Saturday, June 11, 2011

Ethanol credit up for test in Senate Tuesday

UPDATE, June 14: The Senate defeated Coburn's amendment by a vote of 59 to 40. After Senate Democratic leaders worked against it, one of his initial co-sponsors, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., withdrew her support, citing "real concerns about the process used to bring this amendment to the floor." Majoriy Leader Harry Reid said he would hold a vote on ethanol June 24, but "It is unclear whether there will be a vote only on the amendment from Feinstein or whether an additional vote on an alternative measure, like the one offered from Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), will be allowed," Darren Goode of Politico reports.

Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, right, says he has the votes needed to pass legislation in the Senate that would repeal the federal tax credit for ethanol. The vote, set for Tuesday, will be on "an amendment to unrelated legislation that is not expected to pass," but a vote to kill the ethanol credit would be "a signficant break with more than two decades of GOP tax orthodoxy, which prohibits increasing revenue by any means other than economic growth," reports Lori Montgomery of The Washington Post.

"Coburn has argued that Republicans must abandon that orthodoxy to forge a compromise with Democrats on a viable plan to rein in the spiraling national debt," Montgomery writes, noting that the no-tax pledge signed by almost all congressional Republicans casts such a vote as a tax increase. Coburn told her, "I don’t think this is a tax increase. This is stupidity at its height. If you vote to give the richest oil companies in this country $3 billion between now and the end of December, then you don’t get it. You are absolutely confused about what the problems are in this country." (Read more)

In diagnosing your local hospital's cutbacks, take a national look

Is your rural hospital cutting staff and services? It may be part of a national trend, and is certainly affected by national phenomena, as Jennifer Gordon of the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press makes clear in writing about cutbacks at the small Atchison Hospital, in the Kansas town a few miles downstream on the Missouri River.

"The same set of issues that beset urban hospitals — declining physician reimbursement rates and an increase in patients unable to cover health care costs — affect rural facilities at a greater rate," writes Gordon, right. "On average, rural hospitals serve areas with higher incidences of unemployment and Medicare and Medicaid recipients. They also serve fewer patients and a shrinking population (the 2010 Census revealed Atchison County’s population has decreased 2.8 percent since 1990), which means rural hospitals cannot generate as much revenue as larger facilities."

Gordon's story is a good example of how to use national information to explain local events. To read it, click here.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Study finds eastern wolves are part coyote

A wolf, or a coyote, or both?
Wolves in the Eastern U.S. are hybrids of gray wolves and coyotes, and the region's coyotes actually are wolf-coyote-dog hybrids, with varying degrees of hybridization, according to a new study "that is adding fuel to a longstanding debate over the origins of two endangered species," the red wolf in North Carolina and the eastern Canadian wolf, Mary Esch of The Associated Press reports.

The global study, published online in the scientific journal Genome Research, used information from the dog genome. It followed a study which found that "domestic dogs likely originated in the Middle East and shared more genetic similarity with Middle Eastern gray wolves than any other wolf population," Esch writes.

As VA struggles to deal with recent vets' health issues, audit shows rural efforts' impact uncertain

"Long distances and restrictive rules have become obstacles to health care for many of the more than 3 million rural veterans enrolled in the VA health system," David Goldstein of McClatchy Newspapers reports. "But the agency's effort to aid rural veterans has other problems as well. An April internal VA audit found that it couldn't determine whether a lot of the money spent on rural health care in recent years care did any good."

Rural vets account for 41 percent of VA enrollees, and more than a third of those who served in Irag and Afghanistan, Goldstein notes. "While there appears to be general agreement that VA hospitals provide good medical care, the system has been under extreme stress because of the wars" in thoose nations, which have lasted longer than expected and caused many phsical disabilities and metal illnesses. "suicides among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have reached record levels," Goldstein writes.

