Saturday, July 27, 2013

Ky. law cuts pill overdoses, but that's outweighed by jump in ODs from heroin, an alternative drug

Deaths from prescription-drug abuse in Kentucky declined last year for the first time in a decade, but the 2012 law that top state officials credit for the decline has prompted many drug users to switch to heroin, and last year's increase in heroin deaths (121) was much larger than the decline in prescription-drug fatalities (19).

"Autopsied overdose deaths attributed to the use of heroin increased 550 percent over the previous year, from 22 in 2011 to 143 cases in 2012," a release from Gov. Steve Beshear's office said. The decline in prescription-drug deaths was 1.9 percent, from 1,023 to 1,004, but the release said nothing else about the new problem and did not link it to the 2012 law that cracked down on abuse of prescription drugs.

The first quote in John Cheves' Lexington Herald-Leader story came from Van Ingram, executive director of the state Office of Drug Control Policy, which the new law required to begin publishing annual reports on drug overdose fatalities in the state: "There's no great victories here. I'm glad that we're at least seeing a leveling off and some small decline. I've been in this job for nine years and have watched a steady rise in numbers that whole time."

The problem remains primarily rural, as indicated by the Herald-Leader map. "Ingram said he and others have struggled to understand why drug addiction particularly plagues southeastern Kentucky," Cheves writes. "The region's poverty plays a role, he said. So does 'learned behavior,' as children watch their parents abuse drugs and then do the same themselves, he said."

The law required pain-management clinics to be owned by a licensed medical provider, required all drug prescribers to register with a state monitoring system, and reduced the number of prescriptions for heavily abused controlled substances. (Read more)

J.J. Cale, laid-back singer-songwriter, dies at 74

Dan Reilly of Spin reports: "J.J. Cale, the Oklahoma-born singer-songwriter whose songs 'After Midnight' and 'Cocaine' were made into hits by Eric Clapton, died Friday, July 26 in Los Angeles after suffering a heart attack. He was 74."

John Weldon Cale grew up in Tulsa, as did Leon Russell, and they were generally considered the chief authors of "the Tulsa Sound," which Reilly describes as a "languid mixture" of "jazz, blues, folk, and boogie." It fits into the later-defined Americana niche. He adopted the name J.J. to avoid confusion with John Cale of the Velvet Underground, Reilly notes. His success was mainly as a writer, but he hit No. 22 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1972 with "Crazy Mama."

Friday, July 26, 2013

Obama administration asks court to restore Voting Rights Act limits on Texas

Last month the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states with a history of racial discrimination no longer had to clear changes in voting laws and procedures with the federal government. But on Thursday the Obama administration asked a court to restore the Voting Rights Act requirement for Texas, for discriminating against Hispanics and African Americans when drawing district lines. (Getty Images photo by Win McNamee: Supporters of the act last month outside the Supreme Court)

The Obama administration's move relies on a different part of the law, "which allows the federal government to get to largely the same place by a different route, called 'bail-in.' If the department can show that given jurisdictions have committed constitutional violations, federal courts may impose federal oversight on those places in a piecemeal fashion," Adam Liptak and Charlie Savage report for The New York Times.

Attorney General Eric Holder said in a speech to the Urban League, “If this strategy works, it will become a way of partially updating the Voting Rights Act through the courts. If this approach works, it will help update the Voting Rights Act even without Congressional action.”

Texas Gov Rick Perry said in a statement: “This end run around the Supreme Court undermines the will of the people of Texas, and casts unfair aspersions on our state’s common-sense efforts to preserve the integrity of our elections process. But state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio), chairman of the Mexican-American Legislative Caucus, told the Times, “The fact that intervention in Texas is the Department of Justice’s first action to protect voting rights speaks volumes about the seriousness of Texas’ actions. Texans should be proud that the resources of the federal government will be brought to bear to protect the voting rights of all." (Read more)

