Friday, January 07, 2011

New Mexico writer has a new word for rural life

Sharman Apt Russell (right) writes an essay on rural life for the Natural Resources Defense Council's magazine On Earth. Russell uses a newly coined word, soliphilia, which she says is "the love of and responsibility for a place, bioregion, planet, and the unity of interrelated interests within it." Russell believes the word best describes the "diversity of the rural West, perhaps of all rural America. ... We're Baptists and pantheists; we eat beef and drink soy milk; we like wolves and hate wolves and we're new and old and rich and poor. What we have in common is a feeling that some of us would be uncomfortable talking about, and some of us talk about all the time. We love this place. We are the bride of this place and we are the groom."

She adds, "Soliphilia has its own dangers ... Love of place can lead to xenophobia, with longtime residents resenting newcomers, even (perhaps especially) when they come with good ideas. Whether 'old' or 'new' to the rural West, we are all in danger of becoming provincial, caught up in the intricate pleasures of home and ignoring our connections to the rest of the world."

According to the magazine, Russell is an award-winning nature and science writer whose most recent book is Standing in the Light: My Life as a Pantheist (Basic Books). She teaches creative writing at Western New Mexico University in Silver City and Antioch University in Los Angeles. (Read more)

New rules in place for Wisconsin wind farms

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission has established guidelines for locating wind farms, reports Craig D. Reber of the Telegraph Herald. The new rule could pave the way for development of Wind Capital Group's proposed White Oak wind project, on hold for two years. "We believe that passage of the PSC's rule will certainly set the conditions in place that make development of wind facilities much more possible in Wisconsin," said Tom Green, Wind Capital senior manager of project development.

Some residents of Smelser Township had reservations about having wind farms nearby and enacted a moratorium on them. they sought an 1,800-foot minimum setback requirement to minimize what they call the "noise, safety and health risks" to their families and their homes, writes Reber. Others cited concerns about falling property values because of the size and location of the towers, which are as tall as 400 feet. The commission adjusted the requirements on two issues: setback distances and compensation to neighboring residents. Municipalities must establish a setback distance on non-participating residences that is greater than 1,250 feet. Owners of non-participating residences within a half-mile of a wind turbine will be paid by the wind system owner.

Ron Brisbois, economic development director for the area, said, "This is an opportunity that not a lot of townships in Wisconsin have [but] you can't just plop down a wind farm anywhere. You have to have the wind and the substations." (Read more)

Uranium mill may be built in rural Colorado

The first new uranium mill in the U.S. in 25 years may be built in Colorado. Stephanie Simon reports for The Wall Street Journal that Energy Fuels Resources Corp. of Canada is looking for investors after Colorado regulators approved a radioactive-materials license for the proposed mill.

The firm is seeking about $140 million to build the PiƱon Ridge Mill to be located in Paradox Valley, a remote rural area of southwest Colorado that has struggled economically. "The mill is expected to employ 75 people — and to spur the creation of scores of additional mining, trucking and support jobs in the Paradox Valley. That promise of jobs has many local residents cheering," writes Simon.

Environmentalists are not as happy. After a uranium mining boom went bust, toxic uranium ore was found at a shuttered mine in the area of Paradox Valley; another closed mill in the area has been designated a federal Superfund site. Cleanup of the property was launched in the 1980s but is far from complete. (Read more) The Associated Press reported on an effort in 2008 to open uranium mines in Paradox Valley.

International Storytelling Center is bankrupt

The International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, Tenn., has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, Ken Little reports for the Knoxville News Sentinel. The center is the host of the acclaimed National Storytelling Festival held each October since 1973. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is the largest creditor of the $4 million debt carried by the center. Its assets are listed in court documents as $56,000 cash on hand.

Jimmy Neil Smith, the center's executive director and founder of the festival, told Little that several factors have affected its finances. The mortgage on the 14,000 square-foot Mary B. Martin Storytelling Hall, built in 2002, is "one of the things that is dragging us down," Smith said. The recession has also hurt the center. Attendance to the festival was down in 2008 and 2009 (but slightly up in 2010). Up to 60 percent of the organization's annual revenue is derived from the sfestival, court documents say. Smith told Little that a study done at East Tennessee State University found the festival has an economic impact of nearly $7 million in Jonesborough and helps create almost 100 jobs.  Said Bob Browning, town administrator: "It's not something we can afford to lose. We need to do whatever we can to make it as strong as we can."

Smith emphasized that the Storytelling Center will remain open, the annual Teller-in-Residence program will continue, and the 2011 National Storytelling Festival will be held as scheduled. (Read more)

Thursday, January 06, 2011

DNA test for Asian carp passes scientific muster

A test used to confirm the presence of Asian carp threatening the Great Lakes now has the support of a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Dan Egan of the Milwaukee Journal reports that the journal Conservation Letters has published research by the scientists who have isolated DNA from water samples in the Chicago canal system that they save prove the prescence of the invasive species. Their article asserts the test is not only valid, but adds that the risk of an Asian carp invasion of Lake Michigan is imminent.

"Critics have questioned whether our research can be trusted, but now that our work has been thoroughly reviewed and published in a scientific journal, hopefully the debate can shift from questioning the science to focusing on policy and management solutions instead," Lindsay Chadderton, a scientist with the Nature Conservancy who co-authored the paper with a trio of University of Notre Dame scientists, told Egan.

Lisa Frede, director of regulatory affairs for the Chemical Industry Council of Illinois and a scientific adviser with UnLock Our Jobs, an industry group opposed to plugging the canal system in the name of halting the carp, was not convinced. "Scientific peer review does not necessarily translate into successful practical application in the field," she said. Only one Asian carp has been found past the barrier protecting Lake Michigan from the fish. Frede claimed that it "was likely the result of human introduction."

The research paper says, "It is possible, but not likely, that Asian carp DNA could enter the upper Illinois River waterway by sources other than living fish, such as sewage and wastewater, bilge water discharge, excrement from predatory fish or waterfowl, or from dead fish carried on barges and boats from downstream. ... None of these alternate sources explains the overall spatial patterns or repeated detections from independent sampling trips spread across a 12-month period." (Read more)

Kentucky lawmaker sponsors statewide smoking ban; key advocate says it won't pass this year

A legislator introduced a bill today that would impose a statewide smoking ban in workplaces, restaurants, bars and private clubs in Kentucky, "where residents smoke at the nation's highest rate and tobacco-related illnesses exact a heavy toll," The Courier-Journal's Laura Ungar reports. In Kentucky, 25.6 percent of adults smoke, the same rate as in West Virginia. The state has long had more tobacco farmers than any other state, but that is in doubt as tobacco production has declined and consolidated.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, and is supported by Smoke Free Kentucky, "a coalition of local, state and national health advocates," Ungar reports. "We feel like the time has come to make sure everyone across the state is protected," said Amy Barkley, a regional director for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "There's absolutely no reason for anyone to be exposed to secondhand smoke."

