Saturday, July 23, 2011

Compromise for cut in rural air-service subsidy delayed, FAA partially shut, by political dispute

A Republican effort to put an obstacle to union organizing into a must-pass appropriations bill has forced a partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration and put on hold a House-Senate compromise that would stop the Essential Air Service subsidy for 13 rural airports.

Senate Democrats are "opposed to language attached to the bill by House Republicans that would have made it more difficult for railroad and airline workers to unionize," Nathan Hurst of The Detroit News reports. "Under the GOP-backed proposal, all votes not cast in a unionizing election would count as 'no' votes. Currently, National Mediation Board rules dictate only cast votes are counted one way or another." (Read more)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Wyoming wind farm, which would be the largest yet in North America, gets preliminary approval

The Bureau of Land Management gave preliminary approval today "for what it says would be the largest wind farm in North America, producing roughly as much power as three nuclear reactors," Phil Taylor reports for Environment & Energy News.

The Power Company of Wyoming said its Chokecherry and Sierra Madre project would generate up to 3,000 megawatts, enough power for 800,000 houses. It would have as many as 1,000 turbines on 320,000 acres of BLM land in southeast Wyoming, about half of which is managed by the BLM. The federal agency said it hopes to give final approval in September 2012, and construction could take up to four years.

Wind turbines pose a threat to birds, but a National Audubon Society official "said the agency has taken meaningful steps to avoid harming sage grouse and is conducting important pre-construction studies to gauge the impacts on avian species," Taylor reports. "Steps include the installation of a $300,000 avian radar system to track the movements of golden eagles and prairie falcons, among others," according to Brian Rutledge, vice president for state programs in the society's Rocky Mountain region. "Siting is important because sage grouse view any vertical structures as a threat, he said. Birds of prey use high perches to prey on the grouse." (Read more, subscription required)

At aquifer summit, Kansas governor calls for law changes before redistricting cuts rural influence

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback told a summit he called on the future of the Ogallala Aquifer yesterday that state law needs to be changed to protect it before redistricting reduces the influence of rural areas. "What remains to be seen, however, is what changes are needed," reports Mike Corn of the Hays Daily News.

The aquifer, which Corn notes is "the underground water supply that serves as the lifeblood for agriculture in the western third of the state," has been dropping much faster than it has been replenished by rain and snow in recent years. "Tests in January showed the aquifer had dropped more than five feet in some Kansas locations in a single year," Ken Anderson of Brownfield Network reports. "Officials say the aquifer generally recharges only a half-inch a year."

Farm thefts are rising, and as usual there's no place quite like California

Farm thefts are on the rise, and in California they're even stealing grapes and bees, Jesse McKinley reports from Bakersfield for The New York Times. "Fighting them has become harder in many parts of California as many grants for rural law enforcement have withered on the vine," he writes.

Agricultural larceny happens almost everywhere, but "Few areas can claim a wider variety of farm felons than California, where ambushes on everything from almonds to beehives have been reported in recent years," McKinley writes. "Then there is the hardware: diesel fuel, tools and truck batteries regularly disappear in the Central Valley, the state’s agricultural powerhouse, where high unemployment, foreclosures and methamphetamine abuse have made criminals more desperate, officials say." (Read more)

'Town so nice they named it twice' wins 'friendliest' category in 'Best of the Road' contest

Walla Walla, Wash., long known for its name (that of a Native American tribe), can now claim a title: America's friendliest small town in Rand McNally's annual "Best of the Road" contest. After all, it is "the town so nice they named it twice." Its population is about 32,000. (MapQuest image; click to enlarge)

The award was announced yesterday at the Destination Marketing Association International's annual meeting in New Orleans. USA Today, which co-sponsored the contest, quotes judges Jason and Nikki Wynn of Dallas, who visited Walla Walla: "It seemed everyone was involved and loved their city, from wine growers and politicians to cleanup crews. This is a happy town which made for friendly people." Click here for the story from the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin (subscription required for full version).