As Congress reconsiders ban on horse slaughter, GAO studies whether ban leads to more neglect

The Government Accountability Office is studying if there is a correlation between neglect of horses and the effective ban on horse slaughter in the U.S, reports Wendy Reuer of The Forum of Fargo.

"Although a ban to prevent horse slaughter in the U.S. was meant to protect horses, many say it is only hurting them," Reuer writes, quoting Charlotte Tuhy, above, owner of Hightail Ranch and Rescue in Hawley, Minn.: “I think they would be much better off as far as the horses are concerned to have horse slaughter in the U.S. because we can govern it.”

Horses can still be "sold for kill" and shipped to Canada or Mexico, where equine abattoirs are "often lightly regulated," Reuer reports, adding that the Animal Welfare Council says shipments now exceed 100,000 horses a year. Medora rancher Doug Tescher said horses that would once bring $300 to $400 for U.S. slaughter bring only $25 to $50, and sale costs average $30.

Reuer explains that "a 2007 federal appropriations bill blocks funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to inspect equine meat," and notes that the House Appropriations Committee voted only 24-21 to continue the ban recently. The GAO study could influence the outcome, but it's unclear when it will be released. The full House will vote on the USDA spending bill this month, Reuer writes.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Obama creates White House Rural Council; observers greet it with considerable skepticism

President Obama today created a White House Rural Council, chaired by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, right, and made up of representatives from other agencies, mostly Cabinet-level. Vilsack called it "a truly historic moment for the nation and "an unprecedented commitment to rural America."

In a conference call with reporters, Vilsack denied that the council was a response to Republican criticism of the administration's policies on issues related to public lands in the West, and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar denied that it was created to enhance Obama's chances for re-election. Both said the administration has been better for rural America than its predecessors, or at least some of them. "It has been a forotten America," Salazar said. Vilsack added, "We need to do a better job, obviously, of reminding folks of what’s been done," which he also did in a White House Blog post.

Vilsack told reporters the focus of the council will be "innovative strategies to grow the economy in rural America," and Salazar said it would "help ensure that small towns and rural counties remain front and center in our policies and priorities." In response to the question about Obama's re-election, Vilsack said the council would "go out and listen to folks," and in his blog post said it would be "a means of connecting with rural America." Such activities were not mentioned in Obama's executive order.

Bill Bishop of the Daily Yonder wrote that he was left unclear about just what the council would do, started a discussion on the Yonder's Facebook page and said Lynda Waddington of the Iowa Indepednent had some ideas. The White House has an Office of Urban Affairs. For Obama's press release, click here.

UPDATE, June 12: Miryam Ehrlich Williamson of The Back Forty suggests the council will have too many agencies and not enough decision-makers at the table, since the agency heads can deisgnate subordinates to represent them. She speaks from experience as a congressional aide. For her blog post, click here. One of those subordinates, acting Assistant Energy Secretaryn Henry Kelly, reports on the Energy Department's blog about the council's first meeting and writes about an energy-efficiency grant that is helping a Kentucky dairy farmer. For that story, click here.

AEP to shut 5 coal-fired plants, citing EPA rules, which will have major impact in several regions

First it was the Tennessee Valley Authority, announcing that it would close 18 old, coal-fired power plants as part of a settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency. Now Amercian Electric Power Co. has announced it will shut five coal-fired plants and convert others to natural gas, to meet new EPA regulations. "Those changes would be driven by proposed rules requiring coal-fired power plants to cut their air pollution, handle chemical-laden coal ash differently and upgrade their cooling water systems to avoid killing fish," Gabriel Nelson of Environment & Energy News reports (subscription required). Three of the plants are in West Virginia, one in Virginia and one in Ohio.