Coal reporter notes links between mining and drug abuse in Central Appalachia

On his blog Coal Tattoo, Ken Ward, a Charleston Gazette reporter who closely covers the coal industry, examines the role coal mining plays in drug problems in Appalachia. "I thought it might be worth noting a few things that are out there in the literature about the connections between the region’s dependence on the mining industry and the problems being experienced now with drug abuse," he writes. (Associated Press photo: surface coal mining)

Ward cites a 2002 U.S. Department of Justice report that says, "In the eastern coal mining counties of Kentucky, the large-scale diversion and abuse of painkillers are particular problems. In the past coal miners spent hours each day crouched in narrow mine shafts. Painkillers were dispensed by coal mine camp doctors in an attempt to keep the miners working. Self-medicating became a way of life for miners, and this practice often led to abuse and addiction among individuals who would have been disinclined to abuse traditional illicit drugs."

Another report, from 2006, compiled by the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire, documented how Oxycontin was ravaging rural communities: "One reason may be that doctors originally prescribe the drug to legitimately treat chronic back pain — a result of long years of heavy labor in logging, farming, mining, or working in factories and mills. As those businesses downsize or close completely, people are left with no jobs and no hope. A natural release for many is to abuse their prescription drugs. Once hooked, treatment is difficult due to the isolation of rural communities and over-burdened health facilities."

A 2012 article in the Health Promotion Perspectives said, "Regional industry in Southwest Virginia is predominately logging and coal mining; both industries provide many work opportunities but also provide workers with injuries necessitating legitimate prescriptions for pain. Injuries that occur among workers in these industries may lead to chronic medical problems, including pain, the treatment of which includes prescription of medications with addiction potential. Because of the high rates of workforce related injuries, a lot of people in the area are considered physically disabled from work related accidents and are getting and using pain medications."

The solution, Ward says, is in laws such as West Virginia's new coal-mine safety law, which pushed for mandatory drug testing, but failed to include "any companion requirement that mine operators try to help their employees receive treatment and other assistance to deal with the problem." (Read more) Phil Kabler of the Gazette wrote of the law: "In its first two months of implementation, 23 state coal miners have had their miners' certificates revoked after failing random drug testing."

In Kentucky, The Lane Report of Kentucky noted that under a 2012 state law, "Miners who fail a drug-alcohol test will no longer be allowed to work in Kentucky mines after their third offense." The Huffington Post noted a 2012 report saying that 1,500 miners in the state had tested positive for drugs since 2006. Mine operators and other employers in the region have said it is often difficult to find workers who can pass a drug test.

Small Vermont town with little access to the Internet uses federal grant to create public wi-fi zone

Residents in the 2,000-population town of Bethel, Vt., need only to go downtown to use free Internet service. "The new public broadband network covers Bethel’s downtown through four access points using equipment that can withstand heat, cold and bad weather. "Each device beams a signal about 200 yards." Caitlin Lovegrove writes for the Daily Yonder. (Yonder photo: Lovegrove shows a member of the Bethel Business Association how to use wi-fi)

The program, funded by a federal grant, helps a town that has limited Internet access. Many people in Bethel don't have Internet, or only have dial-up access, and with the local school's goal to provide each student with a computer, many students who needed to use the Internet either had to stay late at school or go to the local pizzeria, the only public place in town with free Internet, Lovegrove writes.

Lack of Internet is a statewide problem. "While broadband is expanding across Vermont, many people still do not have it in their homes," Lovegrove writes. "Often, the choices for Internet are either satellite or dialup. In addition, even where broadband is accessible, many either choose not to pay for an Internet connection or simply cannot afford to do so." (Read more)

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced an amendment that was included in the Senate farm bill for a pilot program to test ultra-high-speed Internet in rural communities. The program allows the Rural Utilities Service to invest in up to five gigabit-broadband networks, which are about 100 times faster than the average high-speed Internet, in rural areas over the next five years.