In Kentucky, 28 communities have passed smoking ordinances, 26 of which have already taken effect, Ungar reports. Nationwide, 29 states and Washington, D.C. have passed comprehensive smoking bans. Four other states have smoke-free laws that include restaurants but allow tobacco use in bars.

Dr. Ellen Hahn, who runs the Tobacco Policy Research Program at the University of Kentucky and has been instrumental in getting smoking bans passed in Kentucky communities, said she does not believe the statewide ban will pass this year "because such proposals typically don't" on the first go-round, she told Ungar. State Rep. Tom Burch of Louisville, who chairs the House Committee on Health and Welfare, said he plans to sign on as a sponsor of the legislation. He told Kentucky Health News he will give the bill a "favorable hearing" in his committee. KHN is a new, sister service of The Rural Blog; click here for that report, the initial version of this one. For useful information, including maps, regarding smoking-ban legislation nationwide, go here.

Hoosier cougars are spotted in the Indiana hills

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources office at Prophetstown State Park, near Battle Ground, Ind., has been adding to its database of cougar sightings, reports Bob Scott for the Journal and Courier. One hundred seventeen sightings have been reported since the database began last year. Only one of those cats was photographed, last May near rural Bloomfield in southern Indiana. (Photo above,  Indiana Department of Natural Resources)

 Rick Peercy, a DNR wildlife biologist, said the cougars are probably former pets who escaped or were intentionally released. Citizens can own cougars, a protected species in Indiana, if they get the proper permits. "A big cat is a lot of work. There is a big veterinary bill," he said. Scott Johnson, a DNR nongame mammal biologist, said to Scott, "There certainly is evidence that the (mountain) lions are expanding their range from the western areas into the Plains. ... They are young males that can travel a great distance." (Read more)

Fond memories of headless chickens, old houses and summers on a Nebraska farm

Earlier this week, we reported on 10 rural myths debunked by the Great Falls Tribune. The list included headless chickens' ability to walk around, which reminded Michael Babcock, also writing for the Tribune, of his experiences with decapitated fowl.

"It got me to thinking about what several generations have probably missed when it comes to life on a farm or ranch," Babcock writes. "I have participated in the capture,slaughter, cleaning, cooking and eating of chickens on my grandparents' farm in Nebraska, where I stayed part of each summer as I grew up. It was a wonderfully bloody and fascinating practice for a young boy to witness and participate in.

"It was off to the wood pile and off with their heads: We used an ax. Sometimes the headless chickens would fly away a dozen yards or so and I would have to chase them down, grab them by the legs and hold them away from my body so I didn't get blood on my clothes. Sometimes they would just flop around on the ground but I never recall any of them walking around."

After more grisly details, Babcock went on to recall his summers spent on his grandfather's farm. "Spending a few weeks or a month or two on that Nebraska farm each year was splendidly fascinating for a kid. ... Oh, that we adults could enjoy what amused us as children. We would be forever young. That farm is gone now — the land still is there but the house that smelled of wood in the winter and the barn that smelled off work horses and milk cows and the groaning windmill are gone." (Read more)

Rural entrepreneur Don Tyson dies at 80

Donald J. Tyson, "an aggressive and visionary entrepreneur who dropped out of college and built his father’s Arkansas chicken business into the behemoth Tyson Foods," died Thursday of cancer, Robert D. McFadden writes for The New York Times. "Don was known by all to work hard, but also to play hard," Tyson President and CEO Donnie Smith said in a statement.  Tyson, who was 80, died at his residence in Springdale, Ark., reports Gavin Lesnick of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. (Photo by University of Arkansas)

Tyson was born in Olathe, Kan., and grew up in Springdale, where he helped his father haul chickens. In 1957, the company built its first poultry-processing plant, and in the 1960s began buying farms and competitors. It went public in 1963, McFadden reports. Tyson became president in 1966 and chairman in 1967. For the next 30 years, the company "grew exponentially. It bought beef, pork and seafood companies, built 60 processing plants and diversified into 6,000 products. It supplied fast-food chains and secured markets abroad. When Mr. Tyson surrendered day-to-day control in 1995, the company ranked 110th on the Fortune 500 list, with sales of $5.2 billion."

Tyson, often "likened to fellow Arkansans Sam Walton, the late Walmart tycoon, and former President Bill Clinton," made his company a household name by successfully marketing Rock Cornish hens. He also helped develop McDonald's chicken McNuggets. (Read more)

Tyson spoke proudly of his father's humble business beginnings, recounting in speeches and to reporters over the years how his father  "came to town in 1932 with 11 cents and a half a load of hay" and started to build a company that would swell into an industry giant, Lesnick reports. The Democrat Gazette has a timeline of Tyson's life. (Read more)

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Research study says new health care law should help rural counties, though it may be a hard sell

The Rural Policy Research Institute has issued a report that says the new health care law could have a positive impact on health care in Missouri's rural counties. The law should  improve rural residents' access to primary care physicians, provide incentives for preventive care and improve access to health insurance. The study also said the changes should be monitored to ensure rural areas do not fall victim to "unintended consequences" of the legislation, reports Andrew Denney for the Columbia Daily Tribune.

Keith Mueller, a University of Iowa professor and chairman of the RUPRI Rural Health panel, said misconceptions about the law could also make it difficult for rural inhabitants to be receptive to its potential benefits. He said Medicaid had been a tough sell for rural America, and some view the program as a government takeover of health care. "That creates a challenge for those of us who are trying to plow the middle ground and say, 'This is what the reality is,' " Mueller said to Denney. (Read more)

To read the full report: "Securing High Quality Health Care in Rural America: The Impetus for Change in the Affordable Care Act"

MSHA and Massey settle lawsuit over Ky. mine

The Mine Safety and Health Administration has settled a lawsuit with Massey Energy over a mine in Pikeville, Ky., that court documents say is a mine so dangerous it requires court supervision. Howard Berkes of National Public Radio reports that Massey's Freedom Mine #1 was singled out for an unprecedented federal court injunction owing to a persistent "pattern of violations" of mine safety law, which "constitutes a continuing hazard to the health or safety of miners."