Runners-up in the "friendliest" category were Lake Havasu City, Ariz.; Mount Airy, N.C.; Nacogdoches, Texas; Valdosta, Ga.; and Woodward, Okla. Winners in the other categories were Sandpoint, Idaho, most beautiful; Lafayette, La., best for food; Rapid City, S.D., most patriotic (Mount Rushmore, but also the Crazy Horse Memorial); and Glenwood Springs, Colo, most fun. (Read more)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

N.Y. town of 600 voted Ultimate Fishing Town

(MapQuest image) Roscoe, N.Y., population 600, is known in the Catskill Mountains as a great place to fish for trout. Now, thanks to more than 267,000 online votes, Roscoe was named the "Ultimate Fishing Town" by the World Fishing Network. It was among 300 locations, large and small, vying for the title, Jeff Glor of CBS News reports. Being just a two-hour drive from New York City may have helped. Below, fishing at Roscoe.

End of direct federal payments to farmers could mean more soil erosion

"There's a chance that the $5 billion in fixed, annual direct payments to growers will be slashed or replaced altogether" by Congress, Philip Brasher reports on his Food Watch blog. This has conservationists worried , because farmers who take direct payments must adhere to certain restrictions to prevent erosion and other environmental problems.

Take away those subsidies or make them unappealing to farmers, and high commodity prices may encourage farming on highly erodible cropland with little environmental concern, Brasher writes. "The end of direct payments would have a significant impact, a negative impact, on the compliance incentive," USDA economist Roger Classen told the Soil and Water Conservation Society earlier this week.

Congress could require farmers who buy federally subsidized crop insurance to comply with conservation restrictions, but the farmers who are most dependent on crop insurance live in more arid places like the Dakotas and farmers with little need for crop insurance live in high-erosion areas like Iowa, Brasher reports.

EPA finalizes 'guidance' for Appalachian strip mines; coal industry says it's a regulation

The Environmental Protection Agency has issued its final "guidance" to states and the Army Corps of Engineers for issuing permits for Appalachian coal mines, with few changes from the initial version that prompted lawsuits and protests from the industry and state officials. The heart of the guidance is a conductivity standard for water downsteam from valley fills made of material excavated for mountaintop-removal mines. Conductivity is a measure of ions or salts in water, and as conductivity increases, the less the water is able to sustain animal life. Our earlier story on conductivity is here. (Photo by Paul Corbit Brown)

"The final guidance was issued by EPA just a day after it received the OK from the White House Office of Management and Budget, and just before a deadline tomorrow for Obama administration lawyers to file a key legal brief in a lawsuit challenging the mountaintop-removal crackdown," Ken Ward Jr. reports on the Coal Tattoo blog of The Charleston Gazette. "EPA critics have already won one limited skirmish in that litigation, in which a federal judge indicated it appears the agency had implemented significant changes in the permit process without following procedures for required public input and comment." (Read more)

Hal Quinn, president of the National Mining Association, cited Judge Reggie Walton in the NMA reaction to the final guidance: "As recently stated by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the guidance and related actions by EPA are, in reality, ‘legislative rules and alter the permitting procedures under the Clean Water Act.’ The court further noted EPA’s guidance has ‘encroached upon the role carved out for the states under the Clean Water Act by setting region-wide conductivity standards.’" EPA can block issuance of mine permits.

With the lawsuit in mind, EPA repeatedly says the guidance it is not legally binding "and will not be implemented as binding in practice." But Rep. Nick Joe Rahall, D-W.Va., said "We are all too aware that it will use it as a club to subdue all parties involved in the permitting process to its will."

EPA said it took the advice of its Scientific Advisory Board that "use of the benchmark for assessing effects on aquatic ecosystems should be limited to ecoregions 68, 69, and 70" in West Virginia and Kentucky pending validation in the field. Those regions on the map are the Southwestern Appalachians (68), the Central Appalachians (69), where almost all mountaintop mining is done; and the Western Allegheny Plateau (70). It also said the guidance should not be applied to ephemeral streams, those that flow only in response to rainfall or runoff.

