinics are funded through the Monroe County Department of Education, various grants and patient care revenues," Collins writes. "The school-based services provide daily health supervision for 5,600 students, as well as acute and chronic care. Last year, six licensed social workers provided mental health services to more than 300 children."

The eight clinics reported 46,000 visits last year. "The impact on the physical health of the children has been great," Levin said. "This is a homegrown project that works." The hearing was one in a series that lawmakers have been holding as they prepare to rework the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which authorizes federally funded education programs that are administered by the states. (Read more)

Tennessee study finds too few rural veterinarians; city kids can be large animal vets, too

We've been following the shortage of large-animal veterinarians in rural areas, most recently here. A new study from the University of Tennessee illustrates the gravity of the shortage. Of the 65 students who graduated from UT's vet school this spring just 29 percent indicated they were interested in a mixed large-animal practice that would include horses, cattle or other livestock, Morgan Simmons of the Knoxville News Sentinel reports. "Tennessee's animal-based agriculture accounts for half of the state's $2 billion agricultural economy," Simmons writes. The heavy reliance on livestock led the state legislature to commission the study from UT's Institute of Agriculture.

"While rural vet services appeared to be adequate in areas of the state with large cattle operations, 27 Tennessee counties were found to have two, or fewer, veterinarians," Simmons writes. "The study noted that smaller producers across the state -- those with 20 to 22 cows -- were likely to treat their animals themselves rather than cut into their narrow profit margin by hiring a vet." Sevier County farmer Jack McMahan explained: "Good rural vets are getting scarce," he said. "Nowadays, it seems like everybody wants to doctor dogs and cats."

Part of the shortage may be due to a misconception that only students who grew up on farms are qualified to deal with large animals. "There's a belief that we need more farm kids, that only kids who that grew up on farms are qualified to be food animal vets," Brian Whitlock, assistant professor in the UT vet school's Department of Large Animal Clinical Sciences, told Simmons. "That's a misconception. Less than 1 percent of the population is from a farm background. If that's the only pool we draw from, we're going to see a severe shortage of rural vets." The study revealed just 12 percent of UT vet school's Class of 2011 comes from small towns with populations less than 1,000. (Read more)

Corn growers will launch ad campaign to counter environmental and nutritional complaints

Corn growers are fighting back against some of the negative publicity they have received in recent years with a new advertising campaign highlighting the economic, environmental and family-oriented aspects of the industry. "The ad campaign echoes the "Know Your Farmer" initiative being run by the U.S. Agriculture Department," Philip Brasher of the Des Moines Register writes on the Green Fields blog. "The corn growers aren’t trying to promote local foods, but are instead trying to make the case that their industry is dominated by family farms that are taking care of the environment and benefiting the economy."

The ads will target federal lawmakers and "will be running during June and July in the Washington Metro system, in Capitol Hill publications, on radio, at Reagan National Airport and in the programs for Washington Nationals baseball games," Brasher reports. In recent years corn growers have been hurt by "criticism in the best-selling books of Michael Pollan and in several films, including the Oscar-nominated Food Inc. that link corn and corn-containing foods to obesity and environmental problems," Brasher writes. "At the same time, some food and beverage companies are replacing high-fructose corn syrup in their products with sugar." (Read more)

Half of Massey miners scheduled for interviews about April disaster have missed appointments

U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration investigators are examining the April explosion that killed 29 West Virginia coal miners at the Upper Big Branch mine of Massey Energy. Half of those scheduled for interviews have not shown up. "Interviews of employees of Massey and its operating subsidiary, Performance Coal Co., began last week at MSHA's National Mine Health and Safety Academy near Beckley," Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette reports. Ron Wooten, director of the state mine safety agency, said that "through Tuesday, seven of the 14 Massey or Performance employees who had been asked did not appear at their scheduled interviews," Ward writes.