Massey Energy denies "the existence of any pattern of violations," according to Berkes, but agrees that a U.S. District Court has jurisdiction over Freedom and can apply sanctions. "We felt the best course of action was to cooperate with MSHA and jointly develop a plan for our coal miners to safely close the Freedom Energy mine," Shane Harvey, Massey's vice president and general counsel, told Berkes.

Massey announced shortly after MSHA filed suit against the company that the Freedom mine would be closed. The courts determined that MSHA could proceed with the case in an effort to protect the remaining 60 workers who were closing down the mine. The settlement requires that if new safety violations force closure of all or part of the mine the company must continue to pay workers, or find them other jobs within 60 miles, until the mine is considered safe, reports Berkes. (Read more)

$389 million from forest lands distributed

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Tuesday that more than $389 million is being distributed to 41 states and Puerto Rico for public schools and roads and specific county programs under the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act.

Since 1908, 25 percent of Forest Service revenues from timber sales, mineral leases, recreation, grazing and other sources have been shared with states and counties where national forest lands are located, according to a news release. As the revenue from these sources declined, Congress created the act to help soften the blow from the reduced income. The funding, available through 2011, also reimburses counties for emergency services in national forests and pays for development of wildfire protection plans. (Read more) (List of payments, by state)

Feds offer tuition reimbursement for veterinary students working in underserved areas

We have been following the shortage of veterinarians, most recently here. Now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is distributing up to $25,000 annually for four years in tuition-loan reimbursements for veterinarians who commit to work in under served rural areas, reports Steve Raabe of the Denver Post. Nationwide, more than 60 veterinarians received the grants and are serving in areas that do not have enough large animal vets. The program is modeled after a similar program that pays medical doctors to work in under served areas. (Veterinarian Britt Stubblefield, right, and M Lazy C Ranch manager Jamie Gibbons keep a grip on a longhorn as Stubblefield checks the animal's teeth. He is one of two Colorado vets selected in 2010 for a USDA tuition-loan reimbursement. Craig F. Walker, The Denver Post)

On average, veterinary students amass $130,000 in tuition and other school-related debt, writes Raabe. "It's very difficult for graduates with high debt levels," said Dean Hendrickson, director of the veterinary teaching hospital at Colorado State University. "Rural veterinarians are putting in 80-hour workweeks to earn 20 percent less. You can see why there's a movement toward small-animal practices in urban areas." The national average salary for first-year livestock veterinarians is about $62,000, compared with $71,000 for entry-level pet doctors, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. (Read more)

BLM director says no to abattoirs for wild horses

We've been following the push to reopen horse slaughterhouses in the U.S., most recently here, but now the head of the Bureau of Land Management says that strategy is not a viable option for reducing wild herds throughout the West. "Instead, the agency plans to give mares birth control in hopes of diminishing the need for controversial horse roundups," Ashley Powers of the Los Angeles Times reports. Bob Abbey, director of the BLM, told supporters of horse processing plants at a conference on Tuesday the agency also plans to "continue promoting adoption and seeking locations to place captured horses other than its holding pens," Powers writes.

"Make no mistake, they deserve to be treated the best way that we can treat them," Abbey told dozens of people who support the opening of a horse processing plant in Wyoming. Horse trainer Dave Duquette, the president of conference sponsor United Horsemen, told Powers the BLM's view was shortsighted and a waste of government dollars. "What's palatable to public opinion and what needs to happen are two different things," he said.

"In a sign of how touchy the long-running debate has become, Abbey's presence at what critics called the 'horse slaughter summit' incensed activists who laud the animals as icons of the American West," Powers writes. Abbey noted the BLM is obligated to talk to all stakeholders in the debate, including those who like many at the conference are suspicious of the agency.  In 2008, the BLM considered euthanasia as a possible remedy for wild horse overpopulation, but later backed off amid public outrage. Wild-horse advocates were quick to discredit horse slaughterhouse. Those who "wish to profit from the butchering of America's horses must find another way to earn a living," said Suzanne Roy of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign in a statement. (Read more)

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Price of propane near all-time high

In North Carolina, the cost of propane is approaching an all-time high, reports John Murawski for the News and Observer. In the past week, propane prices in the state ranged from $2.27 a gallon to $3.90 a gallon, according to surveys taken by the N.C. State Energy Office. The statewide average was $2.97 a gallon, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, up 13 percent in the past year.

Fifteen percent of North Carolina households use propane for heating,  often in rural areas. Propane is purchased from independent dealers who are to set their own prices. The price of heating oil has tripled in the state over the last decade. The rise in the cost of propane is an early indicator that other heating costs will be going up soon. Other utilitilies purchase fuel in long-term contracts and large volume, so can delay an increase in costs. Their rates are also regulated by the state. (Read more)

Fresh tomatoes in the winter sound mighty good

Fresh, locally-grown vegetables are possible during the winter months, even in climates as chilly as Ohio. Linda Martz of the Mansfield News Journal reports on growing produce in high tunnels, "low-tech but effective shelters meant to protect crops throughout the year ... and without adding heat." Some Ohio farmers are using high tunnels to get an early start on tomatoes, peppers and flowers and other cold-sensitive crops, said Matthew Kleinhenz of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster, Ohio.

One layer of clear plastic stretched over the frame of a high tunnel creates an environment that's one-half of a USDA cold-hardiness zone warmer than the location of the tunnel, Kleinhenz told Martz. Adding two layers of plastic will warm the temperature by a whole zone. Growing in high tunnels is different from growing in greenhouses. In tunnels, growers must pay close attention to watering, weather conditions (especially sunlight and temperature), natural cycles of insect populations and disease organisms.