Environmental lawyer Tom FitzGerald of the Kentucky Resources Council said the guidance "provides important clarification of the agency's expectation that states issuing discharge permits will no longer ignore the impacts of dissolved sulfates, carbonates and chlorides on the health of headwater streams," and that the laws on fill material in streams "apply to coal wastes and spoil just as they do to every other industry." FitzGerald said the industry in the region has "fallen far short of what Congress intended some 34 years ago," and the guidance serves notice that "the narrative water quality protections that have been in state regulations for decades, yet have been honored in the breach, can no longer be ignored." To download an 872KB PDF of the guidance, which includes much background information, click here.

UPDATE, July 28: Appalachian Voices, an anti-moutaintop-removal group, said the guidance had a softer tone than the draft version:
The words “recommend,” “consider” and “consistent with” were used twice as frequently in the final guidance, while words “compliance,” “requires” and “prohibit” were used half as often. Similarly, while phrases implying a more limited scope of the guidance, such as “site-specific” and “case-by-case” were used 10 times more frequently in the final guidance, words referencing the environmental impacts of mining such as “impairment” and “adverse” were used half as often.

Isolated rural areas have higher death rates from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease living in isolated rural areas "seem to be at greater risk" of death from COPD than those living in urban areas, even when "hospital rurality and volume" are taken into account, says a new study published in the latest issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Researchers from Iowa City Veterans Affairs Medical Center collected data from COPD patients at 129 veterans' hospitals measuring first, 30-day mortality and then adusting for patient rurality, hospital volume, and hospital rurality. The results indicate "morality was significantly elevated in patients living in isolated rural areas compared with those living in urban areas," regardless of patient and hospital characteristics, reports Doctors Lounge, an online medical resource for physicians, students and allied clinical professionals. (Read more)

Teachers in strongly white Appalachian counties get lessons in African American history

History teachers from 11 Kentucky Appalachian foothill counties with white populations above 92 percent have embarked "on a road trip through history, stopping at several sites in the South where significant events took place that thrust racial equality to the forefront of America's psyche during the 1950s and 1960s," Merlene Davis of the Lexington Herald-Leader reports. (IRJCI map)

This road trip is part of "Democratic Visions: From Civil War to Civil Rights," a three- year professional development program for fifth-, eighth- and 11th-grade history teachers in Bath, Carter, Estill, Fleming, Menifee, Montgomery, Morgan, Powell, Pulaski, Rockcastle and Rowan counties. Teachers in the program "receive a $1,000 stipend or three hours graduate credit for full participation; are taught new teaching techniques; and are given books and teaching materials, in-class assistance and travel opportunities," Davis reports.

Rebecca Hanly, the Teaching American History director at the Kentucky Historical Society, told Davis that only one of the 150 teachers who have participated in tyhe program since 2002 was black. "There simply aren't that many African-American students or teachers in that area of Kentucky," she told Davis. Chip Manely, a Montgomery County High School teacher, told Davis, "Seeing the experience, the stories and the photos are resources beneficial to not only African-American students, but also white students. This is something for everyone: the fight for justice and to overcome inequality."

Powell County Schools received a grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Teaching American History Initiative, which targets rural communities, to fund the program. Similar grants have been given to Harlan and Letcher counties, on the Virginia border. (Read more)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Retailers pledge to build more groceries to cut 'food deserts,' but that's not a rural solution

Grocery chains and other retailers announced today that they would build more stores in communities that "do not have access to fresh produce and other healthy foods," as a White House press release put it. The event was part of Michelle Obama's efforts to fight child obesity and otherwise make America healthier. (Photo: Jim Watson, AFP/Getty Images) Wal-Mart's chief spokeswoman said "The first lady’s leadership on products, prices and access to healthier food has helped sharpen our focus on bringing affordable groceries to underserved urban and rural areas.”