"Under federal law, MSHA does not have authority to use subpoenas to force witnesses to appear for the closed-door interviews," Ward writes. "MSHA has subpoena power only if it is trying to force witnesses to appear at public hearings or interview sessions." West Virginia law "gives Wooten's action authority to subpoena witnesses for the private interviews, but so far the [Gov. Joe] Manchin administration has not exercised that authority," Ward writes. Wooten told Ward that if he needed to subpoena witnesses he would. (Read more)

Use wood and other biomass for energy? 'It could go either way,' enviro group's top scientist says

Last week we reported about financial concerns holding back the burning of wood and other biomass to generate electricity. Environmental groups are also rallying against the idea, saying it's not as "green" as other alternative energy sources. Advocates say using biomass will help reduce greenhouse gases, but some say the rush to use wood to qualify for government incentives may reduce the benefit, Martin Kaste of National Public Radio reports. "I think it could go either way," Steve Hamburg, a forest ecologist and chief scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, told Kaste.

"Hamburg has done the 'carbon math' for biomass energy, and he says these plants may reduce greenhouse gases—but only if the fuel really is waste wood, harvested in a sustainable way," Kaste writes. Hamburg argues that if too many new biomass plants start competing for waste wood, they may end up burning wood that would otherwise be used for construction or paper, which would definitely result in a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

Even if the biomass is harvested responsibly, Hamburg says the climate benefit would be delayed because it would take years for new trees to grow and absorb the greenhouse gases emitted by biomass facilities. "I am confident that these kinds of plants over the next 200 years will create a net reduction [in greenhouse gases]," Hamburg told Kaste. "But we really care about what happens in the next 20 years and certainly in the next 50 years." (Read more)

Group tries to stop Colorado school district from teaching about global warming

A national group claiming that the idea of global warming is "junk science" has targeted Mesa County, Colorado, for its first campaign against teaching climate change in schools. Rose Pugliese, an unsuccessful school-board candidate, presented a petition with 600 signatures to the Mesa County School Board asking science teachers to stop giving lessons on global warming, Nancy Lofhol of The Denver Post reports.

"Pugliese's efforts have made her the poster girl for the group Balanced Education for Everyone and have pinpointed Mesa County as a national test case for keeping the teaching of humans' influence on global warming out of science classes," Lofhol writes. Laura Kindregan, head of the Colorado branch of Balanced Education attended the meeting to promote the group's cause. "A survey showed two out of three kids were coming home thinking their world is going to melt away and all the polar bears are going to die," Kindregan told the school board. The school board took no action on the petition, and the meeting was attended by several scientists arguing against Balanced Education's position. (Read more)

The petition has already gained one vocal critic in the local newspaper, The Daily Sentinel in Grand Junction, circulation just over 29,000. "Perhaps if Rose Pugliese and a few hundred other folks in School District 51 have their way, we’ll witness the spectacle of local science teachers recanting their belief in the notion of man-made global warming," The Sentinel writes in an editorial. "But we hope not. We hope the District 51 School Board has already dismissed the idea of taking action on Pugliese’s petition to stop teaching global warming in the district." The Sentinel agrees that local teachers shouldn't expound their political beliefs in the classroom, but concludes, "It is equally noxious to have one group of citizens attempt to dictate what may be taught in science classes in the district, based on what they think is politically appropriate." (Read more)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Kentucky governor signs bill creating endowment fund for community foundations

UPDATE, May 30: The Kentucky state budget, finally passed in a special session over the weekend, includes up to $1 million in tax credits for contributions to permanent endowments in community foundations. Supporters hope to build the support for more credits in better times.

In March we reported the Kentucky legislature had passed Senate Bill 227, establishing the "Endow Kentucky" program that would create an endowment fund for community foundations. On Monday, Gov. Steve Beshear held a ceremonial signing of the bill. "Community-based philanthropy is a critical piece of community and economic development," Beshear said. "Under the current economic conditions, government has a decreasing ability to meet the demand for all services required by the people of Kentucky. We need communities to find ways to be more responsive to Kentucky families for the greater good of the Commonwealth."

"Over the next 10 years, Kentuckians will experience huge wealth transfers from one generation to the next," said Gerry Roll, executive director of the Community Foundation of Hazard and Perry County. "This legislation creates a way to capture that wealth before it leaves the communities in which it was generated." Mike Hammons, executive director of the Kentucky Philanthropy Initiative, noted, "Most large foundation funds go to urban areas. By encouraging the establishment and capacity of local endowments, this is an important measure for the future of rural Kentucky and the vitality of communities across the state." (Read more)

Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues and publisher of The Rural Blog, testified in favor of the bill during its progress through the legislature.