Researchers say hemp can be profitable, but only on a small scale and probably more for oil than fiber

Growing and cultivating industrial hemp can lead to profits and jobs, but only on a small scale, according to a report by the University of Kentucky's College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. Kentucky, along with Hawaii and Maryland, have passed bills creating commissions or authorizing hemp research. (ThinkStock photo by Markos Markovic)

"Profitable opportunities may exist for a limited number of farmers and processors, particularly in seed and oil, but the current lack of efficient fiber processing techniques, potentially strong global and domestic competition, and a high return from row crops in recent years are some of the factors that could limit the number of growers willing to shift much of their acreage into industrial hemp production," Carol Lea Spence reports for the college.

Agricultural economist Will Snell, one of the study’s authors, told Spence, "If political challenges are overcome, enticing processing interests to locate in Kentucky, along with production research, will be critical to capitalize on a relatively small, but expanding niche market for hemp products."

"Hemp can be grown for both fiber and seed. Some people have talked about the potential for industrial hemp fiber to be a major market for Kentucky farmers," Spence writes. Greg Halich, one of the study's authors, told her, "Based on what I’ve seen, that is not going to happen in Kentucky. If people are doing this to make money, it’s going to be on the oilseed side, not on the fiber side, at least in the foreseeable future. In the end, fiber production is going to depend on a processing plant being fairly close and willing to pay a high enough price to entice farmers to switch over to grow it." (Read more)

The House-passed farm bill has an amendment allowing colleges and universities to grow and cultivate industrial hemp for academic and agricultural research purposes in states where it is already legal, without fear of federal interference. For a roundup of the hemp legal front at the state level, with a closer look at Vermont, from Lisa Rathke of The Associated Press, click here.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Bill would let USPS limit Sat. mail to packages, cap closure of rural offices but scratch rural-urban parity

Committee Chairman Darrell Issa
Saturday mail could be limited to packages, newspapers could use mailboxes for Saturday delivery, and closure of rural post offices would be limited to 5 percent of annual total closures, under a postal-reform bill approved on a party-line vote Wednesday by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

"The estimated savings in cutting most Saturday delivery would be at least $2 billion," Billy House reports for the National Journal. The bill requires the Postal Service "to consider broadband penetration, cellular phone service, and the distance to closest replacement service in determining whether to close postal facilities."

The National League of Postmasters said the bill's provisions on rural post-office closures would allow the service to convert the offices to contract stations, which don't offer a full range of services, such as mailing packages. NLP President Mark Strong said the bill also "eliminates the public policy provision in the law that ensures that urban and rural Americans receive parity in mail services. Under H.R. 2748, rural citizens would inevitably become second-class citizens."

The bill says "The Postal Service shall provide effective and regular postal services to rural areas, communities, and small towns where post offices are not self-sustaining." That would replace part of a section of law that reads (emphasis added): "The Postal Service shall provide a maximum degree of effective and regular postal services to rural areas, communities, and small towns where post offices are not self-sustaining. No small post office shall be closed solely for operating at a deficit, it being the specific intent of the Congress that effective postal services be ensured to residents of both urban and rural communities."

Read more here:

While the House appears likely to pass the bill, the fate of postal reform is unclear. The Senate's appropriations bill for the Postal Service would require full six-day delivery, and Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate committee that oversees the service, told The Washington Post that he plans to introduce a bill soon. Postal reform is becoming more urgent as the service rolls up billions in deficits and defaults on prepayments for retirees' health care, on which the House bill would give it a break.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the committee chairman, would allow the service to phase out most remaining to-the-door delivery by 2022. "Only a quarter of addresses nationally still get this service," House notes. "Delivery would shift to curbside and to neighborhood cluster boxes. The bill establishes a waiver to enable individuals with physical hardships to continue to receive door delivery. The estimated cost of that savings is more than $4 billion."