However, there didn't seem to be much rural about the announcement. Retailers are unlikely to build stores in sparsely populated rural areas in or near "food deserts," and Wal-Mart is unlikely to build in places not large enough to have a grocery that sells fresh fruits and vegetables. Small, Montgomery-based Calhoun Foods, which also has stores in Selma and Tuskegee, Ala., was part of the announcement, but CEO Greg Calhoun said in a telephone press conference that his eyes were on Birmingham.

I wanted to ask about the rural impact of the effort, but the conference call for reporters ended too early, with me still in line. I would have also asked about the recent University of North Carolina study that found young adults in Birmingham, Chicago, Minneapolis and Oakland living close to supermarkets and groceries did not eat more fruits and vegetables or have a healthier overall diet. Reuters reported, "The findings suggest that attempts to improve the diets of inner-city residents will require a combined effort, including health education and incentives to make healthy food cheaper, researchers said."

And what about rural residents? Kansas City-based Harvest Public Media says U.S. Department of Agriculture grants are helping establish an unusual grocery in Cody, Neb., pop. 130, which lost its grocery 10 years ago, leaving residents 40 miles and a two-hour roundtrip from the nearest one. Clay Masters reports the store will be "non-profit; it will involve the high school through a hands-on business curriculum; and it will be constructed out of straw bales." (Read more)

One option might be something like the California FreshWorks Fund, which was part of today's announcement. It is "a joint effort by the California Endowment and a team of grocery industry groups, healthcare organizations and leading Wall Street banks," P.J. Huffstutter reports for the Los Angeles Times. It will "provide financing at or below market rates to encourage grocers to set up shop in underserved communities," she reports, and "Organizers expect that a portion of the lending will help mom-and-pop grocers and small, independently owned chains expand existing retail space and install new equipment such as refrigerated displays for fresh produce, eggs and meat. . . . The money could also be used by grocers to develop new distribution models, such as mobile produce trucks, to bring healthful foods into these neighborhoods. Or it could be used to finance collaborative, wholesale purchasing to help small retailers lower their costs." (Read more)

Kansas governor's tax incentive plan to boost population in rural areas is questioned

UPDATE, July 23: Nebraska legislators are studying whether to offer similar incentives, JoAnne Young of the Lincoln Journal Star reports.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback's plan to rebuild rural Kansas by offering tax breaks and student loan subsidies that we reported about in April is being scrutinized. Some experts believe state tax breaks are not enough to encourage non-Kansans to move to the designated "rural opportunity zones," and some community leaders disagree with using tax money to repay individual student loans as part of the plan, Brad Cooper of the Kansas City Star reports.

The plan would save residents who move from another state to one of 50 rural counties or rural opportunity zones an estimated $1,800 in state taxes over five years, Cooper reports. Kansans and non-Kansans who move to 23 of the 50 eligible counties may also have 20 percent of outstanding student loans paid by state and county matching funds.

"I have a hard time seeing this as being immediately persuasive in setting in motion a large population movement," Mike White, a demographer at Brown University, told Cooper. "In the prime working ages, people not only emphasize issues like taxes . . . but also the availability of employment and the quality and growth prospects for that employment."

Commissioner Gene Helms of Washington County, which has not agreed to the student loan subsidies, told Cooper, "It's not fair to use general tax dollars to supplement student loans. I think they can pay for it themselves if they're making a living on their own." (Read more) To read yesterday's editorial in The Wichita Eagle about Brownback's plan, click here.

Overuse of herbicides has left farmers searching for alternatives to kill monster weeds

Farmers' frustrations over herbicide-resistant weeds are rising as they look for other options to remove weeds. In April we reported that glyphosate-resistant weeds have infested close to 11 million acres, threatening crop production. Now farmers are resorting to costly manual weeding or use of chemical combinations to control weeds, Georgina Gustin of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. (Commercial Appeal photo by Brad Luttrell: Workers hoe pigweed in Arkansas)

"In the [Missouri] Bootheel they're hiring people to go out there with hoes," Blake Hurst, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, told Gustin. "I swung a hoe for 15 years, and I fail to see the romance in it."
In parts of the Midwest and South farmers are mixing herbicides, leaving some environmental scientists worried that weeds will become resistant to more formulations. In parts of Missouri some weeds are already resistant to three herbicides and in Illinois some are resistant to four, Gusin reports.