USDA scientists say they may have found cause of bee colony-collapse disorder

Scientists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture say they may have found the cause for the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) affecting bee populations across the country. In the study, presented at the meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, researchers point to the presence of a fungus and family of viruses as a possible cause, Katia Moskvitch of the BBC reports. Jay Evans, one of the study's researchers with the USDA Agricultural Research Service, said when these two very different pathogens show up together, "there is a significant correlation with colony decline."

Some beekeepers affected by CCD "have been reporting average losses of 30-35% of hives," Moskvitch writes. After collecting samples from sick bees in Florida and California, where most of the U.S. commercial pollination takes place, researchers discovered a higher presence of the fungus Nosema cerenae in infected colonies. "But it was only recently that they were able to determine that it's when bees are infected both with Nosema and with a group of RNA viruses that it is likely to lead to a collapse of a colony," Moskvitch writes.

Still some aren't completely buying the fungus and virus as the cause. "David Mendes, the president of the American Beekeeping Federation, says that biological pathogens are certainly involved - but that there might be something that affects the bees' immune system in the first place that then allows these pathogens to infect them more easily," Moskvitch writes. "It's a bit of a chicken-and-egg question: are the fungi and viruses a problem or are they a symptom?" Mendes said. "Do they come in only when the health of the bees is in some jeopardy? I think the bees get sick because of a combination of factors." (Read more)

Small slaughterhouses say they cannot afford new food safety rules

Proposed rules from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to address growing food safety concerns are facing opposition from small producers, who say the rules will put them out of business. "At issue are proposed new rules for slaughterhouses that call for intensive testing of all meats," Dave Thier of AOLNews reports. "Small operators say they don't have the resources to comply."

"Perhaps a large plant slaughtering 5,000 animals per day can afford its own lab and microbiology staff, and can pass the cost along to the consumer, but most small plants can't," Joe Cloud, co-owner of True and Essential Meats in Harrisonburg, Va., recently wrote on The Atlantic website. "In my opinion, the USDA needs to recognize that 'one size fits all' inspection no longer fits current industry practice and consumer demand." Small producers say they take more care than large producers to ensure sanitation at their facilities, and that's part of the reason consumers come to them in the first place, Thier writes
"If you help the same people every weekend at the farmers' market, you look them in the eye and you hand them the food, you're going to do a much better job making sure the same food is clean and safe than if you're distributing to all 50 states and you're just one worker being mistreated by a corporation," Slow Food USA President Josh Viertel said. Still others say no matter the size of the producer, stricter rules are needed. "Just because it's a small operation doesn't mean it couldn't make somebody sick," Donna Rosenbaum, executive director of Safe Tables Our Priority, a group representing victims of food contamination, told the San Francisco Chronicle. "We don't find out about them as often, because obviously the scale isn't as big. But there's an awful lot of people out there who never find out what they got sick from." (Read more)

Advocate argues for regional collaboration to help slow rural outmigration

Despite some backlash from the agriculture industry, the federal government's increased emphasis on regional collaborations and other rural economic development strategies is a positive step, writes one Illinois rural affairs advocate. "Washington’s recommitment to rural development is good," Timothy Collins, the assistant director of the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs at Western Illinois University, writes for The Daily Yonder. "And continued hollowing out of rural areas is wasteful, a depletion of valuable national assets. Effective and continued targeting of federal and state assistance could create opportunities to mitigate geographic discrimination."

Collins points to the 2009 Rural Tour from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, President Obama's numerous stops in rural America and the four regional rural development "convenings," hosted by Partners for Rural America with funding from USDA as examples of the renewed focus on rural development. Each of the meetings hosted by PRA "had the goal of stimulating regional partnerships to plan and implement rural development strategies," Collins writes. "Each planning committee used different methods to accomplish the planning and, one would hope, to implement the ideas that emerged from the sessions. The process itself was refreshing, given the distressing record of top-down national uniformity in federal programming."

USDA Sec. Tom Vilsack has faced criticism from Congressional Republicans for his emphasis on local food and rural development to the detriment of traditional farm programs. The "American Farm Bureau Federation agrees with Vilsack about some rural needs, such as high-speed Internet service, but asserts that rural development should not come at the expense of farm programs," Collins writes. Despite those criticisms, Collins argues outmigration is the biggest challenge to rural development. "Now rural developers face twin challenges: how to develop regional partnerships that build economic opportunities and how to make rural communities better, more attractive places to live," he writes. "Outmigration has created the need for regional rural development networks and, if left unchecked, it will threaten all these efforts." (Read more)

Payments from settlement for black farmers coming too late for some

We've been following the Obama administration's decision to award money to black farmers as part of the so-called Pigford case alleging discrimination by the Department of Agriculture, most recently here, but those payments may come too late for many of the affected farmers. "Wrangling over the federal budget in Washington has delayed payouts from the $1.25 billion settlement," Ashley Southall reports for The New York Times.