The demand for local produce is driving the need for longer growing seasons. Kelly Brown of Owl Creek Produce Auction, near Fredericktown, Ohio, said, "Buyers are beginning to recognize that they can now get (local) tomatoes till Thanksgiving ... The demand is huge, the opportunities are huge." Grocers must be sure of the supply before they can advertise the produce: it must be consistent and in a larger volume. (Read more)

As more weekly newspapers charge for obituaries, some editors and publishers resist

The International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors posted a query from one of its members asking the membership about charging for previously free obituaries: "Come the first of the year we are going to start charging for obituaries, and I just wanted to check with you for some ideas. One area newspaper has a flat rate charge. Another charges by the character. Ideally, we would charge by the column inch or the line but we have to figure out how our funeral homes could figure those rates." The question about how to charge for obituaries immediately turned into a discussion of whether to do so. Some of the responses appear below in edited form. For the full versions and most of the rest, click here.

"We never charged for obits. . . . We believed, and still do, that the milestones of one’s life — birth, marriage, death — deserve complimentary coverage. We often did extensive obits, on both the “prominent” and not so prominent. Every life has a story. My mom recently passed away and at a time of grief it seemed heartless when one newspaper charged over $350 for a small obit (The Denver Post wanted over $1,000 for that same obit!). Our hometown paper charged $188. One has to wonder when deaths stopped being news. . . . No wonder the public is angry with newspapers!
Marcia Wood, former owner, The Chronicle, Angel Fire, N.M.

Our obits continue to be free. Our major competitor, a daily, runs two to three pages of paid obits a day, so we figure we're doing our local readers a service. And as long as we have space, we publish with minimal editing. For significant deaths, we'll run the obit and do a news page story.
Mo Mehlsak, The Forecaster, Portland, Me.

They are such a part of the news of our small county, that it seems akin to charging to run sports photos or school news. . . .  It's just a part of the small community experience. We have to help each other as much as we can. Paula Barnett, Publisher, Woodruff County Monitor, McCrory, Ark.

We do consider obituaries to be news. Last month I had one that explained the deceased woman's grandfather was a bootlegger and the grand kids had to hide under the porch when customers came to call. While under the porch she saw Bonnie and Clyde buying whiskey. Apparently she told the story all her life. That's good stuff. In another instance, the woman had written her own obit, about 2,500 words and pretty interesting. I couldn't run that much, so I cut it back, but noted in the paper that I had done so and invited anyone interested to stop by the paper and I'd give them a copy of the entire thing. About four people showed up, and the library asked for a copy for its archives.
Obit rules include that the . . . obit also can't say or imply that someone went to heaven. I tell people God and I have a deal that he makes that determination, not the Herald Democrat. I haven't gotten an obit yet that says that the deceased went to hell. That would be tempting.
Marcia Martinek, Editor, Herald Democrat, Leadville, CO

We are attempting to keep our obits FREE for as long as the economy makes it possible to do so as a community service. Our free obits are edited to our format (listing ONLY immediate family names in the survivors list and preceded in death list; bare-bones biographical info such as marriage date, employment, military service, education)
Bryan E. Jones, Editor, Versailles Leader-Statesman, 573-378-5441

I don't believe in giving these types of things for free; our space is valuable and if they want to put something in the paper, whether it's an obit or a birthday, they should pay, whether they are local or not. . . . We do give other things for free, however: We run a blood donor clinic, spring cleanup and Halloween house decorating contest ...
Steve Bonspiel, Editor/Publisher, The Eastern Door

Our obits are formatted at 9 point, 2 columns wide. Each line is $5.40. . . . We do run a death notice free of charge: name of deceased, age, date of death, day and time of services, and name of funeral home.
Steve Ranson, Lahontan Valley News, Fallon, Nev.

We offer free obits that include just name and basic info, including service information. We started charging last year and are very happy with our system.
Steve Zender, The Progressor-Times, Carey, Ohio

All five of my community newspapers charge $5 per column inch, including photo and headline. We still allow small free obits (without pic) that include name, age, city of residence and date of service.
David Brown, Publisher, Cherokee Scout, 89 Sycamore St., Murphy, N.C.

Why we charge for obits: It's to make life simpler for us and eliminate issues with bereaved families.
Galena is served by two daily newspapers on the east and west. They began charging for obits and people began preparing longer and longer obits, which included pet names, etc. When we edited those obits, the response was always, "Well, he Dubuque paper ran my obit exactly the way I wanted it."
And then came the day when a woman called to complain about the obit of her mother being wrong in the paper (some piece of information that wasn't sent us) and told her that we'd need to charge for running the obit the second time. She became furious, because the funeral home had charged them $300 for running the obit in my newspaper. She was even less happy upon learning that we didn't charge for obits.  We started charging the very next week and haven't looked back. . .
P. Carter Newton, publisher, (office)

The Consort Enterprise in Alberta still runs obits at no charge, which is becoming an issue here as obituaries are becoming biographies.
Consort Enterprise

We do not charge for a standard obituary which includes basic information without children's spouses' names, grandchildren's names, and "He was a good husband and father." Our paid obits are per column inch with most costing less than $100.
Susan Berg, Editor, Marion County Record, Hillsboro Star-Journal and Peabody Gazette-Bulletin, Marion, Kan.

Think about the community history that's lost because obits have become ads. In my newspaper's pages, many people's lives have been boiled down to a name, age, hometown and date of funeral - two or three sentences tops. We do a free death notice of a couple of sentences - all obits are paid, after years of free obits and longer paid obits. Why? Probably because these families don't have the money to capture their loved one's life. That's a sad delineation and a loss for history.
Andy Schotz, Hagerstown, Md.

Our policy here . . . changed about a year ago from all free for obit and death notices to a flat fee of $20 (with or without photo b/w). We do not charge this to our three advertising local funeral homes, but do to all other funeral homes or other submitters. We have never written any obits; we leave that to the families and funeral homes. We do not charge for any death notices. I made the decision to start charging "others" because I felt the local funeral homes were carrying the cost the obits for the "others". We have received no complaints about our obits policy.
Paul J. Seeling - Owner, Editor and Publisher, Gateway Publishing (Sun-Argus, Woodville Leader, My Gateway News, ADRC News, Valley Values), Woodville, Wis.