Farmers are not happy about the added costs to treat weeds, but with high commodity prices, finding a solution is important, and tolerable. "It's easily costing $30 an acre for hand weeding, and the pre-emergence herbicides are costing $10 and $20 an acre," multi-crop farmer Tom Jennings of Sikeston, Mo., told Gustin. "If we see the markets drop back down, the economics are going to get a lot more difficult. As high as it is, we can afford some hand labor."

Monsanto and some farmers have accepted partial blame in creating herbicide-resistant weeds through overuse of Roundup. "It was so effective and so cheap compared to everything else, that's all you used," Jennings told Gustin. "Now we have problems out here and we don't have new herbicides. Before Roundup you had a new product every two or three years. Almost all the new products are just combinations of old products. There's no new chemistry." (Read more)

'Gang of Six' budget plan would cut farm programs far less than Biden group's proposal

The debt-and-deficit proposal by a bipartisan six-pack of senators "would cut farm program spending over the next decade by far less than the $30 billion plus proposed in the House of Representatives or by a negotiating group led by Vice President Joe Biden earlier this year," Washington newsletter Agri-Pulse reports.

The "Gang of Six" plan would cut the Department of Agriculture budget by $11 billion over the next 10 years, with details to be determined by the agriculture committees of the House and Senate. Food stamps would not be included; nutrition programs account for most of the USDA budget.

Meanwhile, Agri-Pulse reports that Bob Young, the chief economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation warned the Arkansas Farm Bureau last week, “If we go into even a technical default, the United States will never be viewed the quite the same again.” After raising the debt ceiling, he said, the best thing Congress could do for business would be to provide certainty on taxes and regulations.

Agri-Pulse is a subscription-only newsletter but offers a free, four-issue trial subscription.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Access to healthy food: Local angle is available on a national event, and here's an example

The White House says First Lady Michelle Obama will make a major announcement tomorrow afternoon about her Task Force on Childhood Obesity's recommendations to make healthy, affordable food more accessible to all Americans. Using the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Desert Locator, community journalists can localize this story.

A food desert is a low-income census tract where a substantial number or share of residents have low access to a supermarket or large grocery store. Many rural areas are considered food deserts, and the USDA locator not only has data that can inform a story, but maps that can illustrate it. Reporter Tonya S. Grace of the Todd County Standard in Elkton, Ky., used it to localize the Healthy Food Initiative, a partnership between the U.S. Treasury, the USDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. To read her article, click here.

28 post offices in Wis. may be closed, USPS says

The U.S. Postal Service is saying more about its plans to close post offices in various states. It has 28 under consideration in Wisconsin, reports Maureen McCollum of Wisconsin Public Radio.

“In most of these communities that we’re looking at now, the carrier already delivers to some people in that community,” USPS spokesman Pete Nowacki told McCollum. “So for those folks, there’s really not a huge impact on how they go about their daily business. It’s the people who make the daily visit down to the post office to pick up their mail that things are going to change a little differently.”

More than a little, former Mount Sterling postmaster Judy Hansen told McCollum. "She says the post office is an important meeting place for the tiny village. . . . Hansen says she’s not convinced that relying on a rural carrier is as convenient as having an office in town." (Read more, via the Superior Telegram)

Student loan defaults fuel probe of Ky. for-profit colleges; impact may be disproportionately rural

UPDATE, July 27: Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway filed suit today against Daymar College, alleging that it coerced as many as 5,000 students into buying overpriced textbooks and misled students about credit hours and financial aid. Daymar denied the charges, Mike Wynn of The Courier-Journal reports.