"I thought that the elderly farmers would get their money and get to live a few happy days of their lives," John W. Boyd Jr., the president of the National Black Farmers Association, who is not a plaintiff in the settlement, told Southall. "They deserve the money before they leave God’s earth." Younger relatives have often filed claims for affected farmers who are dead or ill. A lawyer at one of the firms handling the claims said many of the plaintiffs are over 65 and in poor health. The lawyer, who is nameless because her firm was not authorized to speak explained, "We have a lot of death certificates."

"Congress missed a March 31 deadline set by the administration to provide financing, which would have allowed payments to start by the summer of 2011," Southall writes. "The farmers agreed to give the government an extension through May 31. The House is expected to vote Wednesday on a bill that includes the settlement." The settlement has bipartisan support, but some lawmakers have voiced concerns that the bill's costs are not offset by corresponding spending cuts. (Read more)

Obama education plan faces bipartisan criticism; lawmakers say it's not a good fit for rural schools

As Congress prepares to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Obama administration's proposals for turning around underperforming schools are drawing the ire of lawmakers who say the ideas don'ty fit rural schools. "Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say the four models for intervening in perennially foundering schools spelled out in the U.S. Department of Education’s regulations for the $3.5 billion School Improvement Grant program are inflexible, particularly for schools in isolated, rural areas, and don’t put enough emphasis on factors such as the need for community and parental involvement," Alyson Klein of Education Week reports.

"A fresh start doesn’t mean firing all the teachers and only hiring back an arbitrary number," California Democratic Rep. George Miller, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, told Klein. "You can find some of the best teachers in the worst-performing schools, but they are stuck in a system that isn’t supporting them." Wyoming Republican Sen. Michael B. Enzi voiced concern for the plans' application to rural schools at a hearing earlier this spring: "I am very concerned that requiring school districts to use one of the four school turnaround models for schools identified for school improvement will adversely impact rural and frontier schools," he said. "Some flexibility needs to be given to rural and frontier schools that simply cannot meet these strict federal requirements."

"Miller’s critique of the administration’s turnaround strategy is especially significant because it is difficult for critics to accuse him of pandering to the teachers’ unions, who also have concerns about the models, particularly the emphasis on removing staff," Klein writes. "The education committee chairman has bucked the unions on a range of issues, including merit pay and the need to link student data with teacher effectiveness." (Read more)

Coal foes, global-warming skeptics defeat carbon-sequestration experiment in rural Ohio

As Washington, D. C., lawmakers debate whether carbon sequestration technology can be used to support coal in the context of a national climate bill, a battle in rural Ohio may offer important lessons about the future of the technology. Residents of Centerville, Ohio, "had never heard of 'carbon sequestration,'" Sarah Gardner of Marketplace reports. "But in 2008, scientists from Battelle, a major research and development firm, came to call. They wanted to demonstrate that you could capture and bury CO2 emissions miles beneath the earth. The government is looking to apply the technology widely to burning coal."

"A lot of people did not even believe in global warming," Christine Chalmers, an editor with the local newspaper, The Daily Advocate, told Gardner. "So they just thought it was a bunch of garbage." By 2009 "a couple of Internet-savvy grandmothers had started Citizens Against CO2 Sequestration," Gardner writes. "This is our home. We live here. Those people don't live here," co-founder Jan Teaford wrote the group's blog. "They're never going to live here, and we felt we had a right to protect it and we should have a say in what goes on here."

The group wrote letters to the editor, knocked on doors, held a prayer rally and peppered the town with hundreds of lawn signs reading "No CO2 Waste in Darke County," Gardner reports. On August 19, 2009, Battelle scrapped the project, citing "business considerations." Battelle says it will move the project elsewhere, but Greenville campaign represented a union between strange bedfellows. Kerwin Olson, who Gardner describes as a "dyed-in-the wool liberal activist," was among those helping the locals, not because he shared their fears relating to potential earthquakes or water contamination, but because he feels investment in carbon sequestration is "nothing more than propping up dirty coal."