I am also editor of our county historical society, and I can’t tell you how exciting it is to find a detailed obit with lots of family info. Where would we be without them?
Paula Barnett, Publisher, Woodruff County Monitor

About five years ago we switched to a three-tiered system for obituaries here in Medford. Prior to that we ran them all for free, but they had to conform to our style and our policies (no flowery language, in-laws listed by name only when the spouse was still alive, grandchildren listed by number and not name) which led to a lot of headaches and disgruntled customers who would argue they only had 1 grandchild as compared to so and so who had 55 and couldn't we please make an exception just for them. As a result we were getting a lot of people angry because of arbitrary policies to which we blindly adhered. If you couldn't tell, I wasn't a fan of that system. We also found out that our local funeral homes were charging customers an "obituary preparation fee" to send us in the notice of death form, which bugged us more than a little bit since we were the ones who wrote up the obituaries and got the grief when the information provided to us by the funeral home was incorrect.
We have a standing directive in the newsroom that prominent citizens such as those who have been recognized by "lifetime achievement" awards from the community or other similar honor get a news obituary written about their death regardless of what the family chooses to do for obituaries. The scope of this story depends on the impact the person had on the community and newsworthiness.
Brian Wilson, News Editor, The Star News, Medford, Wis.

Charging for obituaries is a good way to start your newspaper on a downhill slide. The newspaper should be printing every obituary it can get its hands on free to record the life stories of the people in the community and to provide a historical record. Charging for obituaries will cause some people not to submit them. Whether that percentage is 10 percent, 25 percent or 50 percent, I don't know, but even the smallest percentage is too much. People in your community should know who died; it shouldn't depend on whether the family wants to pay to tell the community.
Charles Gay, former weekly publisher, Sheldon, Wash.

We don't charge for obits but they have to be local. That sometimes raises questions about, "How local?" If a second cousin of the village president dies in the Bahamas, we probably wouldn't run it.
David Giffey. Editor, Home News, Spring Green, Wis.

We do not charge for obits, birth announcements, weddings, engagements or anniversaries. Heck, we don't even charge for the thank-you notes that follow, although some people choose to buy ads so they can make their thank-you note prettier. My goal is that we will never have to charge for these things. We have a seasonal economy and charging would mean a lot of those announcements would never make it in the paper. We also use a very light hand to edit them, especially on obituaries. They're the very things that connect the community to the newspaper, and they're the very things that tell the history of the community.
Lori Evans, editor and publisher, Homer (Alaska) News

We charge for the "death notice" - details of the death and where the funeral is. It's a flat fee, about £30 for a limited number of words. For the funeral report - biographical details and list of mourners - we don't make a charge and I can't imagine doing so in the near future. We're clearly out of step by NOT charging, but I still agree with Charlie Gay that obituary reports are news, and a popular part of the paper. We do lose money by not charging but on the other hand, everyone at the funeral is going to buy the paper to see their name - some of them might be new readers and could then realise what a fantastic paper we are. People also buy the paper to post out to relatives.
Jeremy Condliffe, Editor, Congleton Chronicle, Cheshire, England, U.K. (ISWNE president)

Here at the Yellow Springs News, we don't charge for obits, considering them a community service. And their lengths vary wildly— we try to print what's submitted, although of course we reserve the right to edit or cut them if necessary. I had no clue how unusual it is that (some) community papers don't charge until in recent years my own mother died, and like several other editors who wrote in, I was shocked at the high price of putting anything in her hometown paper, much less something long (I'm afraid the editors of those obit pages were the puzzled recipients of my misplaced rage). I remain proud that we can offer this service and believe it creates remarkable good will in the community, which is, of course, priceless.
Diane Chiddister, Yellow Springs (Ohio) News

I edit three community weeklies, and we do not charge for obituaries. We take out comments such as "he was loved by his family" but publish pretty much all the factual details the funeral home sends, and a photo if provided. We look at it as news.
Leslie O'Donnell in New Hampshire

The Alcona County Review in northeastern Michigan still considers obituaries news and doesn’t charge to have them published. They must adhere to our “style” which excludes eulogizing and other personal comments. If someone doesn’t want to follow our guidelines, then they are welcome to pay for an obituary and it is marked as paid advertising. At different times in the last few years we’ve discussed charging for obits, but feel that the good will that is gained from it and the thank you ads that are almost always placed in our newspaper after the funeral (to friends, family, etc. that have shown support) more than makes up for the “lost revenue.”
Cheryl Peterson, editor/publisher, Alcona County Review

We charge for all standard death notices including more wordy messages. On the other hand we run ‘Vale’ editorials initiated within our editorial teams or from the community at no charge. These are run somewhat sparingly and most often feature community and social leaders; long serving doctors, sporting legends, political and council or political leaders. Most often this is done with the close support and involvement of the family of the deceased. ... We run approximately seven to eight death notices per week in my largest weekly and the same paper runs fewer than a dozen ‘Vales’ in a year.
Matt Jenkins, General Manager,

Are you freakin' kidding me – charging folks for obits seems a VERY slippery road indeed.  . . . Newspapers are hurting, but, believe me, prostituting your newsroom isn't going to solve your problems. Not in the long run, anyway.
Richard Mostyn, Editor, Yukon News,

The story we write when the mayor dies is news. The obituary his family wants in the newspaper is paid for and runs at the beginning of our classified section. We deal with the funeral home which buries the cost (ha ha) in its fees. Obits are posted to our website. No complaints. We don't seem to deal in many death notices unless the death occurs at deadline and the funeral is going to be right after the paper comes out. They are paid as well.
George at

The Hickman County Times, Centerville, Tenn., tries to run all obituaries for free. We do not succeed.
Our basic obit includes names of immediate family, limited highlights of the deceased's life -- where born, parents, occupation, civic involvements, military affiliation, church -- and service information. Also, we include names of immediate family who have died. Picture is free.
If a family wants more than our basic obit -- which usually runs 4-5 inches and is pretty comprehensive -- they can say what they want for $40.
Brad Martin, Editor

When we began publishing 17 months ago, it never occurred to me to charge for obituaries. We are a small town and more than half of our population is composed of seniors. Of the 131 members of the local senior center, the average age is 80. We could use the revenue, but the response to our obituaries is priceless. Literally. We often run obits from the funeral homes, but at least half the time, I'm asked to come and interview the family and write the obit. I include the usual stats, but I also treat it like any other interview and look for the personal traits and foibles that folks remember and loved about that person. I think writing obits is an important job. In a town this small, I often know the deceased and have sometimes been friends with him or her. You are crafting the only memory/news/stories that a grandchild or great grandchild might have access to. I take it very seriously and have had at least one man ask his wife to have me write the obit when he died. That's a compliment that means a lot to me.
If the person was well-known in town, we might also follow up with a photo and caption for Celebration of Life. Again, treating it like local news, which it is.
Jessica L. Lloyd-Rogers, Coast Lake News, Lakeside, Ore.