More students are defaulting on their college loans, and the default rates are higher among students of community colleges and for-profit institutions that often call themselves colleges but are essentially business and trade schools. Community colleges have long been a key source of higher education for rural areas, and the for-profit Daymar College, which has the highest default rates in Kentucky, has disproportionately rural locations in that state and Ohio.

John Cheves of the Lexington Herald Leader reports that these schools account for 26 percent of federal student loans and 43 percent of the defaults. To find your state's loan default rates or search for a specific institution's rates, click here. Cheves reports that Daymar, which also has campuses in Tennessee (where state law requires it to be called Daymar Institute, not College), had "one in three students" at two of its Kentucky campuses default within three years of their 2008 loan repayment start date, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

These factors, student complaints, questionable accreditation and allegedly deceptive marketing have led to a state-wide investigation of Daymar College and the State Board of Proprietary Education by Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway. "My concern is that a lot of people are hurting right now, and these schools are preying on them," he told Cheves. "Nobody discloses upfront that you can end up with all this debt and a degree that you can't do anything with."

Taxpayers have a stake in the game. "A lot of the proprietary schools get 80 to 90 percent of their money from federal student aid, the loans and the Pell Grants," Debbie Cochrane of the Institute for College Access and Success in Oakland, Calif. told Cheves. "If they lose access to that aid, they basically have to close." (Read more) Defending for-profit schools, A.R. Sullivan, chancellor of Sullivan University, wrote in an opinion piece in the Herald-Leader, "The community colleges in Kentucky graduate, on average, less than 20 percent of their students, while the proprietary and taxpaying institutions graduate over 61 percent of their students."

Monday, July 18, 2011

Pork bellies, a source of bacon, wealth and chuckles, lose their place on the Chicago Merc

The first livestock-futures contract on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, frozen pork bellies, is gone today for the first time since 1961, due to changes in the meat business and consumer habits. (Chicago Tribune photo: Pigs at the Merc in 1967, as their bellies were becoming big items)

A Tribune headline calls the belly market "iconic," perhaps because the term "pork bellies" has a certain je ne sais quoi that gave it currency that reached from hog farms to trading houses to comedians and scriptwriters, who used it as a catchphrase for arcane pieces of the financial world. "Nobody knew it was bacon. It made people laugh," long-time Chicago trader Bob Short told Reuters.

In the late 1960s and 1970s, bellies were the most popular agriculture contract and "the glamour market," the exchange's Harvey Paffenroth told Reuters. "There was a mystique about it; maybe it was the name. But it was also one of the first hedge funds, enabling producers -- and then traders -- "to hedge against price fluctuations," Amber Gibson of Meating Place reports.

Pork production usually peaks in the fall. Meatpackers would store frozen pork bellies during the winter, then thaw them for summer, when demand increases as "tomatoes ripen and people make bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwiches," Reuters reports. "Today," Gibson writes, "with an increase in year-round consumption, consolidation of the industry, and the use of fresh, not frozen bellies, the pork belly future has become obsolete," so the exchange de-listed it. (Read more)

Bat deaths from wind turbines could mean higher insecticide costs, less profit for farmers

In 2010, more than 10,000 bats were killed by wind turbines in Pennsylvania, the state Game Commission reports. With 420 turbines across the state, that is about 25 bats per turbine per year, Erich Schwartzel of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports, and that is bad not only for bats, but farmers who rely on bats for insect control. Suzanne B. McLaren of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History holds a Seminole bat reportedly killed near a turbine. (Gazette photo by Larry Roberts)

"A colony of just 100 little brown bats may consume a quarter of a million mosquitoes and other small insects in a night," Miguel Saviroff, agricultural financial manager at Penn State Cooperative Extension in Somerset County, told the Gazette.