A study by NERA Economic Consulting for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electrcity predicts the impact of the new rules by electric region:
"The cumulative impacts of the EPA's current regulatory path have been vastly underestimated, particularly in Midwest states dependent on coal to fuel their economies," AEP chairman and CEO Michael Morris said in a news release. "Because of the unrealistic compliance timelines in the EPA proposals, we will have to prematurely shut down nearly 25 percent of our current coal-fueled generating capacity, cut hundreds of good power-plant jobs, and invest billions of dollars in capital to retire, retrofit and replace coal-fueled power plants. The sudden increase in electricity rates and impacts on state economies will be significant at a time when people and states are still struggling." (Read more)

Not enough local journalism to hold government and business accountable, study concludes

“The independent watchdog function that the Founding Fathers envisioned for journalism — going so far as to call it crucial to a healthy democracy — is in some cases at risk at the local level,” says a report for the Federal Communications Commssion, "The Information Needs of Communities: The changing media landscape in a broadband age." Though the report is for the FCC, it deals with all forms of local news media and was prompted partly by concern about daily newspapers.

“In many communities, we now face a shortage of local, professional, accountability reporting,” says the 478-page report, written primarily by veteran Washington journalist Steven Waldman. It recommends "making actual in-the-field reporting a part of the curriculum at journalism schools, steering more government advertising money toward local instead of national media, and changing the tax code to encourage donations to nonprofit media organizations," The New York Times reports.

The major philanthropic funder of journalism, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, endorsed the recommendations and pointed to recommendations its own Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities. For the Knight press release, click here.

The findings of the FCC report "painted a dim portrait of local media," Times reporters Jeremy Peters and Brian Stelter write, choosing this as the study conclusion to highlight: "Coverage of state governments and municipalities has receded at such an alarming pace that it has left government with more power than ever to set the agenda and have assertions unchallenged." (Read more)

Americans have "more news choices than ever," but "non-profit websites and other media ventures . . .  are still not filling the journalism gap left by the contraction of newspapers, said Waldman, co-founder of the religion website," Associated Press technology writer Joelle Tessler reports.

Agricultural scientists link global warming to human activity, say trouble for farming has already begun

Three allied agricultural-science groups, with a total of more than 10,000 members, say the Earth is warming, and partly because of human activity. In other words, they believe in anthropogenic climate change.

The American Society of Agronomy, the Crop Science Society of America and the Soil Science Society of America said “A comprehensive body of scientific evidence indicates beyond reasonable doubt that global climat change is now occurring,” and “Increases in ambient temperatures and changes in related processes are directly linked to rising anthropogenic greenhouse-gas concentrations in the atmosphere.”

The groups warn that climate change could have big impacts on agriculture and “ecosystem services” such as pollination, erosion control and natural pest management. "In fact, the groups say, changes in temperature have already begun to affect crops, water availability, and pests in some areas," the Washington newsletter Agri-Pulse reports. Agri-Pulse is subscription-only, but offers a four-issue trial subscription.

The Economist, which calls itself a newspaper but is arguably the world's best magazine, had a cover story, multimedia presentation and lead editorial last week welcoming readers to the Anthropocene Epoch, a new geologic age of man. "It is one of those moments where a scientific realisation, like Copernicus grasping that the Earth goes round the sun, could fundamentally change people’s view of things far beyond science," the editortial says. "It means more than rewriting some textbooks. It means thinking afresh about the relationship between people and their world and acting accordingly." The package generated a lot of letters.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Without risking tax dollars, rural Wyo. town creates a fiber broadband network that makes money

A town of 5,000 people in a county with only four people per square mile might seem to be one of the last places to get fiber-optic broadband to everyone who wants it. But "a team of community planners, IT pros and financial experts helped put together a locally owned broadband fiber network" for Powell, Wyo., just east of Yellowstone National Park, the Daily Yonder reports.

"Powell’s network broke even in 18 months and has operated profitably ever since," Craig Settles reports. "Two service providers, including the town’s partner, Tri-County Telecom, compete for subscribers of data, voice and video services. And most stunningly, this $5 million project put no taxpayer dollars at risk."