If, 40 years ago, when I bought my newspaper, someone had told me I could:
• have someone else provide me, on a regular basis, a mini-feature story on someone in my circulation area or who had a connection to my area ...
• be guaranteed these mini-features would, week after week, be one of the most well-read features in my newspaper ...
• have people call me and thank me for printing the story about their friend and family member exactly as they wanted it ...
• provide a lasting piece of history guaranteed to be clipped and kept, recorded for posterity, and be a part of history books ...
... I would be sad about the cost someone else pays to make these possible, but happy about the fact I do not have to pay for them myself.
All of my funeral homes said they were surprised we did not already charge, encouraged us to do so if we felt the need, but ... then one director made a fateful remark: "Robert, everyone here wants their obit in your newspaper. But they feel they have to have their obits in the (nearby daily) because it makes the news available quickly. They don't like paying for it there, but feel like they have no choice. Once they have paid for the obit to appear there, if it is going to be another several days before your obit appears, then some people are likely to say: 'Nah, let's don't pay a second time, since we've already paid to put it in (the daily.)" That's when it dawned on me that he made sense and, ultimately, we would soon no longer be the "newspaper of historic record" that everyone knows will have EVERY obituary.
Robert M. Williams, Jr., Publisher, SouthFire Newspapers Group, Blackshear Ga. (The Alma Times, The Blackshear Times, Charlton County Herald, The Monroe County Reporter, The Telfair Enterprise,
Three Rivers Gazette)

Input from a just-sold-out weekly publisher: I always operated by the motto "look for ways to get reader submissions into the paper rather than making up rules to keep them out." Yes, we have a necessary role as news gatekeepers, buy I've had readers respond to the darnedest submitted "news" items that didn't exactly follow the high-minded ambitions learned in J-school. I understand tight finances, but newsprint's cheap. Open up those newsholes as much as possible. Create features to encourage No. 3 above, which one might think of as a prehistoric precursor to Facebook. Here's an idea to satisfy all, even the journalistic purists among us: Make your main obituary wholly fact based, journalistically sound. Add a sidebar that might say: "Here's how family and friends remembered the late Joe Blow:" Maybe several bullet points to follow about his favorite dog, devotion to God, and how he coped with his dyslexia when he got them mixed up, etc.
David Mullings, former owner, Ouray County Plaindealer & The Ridgway Sun, Ouray, Colo.

We treat obituaries as essential news. Because they are not paid advertising, we feel we can write, edit or rewrite as we would any other news story. We want our paper to be the place where people find all the obits, as complete as possible, and well-written. The funeral homes are helpful in sending obits but we rarely use them just as they are. We may edit for space in a tight week. For example, it is common practice here for families to include a long list of honorary pall bearers; sometimes we cut those. We try to treat everyone equally, so we don't do anything special for "prominent" people. We make use of our local history books for fact checking. We try to maintain a high standard of quality for the photos, although we sometimes run what we are given even if the photo is not good because we think it's important to have some image of the person with their obituary. I can't imagine that we will ever charge for obits.Kathy Nelson, Timber Lake Topic

I was nine or 10 years old when my grandfather, Edward Newberg, died. The daily Grand Island (Neb.) Independent published his obituary and photo on page 1. He was no celebrity or public figure -- he was an area farmer who'd lived most of his life in the area. But his death was front-page news to the Independent. As a kid, I was really impressed with the newspaper. I still have the clipping.
When I owned, published and edited a weekly in Montana (the Bigfork Eagle), I refused (at times, even angering family members) to run paid obituaries. They were news -- often the deaths were the talk of the town. The obits were news, and we re-wrote the pablum that most of the funeral homes submitted.
We did allow family-written obits (no charge) if they were well written. We required that a cause of death be included. (If it was a suicide, we wouldn't include that detail in the obit.) Remembering my grandfather, I tried to publish obits as often as I could on page 1. I think our obit policy was both good journalism and a good business practice.
Marc Wilson

We are now charging. The Express traditionally did not charge but we edited the obituary for according to our style guidelines. When we added the Record (the two share a common obituary page) we had a problem because the Record published obituaries as written with no editing. Record readers were unhappy with our editing so the compromise was to charge 30 percent of our display ad rate to run the complete obit. We still correct grammar but if they want to list a dog among the survivors, or whatever, we will where we wouldn't have before. We mark them as paid obits and they are well read. We also are charging $7 to include a photo with the obit. That has been surprisingly popular.
Bill Blauvelt, The Superior Express/Jewell County Record, Superior, Neb.; Mankato, Kan.

Personally, I agree with Andy Schotz, Marcia Woods, Charlie Gay, Cheryl Peterson, Lori Evans, Richard Mostyn and others that deaths are news, and that news shouldn't be sold. However, Helen and I sold our last weekly three years ago, and I do understand the financial pressures that have impacted many of you in that time.
Helen and I didn't charge for obituaries at our weeklies in Humansville, Seymour and Vandalia, Mo., though we insisted on editing what the funeral home or family submitted. Once in a while, a family member would complain that we wouldn't run what the family submitted word-for-word and offered to pay for it. I'd try to convince the family to wait until the paper came out, see what we wrote, and then decide whether it still wanted to pay for something different. Only once or twice did that happen.
We also wrote lengthy front-page stories on the deaths of prominent folks.
We've all had the experience of receiving obits from two "sides" of a family when the deceased has been divorced. Each side submits a different list of survivors. In those cases, we went with what the funeral home supplied.
One more story: I lament the return of the word "passes" as a substitute for "dies." John Jones didn't pass (unless he was in his car); he died. A predecessor owner of our Humansville Star-Leader published front-page obits in the 1950s. And, yes, around 1956, he had the misfortune of publishing an obit with a typo in the headline: "Mrs. Brown pisses."
I want to thank everyone for the thoughtful responses to my customer's question. I enjoyed the vigorous discussion, one of the best we've had with the hotline.
Gary Sosniecki, newspaper consultant

New food safety laws will be in need of funding

An overhaul of food safety laws intended to help the Food and Drug Administration prevent illness is in need of funding. Lyndsey Layton of the Washington Post reports that President Barack Obama is scheduled to sign the legislation on Tuesday, then it is up to the new Republican-controlled Congress to fund it.