Still other environmental groups, like the Ohio Environmental Council, support the technology. "We feel as though the science is dire and we are focused on getting massive reductions on a very fast timetable," the council's Nolan Moser told Gardner. "And to do that you've got to deal with major emission producers." Olson, explained the Greenville campaign offers an important lesson for future protests: "The main thing I told them was that all politics are local," he said. "And that you have a much better shot at killing this thing dealing with your local officials." Read Gardner's three-part series here: part one, part two, part three.

Wyoming judge orders newspaper not to print story about community college president

UPDATE 5/27: On Tuesday, Arnold dissolved the restraining order against the Tribune and dismissed the college's argument that it could lose federal funding if the story was published, the Associated Press reports. (Read more)

A Laramie County, Wyoming judge has issued a 10-day restraining order against the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, preventing the newspaper from publishing a report thought to be critical of the president of Laramie County Community College. "The report is about a school-sponsored trip to Costa Rica in 2008 and the performance of President Darrel Hammon, who was a chaperone, according to testimony at a recent public hearing," The Associated Press reports. "Judge Peter Arnold imposed the order May 21 at the request of LCCC officials who argue that publishing the report could violate federal student privacy laws."

The newspaper learned of the report during a recent employee hearing, but LCCC refused to provide the Tribune Eagle with a copy when asked. The paper instead obtained it through an anonymous source, AP reports. Tribune Eagle attorney Bruce Moats said, "What is happening is a form of censorship and could be unconstitutional," and "The newspaper legally obtained the report and it shouldn't be barred from publishing what's in it." Moats has suggested the report could be published after removing any student names to alleviate privacy concerns. A court hearing is expected later this week. (Read more)

The Society of Professional Journalists condemned the judge's ruling an an unconstitutional prior restraint on freedom of the press. "The college was concerned the report, if published, would violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, which protects the privacy of students and parents by keeping education records confidential," SPJ says. "Educational institutions are threatened with losing federal funding for FERPA violations. However, the papers guaranteed their news accounts would not reveal student information and would rather focus on the actions of President Hammon, whose information is not private or protected by FERPA." (Read more)

Hearing witnesses say Massey emphasized production over safety at Big Branch Mine

At a congressional hearing Monday, examining the Upper Big Branch mine explosion that killed 29 West Virginia miners in April, workers and families of those killed in the explosion described an environment where workers feared to express concerns about safety violations because they might lose their jobs. Testimony "described a culture that put production ahead of safety and where violations were corrected only after company guards warned that inspectors were on their way underground," Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette reports. Upper Big Branch is owned by Massey Energy.

"When MSHA is not present, there is no thought of doing anything other than producing coal," Gary Quarles, a coal miner who lost his son, Gary Wayne Quarles, in the disaster, said. The testimony came during "a field hearing held by the House Education and Labor Committee to hear from those most directly affected by the worst U.S. coal-mining disaster in 40 years," Ward writes. Steve Morgan, whose 21-year-old son Adam died at Upper Big Branch, said his son "told him at least weekly of dangerous levels of methane underground and that ventilation curtains meant to feed fresh air to the longwall mining machine's workers were regularly removed," Ward writes.

"[Mine Safety and Health Administration] inspections at Massey did little to protect miners," Quarles said. "We absolutely looked to MSHA for leadership, particularly on safety issues, but MSHA has let us down many times." Despite those fears, no one felt safe complaining to management, continuous miner operator Stanley Stewart said. "No one felt they could go to management and express their fears or the lack of air on our sections," Stewart said. "We knew that we'd be marked men and the management would look for ways to fire us." (Read more)

Environmental groups challenge Eastern Kentucky strip mine proposed near whitewater stream

Two environmental groups have launched a challenge against a proposed 792-acre surface mine near Elkhorn City in far Eastern Kentucky. "The Sierra Club and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth argue that the state didn't properly assess the mining operation's potential impact on nearby streams," including the Russell Fork of the Big Sandy River, a whitewater stream, before issuing the permit to Cambrian Coal Corporation last month, Bill Estep of the Lexington Herald-Leader reports. The group also alleges Cambrian "also didn't design the mining and reclamation plan to properly limit the impact of valley fills," and runoff from the mine "would cause water-quality violations in several watersheds, or worsen problems that already exist," Estep writes. (Read more)