How Powell did it "is relatively easy to describe," Settles writes. "The devil, of course, is in the details. Every community is different and each will need to tailor the approach." (Read more)

Cable channels, especially Fox's, emphasize criticism of EPA's greenhouse-gas regulations

A study by the liberal watchdog group Media Matters says cable-TV news audiences got "a steady stream of attacks" on the Environmental Protection Agency's greenhouse-gas regulations but "relatively few arguments for the greenhouse-gas regulations," Gabriel Nelson of Environment & Energy News reports.

The group says critics outnumbered supporters by four to one on the nine cable channels it studied beginning in December 2009, when EPA issued a finding that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are a threat to human health and welfare. The study concluded in April.

"Leading the way were the three stations owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. -- Fox, Fox News and Fox Business -- which featured 129 critics and 19 supporters over the past 18 months," Nelson writes. "The only stations with more supporters than critics were MSNBC and NBC, which had a combined nine guests supporting EPA and two critics. (Read more, subscription required)

Media Matters is campaigning to have advertisers drop Fox, but former TV executive Norman Horowitz, "a raging liberal," writes in Fox's defense on that the group "has crossed a line by trying to stifle a voice of which they don’t approve. They suggest, in a manner of speaking, that the public destroy the Fox presses by removing the financial support of Fox News that comes from Madison Avenue. . . . their shouting emits a foul odor when they are advocating the suppression of views expressed on Fox News along with the suppression of Fox News itself." (Read more)

EPA offers resources for environmental reporters

The Environmental Protection Agency has made several online resources available for reporters to "help generate or confirm stories" and save time, the Society of Environmental Journalists reports.

Cleanups in My Community: Through a street address or ZIP code search, reporters can learn which facilities in their community are subject to EPA's Superfund, Brownfields or Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA, solid or hazardous waste) cleanup programs, SEJ reports.

RadNet: Reporters can access the national network of over 200 radiation monitoring stations across the U.S.

Discharge Monitoring Report Pollutant Loading Tool: This tool gives reporters "better estimates of the pollutant load on a particular body of water" and "makes it easier . . . to assess whether current pollution restrictions will actually result in water quality improvements," SEJ reports.

AirNow: This tool provides "copyright-free daily local forecasts, maps, and air pollution measurements that work really well online," SEJ reports.

Southern Ky. county's Extension Service working closely with Hispanic population

In Russell County, Kentucky, population 17,565, the Cooperative Extension Service is working "with the county's Hispanic population . . . to improve their homes, families and food" through its 'Las Latinas' club, Katie Pratt reports for University of Kentucky Ag News. 'Las Latinas', an all-Hispanic Extension Homemaker Club, started in August 2010 after many Hispanic women participated in the service's community garden in the rural county on Lake Cumberland. (CES photo)

The members have participate in workshops on financial literacy, food safety, cooking and food preservation. Pamela York, Russell County's family and consumer sciences extension agent, shares Spanish-translated university publications with the group. She had the UK canning publications translated into Spanish with the help of a retired school teacher.

"Because many of their families have seasonal jobs, learning how to preserve food really makes a difference in them having food to eat in the wintertime," York told Pratt. "I think they've been able to prepare more nutritious food for themselves and their families."

Margie Hernandez, the extension assistant for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education, told Pratt, "You have a sense that you can help them. You can help them fit into the community, save money, teach them how to budget and make healthier meals for their families."

Yazmin Chavez, who has participated in the program since 2009, told Pratt, "I've stayed with Extension, because they help us and we save money. We save more money every year." (Read more)

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Small-town foundation chief says we need a real rural policy, and offers some ideas for it

As America becomes less rural, it needs a real, effective rural policy, for the good of the nation, not just for rural people, Karl Stauber writes in a two-part series concluding today in the Daily Yonder. (Yonder photo from Howard, S.D., pop. 1,156)

Stauber, president of the Danville Regional Foundation in southern Virginia, says rural America has three basic challenges besides population loss: "It is highly diverse, so 'big, top-down' solutions rarely work. ... Much of Rural America is defined by what it used to be, rather than what it hopes to be," and "Rural areas often see themselves as separate from each other and urban centers rather than being parts of regional economic and ecological systems."