Since bats consume as many as 500 insects an hour or 3,000 insects per night, fewer bats may lead to larger bug populations and larger pesticide bills for farmers, Schwartzel reports. Bats save farmers about $74 per acre, according to a county-by-county analysis of their economic value in the April 2011 issue of Science magazine. For all of Pennsylvania, that means an estimated savings of $277.9 million in avoided costs. (Read more) Here's the county-by-county estimate; click on the map to see a larger version.

Just in time for a heat wave, weekly Tennessee paper surveys local creeks and swimming holes

With warnings of excessive heat in at least 17 states today, it's a good time to think cool. And you may feel a little cooler just looking at the pictures in the July 11 edition of the weekly Hickman County Times in Centerville, Tenn., about 50 miles west of Nashville, which spotlighted the county's abundance of creeks and swimming holes and even took their temperature, with the help of a former officer of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

"If you want to know whether this survey is definitive, the answer is No," Editor Brad Martin writes. "In fact, we are sure that there are other holes that are colder, other creeks that we may have missed — and that we’ll be hearing about all of those very soon. But that will be a controversy that’s fun."

In his creek-by-creek account, Martin wrote, "Though we didn’t jump in, we noticed all along the way that tree-lined road along creeks were significantly cooler than . . . well, the concrete of the county seat’s Public Square. If most gauges were showing 96 on these late afternoons (and it probably was), we didn’t know about it." For PDFs of the front page and the two inside pages, full of cooling creek photos, click here. For the pages as a PNG file, go here.

UPDATE, July 20: As a cautionary tale, perhaps about knowing your creeks, we note this story from The Ledger Independent of Maysville, Ky.: A Chicago teenager drowned while swimming in a creek in nearby Lewis County, on a farm that hosts Catholic missionaires from other parts of the nation.

West Virginia to implement rules on natural-gas fracking following outcry from demonstrators

A day after nearly 100 demonstrators gathered at the West Virginia Capitol, state Senate President and acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin "announced state officials will write emergency rules to regulate Marcellus Shale gas drilling," Alison Knezevich of the Charleston Gazette reports.

"Most of the rules in place were designed for conventional gas wells, and do not consider the size or the hazards associated with hydraulic fracturing," Jim Kotcon, rally organizer, told Lawrence Messina of The Associated Press. "There's no regulation of air pollution emissions at all. There's no regulation of water withdrawals, none." (Read more)

Tomblin's proposal focuses on fracking and would require companies that withdraw more than 210,000 gallons of water monthly to disclose their additives and file a water management plan with the state's Department of Environmental Protection, Knezevich reports. Tomblin said the DEP rules would "ensure that the natural-gas industry continues to provide jobs in West Virginia" and "protect citizens and the environment." (Read more) For a West Virginia Public Broadcasting report, click here.

Michigan county won't seize horses or prosecute owner for neglect, saying evidence is lacking

Allegan County, Michigan, like many other local governments, has been faced with budget cuts. Add to that complaints regarding 29 imported and supposedly starving mustangs, and you have a sheriff's office that is overwhelmed trying to make ends meet.

A rash of telephone calls and e-mails came from all over the nation in response to the Allegan County prosecutor's refusal "to bring charges against a woman accused of starving a herd of mustangs she had shipped to Michigan last winter," Parker reports Rosemary Parker of the Kalamazoo Gazette. (Gazette photo). "They fill up my voicemail and I leave it — there's not room for more," Allegan County Sheriff's Lt. Frank Baker told Parker. "I'm not returning the calls. They are from all over the United States and I don't have the time to contact every individual."

Prosecutor Fred Anderson told Parker, "After reviewing the case and meeting with sheriff's officers, the prosecutor's office determined we could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt to 12 jurors that there was animal neglect." In an attempt to help the horses without incurring huge costs, Anderson is pressing the owner to find new homes for the horses so the county does not have be financially responsible for their care. "Once you seize horses, you are 100 percent responsible for feeding and housing them, as well as seeking necessary veterinary care," Undersheriff Jim Hull told Parker. "This isn't fair to the taxpayers of Allegan County to take on such a huge burden because of one person's bad judgment." (Read more)