Food safety advocates say the new law will pay for itself. Erik Olson, director of food and consumer safety programs at the Pew Health Group, said a study released last year by the Produce Safety Project at Georgetown University estimated that food-borne illnesses cost the country $152 billion a year in medical costs, lost productivity and other expenses, not including the costs to companies that recall products. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the food-safety law would cost about $1.4 billion in its first five years, including the cost of hiring an estimated 2,000 additional food inspectors.

The changes to the law include giving the FDA the authority to recall food (which is now voluntary), stepped up inspections of food processing locations, and imported food must be proven to meet U.S. safety standards. (Read more)

Calif. weeklies settle multi-million-dollar dispute

This isn't rural, but appears to be a victory for independent weekly newspapers, which are especially important in rural areas. The San Francisco Bay Guardian and SF Weekly have reached a confidential settlement of a lawsuit in which the independenly owned Guardian accused the Weekly, owned by Villlage Voice Media, of selling advertising below cost to run it out of business, in violation of state antitrust law. The Guardian had won a $21 million jury verdict, and the California Supreme Court "denied a hearing on the Weekly's appeal," reports Bob Egelko of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Under court orders during the appeals, the Guardian took half the Weekly's ad revenue. Both papers have free distribution and rely solely on ads. Bruce Brugmann, the Guardian's editor and publisher, called the case "a model for protecting other small, independent businesses facing predatory pricing schemes from competitors." A Village Voice executive said the Weekly would "continue business as usual" and has continued to widen its circulation lead over the Guardian, the Chronicle reports. For our earlier items on the dispute, click here.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Judy Bonds, who energized foes of mountaintop-removal coal mining, dies of cancer

Julia "Judy" Bonds, who became perhaps the most prominent opponent of mountaintop-removal coal mining in Central Appalachia, died today of cancer. She was executive director of Coal River Mountain Watch, a West Virginia group that tangled with many of the state's politicians and the nation's largest coal companies. She was 58. (Portrait of Bonds by Robert Shetterly, part of Americans Who Tell the Truth series; click image for larger version)

"She inspired thousands in the movement to end mountaintop removal and was a driving force in making it what it has become," the group's co-director, Vernon Haltom, said in a news release. "While people of lesser courage would candy-coat their words or simply shut up and sit down, Judy called it as she saw it. She endured physical assault, verbal abuse, and death threats because she stood up for justice for her community.  I never met a more courageous person, one who faced her own death and spoke about it with the same voice as if it were a scheduled trip." Bonds often cited Christian values in her work.

Anti-coal activist Jeff Biggers writes on The Huffington Post: "She was a tireless, funny, and inspiring orator, and a savvy and brilliant community organizer. She was fearless in the face of threats. As the godmother of the anti-mountaintop-removal movement, she gave birth to a new generation of clean energy and human rights activists across the nation." For more from Biggers and Haltom, via the Coal Tattoo blog of Ken Ward Jr. and The Charleston Gazette, click here.

Bonds received the $150,000 Goldman Environmental Prize in 2003 for her work. She was a member of the national advisory board of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes The Rural Blog. She was recruited by an Institute co-founder, the late Rudy Abramson, who met her during his reporting on Appalachia about 10 years ago for the Alicia Patterson Foundation.

Alaska libraries getting faster Internet service

The Alaska State Library has launched an $8.2 million project to connect 104 libraries across the state to faster Internet service, reports Sean Manget for the Alaska Journal of Commerce.  The program, called Alaska OWL: Online With Libraries, will also provide equipment for video conferencing, computer hardware and software, and trained specialists to service many of those facilities.

Internet speeds can make downloading a 10-megabyte file (the size of a few picture-heavy PDF files) a daylong affair in Unalaska, said Daniel Masoni, director of the public library in Unalaska. One community is planning on using the video conferencing capability to train public safety officers and firefighters. "So it's not like we're providing a set of particular trainers or educational opportunities and they have to choose from that set. Instead, whatever they want, and whatever they need, they can reach out for and get," Linda Thibodeau, director of Alaska Libraries, Archives and Museums, said to Manget.

The U.S. Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration is providing most of the funds, plus matching contributions from the state, non-profit organizations, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rasmuson Foundation and from the Alaska State Library.  (Read more)

Pesticide drift damages Oregon vineyards

In Oregon, a rapidly growing number of vineyards that share boundaries with farms and private forestlands are being affected by pesticide drift, reports Susan Palmer of the Register-Guard. Herbicides have been used in Oregon for decades, and "often on rugged terrain that makes following product rules difficult," writes Palmer.

To compound the problem, grapes are notoriously sensitive to chemicals that kill broad-leaf weeds and pesticides for timberland are often administered by helicopter. Aerial drift is even harder to control in the windy, moist climate of Oregon. The pesticide industry acknowledges that drift is so challenging a problem that it can’t be eliminated, writes Palmer. Oregon vineyard owners Kevin and Karen Kohlman filed suit against neighboring company Roseburg Forest Products for the effects of the company's use of herbicides on its forest land. The Kohlmans say Roseburg's aerial spraying killed much of their vineyard. The Kohlmans and Roseburg settled out of court, after several years of legal wrangling.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed revisions to restrict herbicide use in order to limit drift, but pesticide companies are challenging the language in the revisions. The EPA has proposed additional label language warning applicators to avoid drift, but there is no schedule for making the change, agency officials said to Palmer. (Read more)

Rural stock picks do very well in 2010

The Daily Yonder 40 -- forty stocks picked to reflect the rural economy -- had a very good year. Make that a very, very good year. The selection of stocks rose 31.4% this year, a gain that swamped all the major stock indexes, according to Bill Bishop, James Branscom and John Borden of the Daily Yonder. In 2010, the Dow Industrials rose 11%,  the S&P 500 rose 12.8% and the NASDAQ rose 16.9%. Not even close to the Daily Yonder 40.

Among the strongest performers was Tractor Supply, the retailer that sells rural America "the stuff you need out here." Tractor's good fortune just may reflect the extremely strong farm economy, which had land and crop prices rising, according to Bishop, Branscom and Borden. Tractor Supply was up 83.1%. Other winners: Grand Old Opry owner Gaylord Entertainment rose 82% this year. Family Dollar was up 78.6%; Sturm Ruger, up 57.6%; Cabela's, up 52.5%.

Nine stocks were losers: Dean Foods ("milk is still oversupplied"), Monsanto ("under antitrust scrutiny by the Department of Justice"), Alico, ConAgra, International Speedway ("people continued to stay away from NASCAR"), Plum Creek Timber, Penn Virginia, Skywest and Universal Corp. 