He lays out some core principles for a rural policy: equal access to government services, universal high-speed Internet accessm and the ability to create competitive advantage as sitiutations change, which often requires the help of universities. (Read more)

In the first part of his series, Stauber asks a question that will need good answers if we are to have good rural policy: "Why should urban people should want rural people and areas to succeed?" He answers:
• "Almost all of America’s water and much of its food and fiber come from rural regions of the U.S. For rural regions to produce what America needs, America must support rural opportunities. But in the future, those opportunities must be different, focused on constantly creating competitive advantage, rather than simply protecting old advantages. [See below.]
• "America’s exceptionalism is based, in part, on the concept of equal access to opportunity.
• "There is an old rural saying, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”
• "Do we wish to curse rural people with poverty and poor education? That is starting to happen in some rural (and urban) parts of America.
• "Do you want to live with the population concentration or sprawl" suggested by experts who love megacities and say that's where public investment should go?
Regarding the first bullet, Stauber calls for investment in "New Ag" as opposed to "Old Ag," which he says "is largely about protecting the status quo supported by many of the major farm groups and commodity organizations.  New Ag is a combination of grassroots farmer and food organizations and environmental groups that challenge the status quo with a vision of agriculture as producing positive environmental benefits and healthier diets."
And Stauber reminds us that farming provides only about 5 percent of the jobs in rural America, and that 82 percent of farm-family farm income comes from off the farm. "There are parts of the U.S. where agriculture is dominant, but much less than 50 years ago.  Focusing on agriculture, especially Old Ag, ignores the vast majority of rural people and communities."
Given that, Stauber says, we should realize the differences in "Old Rural and "New Rural," as he calls them: "Old Rural is largely about protecting regionally dominant enterprises that produce single commodities, often with federal and state government support and protection (coal, timber, commodity crops, low-skill, low-wage manufacturing, etc.), while increasing the amount, but often not the distribution of wealth. . . . New Rural is about helping regional efforts to build diverse, evolving competitive advantage that grows the amount and distribution of wealth. ... Recruit entrepreneurs and immigrants, not low-wage manufacturing. Quality of life is critical. Environmental quality an asset to be protected, not expended." (Read more)

Park Service may survive cuts, thanks to GOP

"Budget-strapped state parks" are charging fees and relying more on volunteers, The New York Times reports, but the National Park Service may be positioned to avoid large budget cuts, with support from several Republicans. "Some fiscal conservatives" such as Rep. Cynthia Lummins of Wyoming, "are even making the agency a top funding priority," Phil Taylor of Environment & Energy News reports.

As a member of the House Interior, Forest Service and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, Lummis "said her first concern for fiscal 2012 is maintaining level funding for the agency's operations budget, which ensures adequate staffing, visitors services and routine maintenance across nearly 400 unites," Taylor reports.

Another Republican, Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho, has concerns about the proposed drop in park construction funding, since President Obama's "Great Outdoors" initiative requires significant increases in land acquisitions, Taylor reports. (Read more, subscription required)

Voluntary ban on stream disposal of drilling wastewater in Pennsylvania seems to be working

Last Thursday, Pennsylvania Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Krancer announced to officials in Washington D.C., "that drilling wastewater is no longer being discharged to rivers or streams in Pennsylvania without full treatment," Donald Gilliland of The Patriot-News in Harrisburg reports. The announcement came after Krancer asked drillers to voluntarily stop the practice.

"We've gone from millions and millions of gallons being discharged to virtually none," DEP spokeswoman Katy Gresh told Gilliland, but said the agency could not confirm complete compliance with the request. "The agency has reports of a few trucks delivering what may or may not be drilling waste," she said. "We're tracking down those leads to ensure we have complete compliance all of the time."