The groups are being represented by the Appalachian Citizens' Law Center, which has posted a copy of the petition on its website.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Death rate from guns same for children in the most populous urban counties and the most rural

Urban areas have a reputation for gun deaths, but children in the most rural U.S. counties are as likely to die from gunfire as those in the largest cities, says a new study published today in the journal Pediatrics. "Murders involving firearms are more common among city youth," Carla K. Johnson of The Associated Press reports. "But gun suicides and accidental fatal shootings level the score: They are more common among rural kids." The researchers analyzed data from 24,000 gun-related deaths among people under 20 from 1999 through 2006.

"This debunks the myth that firearm death is a big-city problem," the study's lead author, Dr. Michael Nance of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, told AP. "This is everybody's problem." Researchers sorted the data by county and compared rates in the most urban counties, those with populations of 1 million or more, and the most rural, those with towns of fewer than 2,500 people, and found essentially the same rate, around four deaths per 100,000 children. Previous analysis found similar rural-urban gun death patterns among adults, AP reports. (Read more)

Rebound in meth use brings fresh warnings to farmers to protect anhydrous ammonia from theft

As methamphetamine use continues to rebound, the farming community is becoming more concerned about thefts of anhydrous ammonia, which is used as a catalyst in the making of the illegal drug. "There probably should not be a lot of empty tanks or even full tanks sitting around in unsecured areas," Bill Field, farm safety specialist at Purdue University, told Dave Russell of Brownfield. "If a tank is empty it’s time to get it back to the co-op where at least they’re a little bit more secure." Supposedly empty tanks often contain enough ammonia to make meth, and are easier to haul than full ones.

Field recommends nurse tanks "be kept in a location where they can be watched, and he says if you do find signs of tampering be sure to contact the authorities," Russell writes. "The things farmers should be on the lookout for are thermoses, jugs, white gas, paint thinners or drug boxes. Usually it will just look like a pile of garbage," Field said. "I think the only way we’re going to solve this problem is for farmers to report when they find these residuals." (Read more)

Wisconsin governor vetoes raw-milk bill, dashing advocates' hopes for a big opening

Earlier this month we reported that advocated of raw milk hoped a bill passed by the legislature in Wisconsin, the leading dairy state, would lead the way in expanding raw-milk sales across the country. Those hopes appear to have been dashed as Gov. Jim Doyle did an about-face and vetoed the bill last week, Rick Barrett of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports. Doyle had told the newspaper he was likely to sign the bill, but in the end he "sided with public health and dairy industry officials who said the bill raised multiple safety issues, because unpasteurized milk may carry pathogens that cause food-borne illnesses," Barrett writes.

"I don't think this was an absolute easy question one way or the other, but I think in the end it was one I had to make a decision on," Doyle told Barrett. "As it came through, what came to me from the public-health community and the dairy industry was overwhelming on this. I listened to people on both sides. But when the public-health community is almost entirely unanimous on this issue, it seems to me a pretty risky proposition to move forward with it." An aide to Democratic Majority Leader Russ Decker told Barrett the Senate would not attempt to override the veto.

"I think [Doyle's decision] was a combination of the agribusiness industry who, whatever they say, were afraid of losing a little market share, and the public-health establishment that is instinctively afraid of freedom of any sort," Republican Sen. Glenn Grothman told Barrett. "I have a tremendous amount of sympathy for all the people with stomach ailments, autism and other ailments who are going to have to try to obtain a product illegally because their government doesn't believe in freedom." Some raw milk advocates argue it "can cure ailments, including tuberculosis, heart failure, high blood pressure and many others," Barrett writes. (Read more)

Kansas summit seeks to save fast-disappearing groceries in the state's smallest towns

Since 2007, 82 of the 213 Kansas grocery stores in communities of fewer than 2,500 people have closed. A summit June 14-15 at Kansas State University will highlight research and project-based presentations exploring ways to counter the decline. The event, "Rural Grocery Summit II: Saving Our Critical Infrastructure," sponsored by KSU's Center for Engagement and Community Development, will examine how to bring more local foods to market in a a community, building community support for local groceries, identifying sources of funding for them, addressing labor issues, recognizing that food is a critical piece of rural culture and other topics, the Topeka Capital-Journal reports. The issue is of particular interest to rural newspapers, since grocery stores are often if not usually their largest advertisers.