As for next year, companies interested in clean energy should be successful, food companies have vowed to increase their prices, equipment sales continue to look strong, and the Northwest is increasing its exports of wood products to China. (For a full list of the stocks and to read more)

Rural Californians worry about impact of high-speed rail on farm land

The stimulus package plan to bring high-speed railroads to the U.S. is generally considered to have the most impact on the urban areas they would connect. Some rural Californians say the state's high-speed rail project will have a negative impact on valuable farm land. The area just south of Madera, Calif., "is not much to look at: miles of farmland, a collection of dingy fast food outlets and a gold rush ghost called Borden, where all that remains is a tiny cemetery devoted to long dead Chinese workers," Jesse McKinley of The New York Times reports. "But sometime soon, this flat-on-flat expanse — about 150 miles southeast of San Francisco — may well be home to a first-in-the-nation destination as the initial northern terminus of California’s ambitious high-speed rail network."

The project has generated predictable political opposition from Republicans in the state, but "in the Central Valley, where huge, decades-old government irrigation projects have helped turned California into an agricultural powerhouse, farmers have grumbled about the rail project gobbling up valuable farm land," McKinley writes. Dave Kranz, a spokesman for the California Farm Bureau, explained, "We’re of the belief that the productive farmland is an environmental and societal benefit, and we ought to be doing whatever we can to keep that land productive. And once it’s gone, it’s gone forever."

"It’s not about today; it’s about the future," Roelof van Ark, the chief executive of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, told McKinley. "I hope that Mr. Cardoza and others will see the light." Federal and state authorities have committed $5.5 billion to the first leg of the project, which will connect Bakersfield with the unincorporated area south of Madera. Critics have described the initial route as "the train to nowhere." Ronald W. Haggard,  the city manager of Corcoran, which is south of Madera, worries the big money concerns will dwarf his small town worries. "When they talk about ‘the train to nowhere,’ we’re not nowhere," Hoggard told McKinley. "We’re Mayberry." (Read more)

Do chickens run around with their heads cut off?

The Kristen Inbody of the Great Falls Tribune investigated ten "rural legends," checking for the truth or fiction in each tale. An abbreviated sampling of the legends and the reality:
  • Chickens run around after their heads are cut off. Truth: Yes, they can and do.
  • Gopher stomachs explode when they eat gum. Truth: Bubble gum seems to be an effective weapon in the war on gophers.
  • Farmers can hear corn growing on hot summer nights. Truth: "Oh, gosh no," says Toby Day, MSU-Extension horticulturalist in the state office in Bozeman.
  • The mullet is an acceptable hairstyle. Truth: no, it isn't.
    (Read more)

Florida is slow to close valves on 'pill pipeline'

The "pill pipeline" from Florida to Central Appalachia and other regions has not been closed despite the passage of laws in Florida to tighten controls on prescription painkillers, Bill Estep reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

"The prescription-monitoring system it mandated might not be in place for months, and there are concerns about continued funding for the program when it is up and running," Estep writes, noting that many Kentuckians leave the state to get painkillers because it is one of the few states with a prescription-monitoring system. "The program, a national model, allows doctors to see whether a patient has been doctor shopping, or going to multiple physicians to get prescriptions for drugs. Police also use the system to investigate whether legal drugs are being sold illegally."

Florida passed a law in April 2009 to set up a monitoring system, but setting it up "took many months," Estep reports. A contractor was chosen Dec. 21 but the losing bidder plans to appeal and Florida officials don't expect the system to be operating until June. And after a federal grant runs out, it may not have enough money to operate because of state budget problems. (Read more)

Sunday, January 02, 2011

EPA issues detailed, enforceable plan to clean up Chesapeake Bay; states worry about costs

UPDATE, Jan. 10: The American Farm Bureau Federation is suing to block the EPA regulation, saying the plan "will not only ruin agriculture in that region, it will also become a model for similar environmental restrictions nationally," Ken Anderson writes for Brownfield Network, which has audio of a 14-minute speech by President Bob Stallman to the AFBF convention in Atlanta.

The Washington Post reports, "The Environmental Protection Agency established an aggressive 'pollution diet' for the Chesapeake Bay on Wednesday, spelling out steps that six states and the District must take by 2025 to put the troubled estuary on the path to recovery."

We're a bit late on this story because The Rural Blog is running in low gear until Jan. 10, but we're posting this item because we have long followed efforts to clean up the bay, which has a huge watershed (left) that is one of the main intersections of agriculture, fishing and the environment. An EPA official called the plan is "the largest water pollution strategy plan in the nation," will affect "how pig and chicken farms dispose of waste," Juliet Eilperin writes. "Some state and local officials warned the plan could be costly and hard to execute, particularly at a time when state budgets are under immense pressure." (Read more)

For second straight year, not a single coal-fired power unit started construction in U.S.

We published a big raft of blog items about the coal industry's problems in 2010, and many of them are summed up in a story today in The Washington Post by Steven Mufson, whose key quote comes from Kevin Parker, global head of asset management at Deutsche Bank: "Coal is a dead man walkin'. Banks won't finance them. Insurance companies won't insure them. The EPA is coming after them. . . . And the economics to make it clean don't work."

The story's key datum is this: After nine years in which power companies started construction of 20 generating units, the U.S. has just gone through two years in which not a single plant has been started, because of "a combination of low natural gas prices, shale-gas discoveries, the economic slowdown and litigation by environmental groups," Mufson writes. He cites the latter two factors as the reason for cancellation of an East Kentucky Power Cooperative plant on which the co-op had spent $150 million.

He adds, "The battle over coal plants could sharpen in 2011, as the Environmental Protection Agency deploys regulations to improve the efficiency, and lower the greenhouse-gas emissions, of big power plants. . . . Republican lawmakers have vowed to handcuff the EPA, which is also planning to issue broader guidelines later in the year." Luke Popovich, spokesman for the National Mining Association, reminded Mufson that the federal Energy Information Administration expects that the nation will need to build 30 to 40 new plants to supply the 21 gigawatts of new electricity demand expected by 2035." (Read more) UPDATE: East Kentucky Power says the story has two errors: The total cost of the unit would have been $819 million, including the $150 million already spent, and the settlement does not call for new pollution-control equipment.