Can the DEP enforce compliance of a voluntary ban? Gresh said the DEP will "take whatever next step is necessary" when violators are discovered. Four environmental groups on the governor's Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission suggest making the voluntary ban "a legally enforceable requirement," Gilliland reports.

Coal strippers' compliance down in Ky., up in W.Va.

The U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement reported a drop in coal strip miners' compliance with federal laws and regulations in Kentucky in the last three years. The compliance rate in the state "dropped from 87 percent of surveyed mining sites in 2007 and 2008 to 65 percent in 2010," James Bruggers of The Courier-Journal writes.

The report identified water quality, permit administration, and backfilling and grading as the most common violations at 325 randomly selected sites, including former mines being reclaimed. "These are not minor violations," Joseph Blackburn, the top OSM official in Kentucky, told Bruggers. "I think there is a degree of seriousness we cannot ignore, and we aren't."

Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, defended the industry's record: "We need to continue to work toward a goal of 100 percent compliance, but this information released by OSM needs to be reviewed in the context of a changing regulatory climate." Bissett did not specify which rules he believed were responsible, but said there had been "change in the way the rules have been interpreted."

State officials suggested that their inspections have been more rigorous than they were under Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher, who left office in December 2007. “We are seeing a compliance issue because we are doing a much more rigorous job of enforcement,” Jim Dickinson, director of the Division of Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, told Bruggers. He said all inspectors have been told: “If you see a violation, you write it.”

"At the same time the state has stepped up its enforcement, state officials see mines doing less," Bruggers writes, citing Department for Natural Resources Commissioner Carl Campbell, a former head of the strip-mine agency he now oversees. (Read more) Appendix E of the OSM report includes a list of all companies cited, by number of violations.

Kentucky lies in two coalfields, the Central Appalachian and the Illinois Basin, In the other big Eastern strip-mine state, West Virgina's OSM field office reports "that violations of the state program were observed on 24 percent of the inspections" by federal inspectors, compared to 31 percent last year. Thus, the West Virginia compliance rates rose from 69 percent to 75 percent.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Solar projects divide environmentalists

Proposed solar-energy projects on undeveloped public land in the southwestern deserts have environmentalists at odds, Keith Matheny of USA Today reports.

"The projects are supposed to generate about 4,200 megawatts of power, enough electricity to power nearly 2.8 million homes, and nearly 7,000 jobs, according to federal estimates. Does that outweight the impact on rare animals and plants on public lands?

No, says Janine Blaeloch, supporter of renewable resources and executive director of Western Lands, a non-profit group that examines the impacts of government-land privatization. "These plants will introduce a huge amount of damage to our public land and habitat," she told Matheny.

Other environmentalists like Johanna Wald, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, support the solar projects and their potential to slow or halt climate change. "There's no free lunch when it comes to meeting our energy needs," she told Matheny. "To get energy, we need to do things that will have impacts."

With 11 major solar projects approved in California and Nevada last year and a dozen utility-scale solar projects already in the permitting pipeline in California, Nevada and Arizona, federal agencies could "open up 21.5 million more public acres to solar development in six Western states," Matheny reports, threatening wildlife, like the endangered desert tortoise, in the open deserts. The solution, some critics say, is to use "already-disturbed lands such as brownfield sites or former agricultural fields or even residential and commercial rooftops. (Read more)

GOP hopefuls 'all over the map' on ethanol

National Public Radio reported several days ago that former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty's support for phasing out federal energy subsidies suggested a sea change in attiudes toward the tax break for ethanol, a big topic in Iowa, where Pawlenty and other Republicans seek the first presidential votes. But now Politico reports, "The declared and potential presidential candidates are all over the map — and by no means fleeing en masse from their traditional support for subsidies."