"Fifty-one percent of the 675 Kansas cities and towns do not have a grocery store," David Procter, director of the CECD, told the Capital-Journal.  Registration is free to rural grocery store owners and $100 for everyone else. You can read more information about the event here. "Rural grocery stores provide an important source of jobs and taxes," Procter added. "They provide a source of healthy food, and they are a symbol of community vitality. Unfortunately, these business cornerstones are disappearing at an alarming rate, along with their rural community homes." (Read more)

Verizon could bring 4G service to rural America

Faster wireless broadband service could be on its way to rural America, as Verizon Wireless is in talks with a number of rural telephone carriers to license its wireless spectrum. Verizon Chief Executive Lowell McAdam "said the move—unusual because carriers typically guard spectrum, which is expensive and scarce—will help it more quickly expand the reach of its new fourth-generation network, which it plans to launch in 25 to 30 cities by the end of the year," Niraj Sheth of The Wall Street Journal reports. "The move could also pay political dividends at a time when U.S. regulators are proposing to bring broadband networks under some of the same regulations that tightly govern telephone lines."

"Under the proposed arrangements, Verizon would license spectrum for a small fee to local carriers, which would sell the service," Sheth writes. "Either Verizon or the carrier could handle the job of installing the equipment. Verizon is also striking data roaming agreements with the rural carriers to let their customers use the rest of Verizon's network when they're traveling."

"This is not something we're looking to make a lot of money from," McAdam told Sheth, citing the small size of the rural carriers. Verizon's 4G network runs on Long Term Evolution technology. "All rural carriers need to figure out how they're going to get into LTE, period," Pat Riordan, CEO of Cellcom, a 250,000-customer carrier based in Green Bay, Wis., that has been in talks with Verizon but has yet to sign a deal, told Sheth. A Federal Communications Commission spokeswoman told Sheth the commission looks "look forward to reviewing the details of Verizon's proposal." (Read more)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

County pays tribute to editor who died too young

About 1,000 residents of a small Kentucky county turned out this weekend to pay their last respects to a fine rural journalist. Rick Anderkin, editor of the family-owned Mount Vernon Signal, died of liver failure last week at 49. He had a donor for a transplant, but medical complications prevented the surgery.

I didn't know Rick Anderkin well, but I see his weekly newspaper from time to time and thought highly of his work. He did a good job of holding up a mirror to his community, covering the issues and helping set the public agenda for the county of 17,000. "He was accessible to everyone and available 24/7 to cover stories," writes our friend Elmer Whitler, a county resident who complies and analyzes rural-health data for the University of Kentucky. "I often complimented Rick on the improvements he brought to the Signal since I first started reading it in the mid-1970s. He would simply say, in his humble way, “We try.” I came to appreciate through Rick the hard work and courage it takes to produce a rural newspaper in which the truth of local happenings are reported. Everyone, myself included, reads the Signal from cover-to-cover, including the reports on the county judge and fiscal court, letters to the editor, stories about anniversaries, ball games, car wrecks, and even the obituary section."

Elmer concluded his e-mail tribute, "There is almost total familiarity with everyone in the community (Wikipedia map), accomplished either through personal contact and interaction or through 'social reports' from friends and neighbors who know the rare person that you do not. Rick understood this culture very well and traversed its many complications and sensitivities in such a way that he always had the respect of those on whom and for whom he reported." Rockcastle County residents showed how they appreciated Rick's work. Elmer reports that 400 or more people attended the viewing and more than 600 attended the funeral, at which a memorial was given by Rick's son, Aaron Anderkin, the recently appointed executive director of the Rockcastle County Industrial Development Authority.

"I will smile when I think about the pride he held when he found out I would get the prime opportunity to come back and help change Rockcastle County for the better, just like he worked to do for years and years," Anderkin said. "As the editor of the Signal, Dad had the opportunity to interact with a lot of people from a number of circles and different backgrounds. He was a man who had this unexplainable way of leaving footprints on the hearts of most everyone he encountered. His business was all about people, and his life was all about people. And I believe those footprints came from his ability to connect with those people, to let them know he really cared about them." (Read more)