Ethanol is “kind of a marker for a broader assessment of somebody’s view of the type of role governments should play,” Michael Franc, vice president for government studies at the Heritage Foundation, told reporter Darren Goode. “Every state has its version of ethanol.” Several GOP candidates, incuding supposed front-runner Mitt Romney, say they still support the ethanol tax credit; former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who plans to enter the race soon, says he won't compete for Iowa caucus votes because "he doesn't believe in 'subsidies that prop up corn, soybeans and ethanol'," Goode reports.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Retired Kentucky publisher, still a public servant, gets first journalism award named for him

The first Al Smith Award for public service through rural or community journalism by a Kentuckian was presented Thursday night to its namesake, Albert P. Smith Jr. Making the presentation was Al Cross, right, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism & Community Issues, which co-sponsors the award with the Bluegrass Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Smith owned weekly newspapers in Kentucky and Tennessee, was founding host of Kentucky Educational Television’s “Comment on Kentucky” and main founder of the Institute, whose advisory board he chairs.

"Paul Harvey said, ‘I’ve never seen a monument erected to a pessimist,’ and can assure you I’ve never met a person like Al Smith, the eternal optimist," Lexington entrepreneur Jim Host told the crowd of nearly 200. "No one in my lifetime has meant more to Kentucky, in terms of how he's communicated, than Al Smith."

"Comment" host Ferrell Wellman said, "No one has demonstrated how a rural journalist can influence a state more than Al. ... When I think of Al, the first thought that comes to me isn’t of a journalist, it’s of someone who loves life -- and that love is contagious." For Wellman's remarks as prepared for delivery, click here.

Smith's last "Comment" producer, Renee Shaw, reflected on a last visit with Smith to the town where he began his Kentucky career: "When Al walked the streets of Russellville that overcast October day, he was a rock star, but his swagger was humble and introspective. You could see the years of reflection flashing before his eyes. It was moving for me, and I realized in a new way, a more appreciative way – of the treasure Al is to Kentucky. A man dedicated to his craft in all its incarnations; to telling the truth and putting up a fight for it; and guiding generations of Kentucky journalists and public servants." For the rest of Shaw's speech, click here.

David Holwerk, a frequent "Comment" panelist as editorial-page editor of the Lexington Herald-Leader, and now communications director for the Kettering Foundation, said Smith is known for talking a lot, but "Talking and listening, the gift of conversation, is always at the heart of Al’s work as a journalist. ... Inspiring, provoking and providing occasions for conversations like that is the job that Al Smith has assigned himself in this state. For more than 40 years, Al has been finding ways to get Kentuckians to talk and to listen to each other – to engage in the kind of conversations that will inform them before they act to deal with shared problems. He has done this while working as a journalist, but it sells Al short, I think, to call him just a journalist, or even a community journalist. That is not his true calling, nor really why we honor him tonight as the first recipient of the award that bears his name. We honor him for his dedication to a higher and more important role in the public life of this state and its communities." For Holwerk's remarks, click here.

In accepting the award, Smith said community journalism is "the canary in the mineshaft, the signal that things are wrong at the roots of our society, that air has gone stale and democracy is smothered." He said the Institute "turned on as the big city papers were turning off – closing their rural bureaus, firing reporters, and killing their state pages, all while claiming nothing was lost. Yeah, yeah, nothing lost but the news, the signals between city and countryside. If the canary dies, who would know it? Sixty million rural Americans, only 2 percent of whom are farmers, are really too important to be blacked out by modern media from the real world of the 21st Century." For his prepared remarks, which were about the last third of his speech, click here.

Smith is the first recipient of the award because he is a great example of public service through community journalism. His six weekly newspapers helped bring about school consolidation, new public libraries and community arts programs; create thousands of jobs; and keep rural hospitals open and independent. But unlike most weekly editors and publishers, he went beyond the county lines to play a major role in the public life of his state and region. For more on the award and Smith, click here. To download an 18 MB PowerPoint presentation on his career in journalism and public service go here