American Postal Workers Union President Cliff Guffey "complained that the revised version would prohibit postal unions and management from negotiating protections against layoffs in future contracts; increase health insurance costs; limit collective-bargaining rights; close post offices, stations, and branches; consolidate plants; and privatize operations," House reports. (Read more)

Federal plan to keep Asian carp out of Great Lakes wouldn't break Chicago connection — yet

The Obama administration Wednesday unveiled a $50 million plan to keep invasive Asian carp out of the Great Lakes. "Several researchers reacted with skepticism, as it doesn’t include what they said is most needed — separating the lakes from the Mississippi River," Keith Matheny and Todd Spangler report for the Detroit Free Press. "A study looking at other control methods, including permanent separation of Chicago-area waterways from Lake Michigan, is slated for completion later this year." (Associated Press photo)

Jim Diana, director of Michigan Sea Grant, a Great Lakes research organization, and professor of fisheries and aquaculture at the University of Michigan, told the Free Press, “I think we could take carp control more seriously by disconnecting the Chicago waterway. In absence of that, we’ll have all these kinds of temporary solutions that might work.” But the waterway carries 10.5 millions tons of cargo a year, so eliminating it would be politically difficult, Matheny and Spangler note. (Free Press graphic; click on it for larger version)

On the other hand, scientists say that if the carp get into the Great Lakes, they could severely damage the region's $7-billion fishing industry. The new plan, drawn up by the Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee, includes "an improved electric barrier in the Chicago area, creating barriers at other tributaries to the Great Lakes and testing new tools such as water guns and netting, chemical controls and pheromone attractants," Matheny and Spangler report.

Duane Chapman, lead Asian-carp researcher for the U.S. Geological Survey, told the Free Press that electric barriers are working, but as more carp get closer to the Chicago-area barrier, it will increase the likelihood of smaller carp slipping through to Lake Michigan. Officials said they are planning "to design a mobile electric dispersal barrier that can be deployed in Chicago-area waterways in an emergency situation, continue work on another permanent electric barrier in the region, and develop and field test tools like water guns, netting, selective toxins and other control measures."

"The framework also calls for continued research on use of water cannons — concussive devices set off underwater to kill or deter fish — and how to best utilize them," Matheny and Spangler report. "And directed toxins are in development that could be placed in microparticles and matched with Asian carp digestive enzymes so that they are poisoned when ingesting the toxin, but it passes through other fish species." (Read more)

Technology could reduce risk of entering grain bins

Grain-bin deaths could soon be a thing of the past. The owner of a Iowa technology firm "has teamed up with the state’s science and technology apparatus to push the idea of using sensors and remote-control fans to prevent the types of grain-crusting problems that lead farmers to risk their lives by entering grain bins," where 74 percent of reported entrapments result in death, Perry Beeman reports for the Des Moines Register. (Register photo by David Purdy: Scott Haugen shows a bin moisture measuring device)

Scott Haugen, owner of a technology firm in Marshalltown, about 50 miles northeast of Des Moines, told Beeman that systems with sensors and real-time readings can deliver farmers the information they need while they remain in the safety of their farm office. With a computer, Haugen said, he can track grain moisture, sketch the shape of the corn mound in the bin and track temperature, while the computer-run fans keep condensation from forming in the bin, which sends water onto the grain pile and causes a crust.

"That crust is a major reason why farmers enter a grain bin — to 'walk down' the grain, or, in other words, to bust up the crust," Beeman reports. The system can also "track who has entered what area, when they left and whether someone is trying to steal grain." It can also help prevent explosions cause by ignition of grain dust.

Another key to eliminating grain bin-deaths is education. Using a $6,000 grant, a group that includes Haugen is developing a curriculum for Iowa Valley Community College District in Marshalltown and other schools, that will eventually offer two-year degrees in grain management, Beeman reports. "That would create a new job classification around the country: grain management technician." (Read more)

Bill would protect livestock producers' personal data

Sen, Joe Donnelly, D-Ind.
A bipartisan pair of senators have introduced a bill called the Farmer Protection Act, which would prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from releasing personal information about livestock operators, Amanda Peterka reports for Environment & Energy News. The act "cites the threat of terrorist attacks on the nation's food supply and the fact that the nation's livestock operations are largely family-owned as reasons for limiting EPA's ability to release data."

Earlier this year, EPA released spreadsheets containing data from concentrated animal feeding operations in 29 states to environmental groups Earthjustice, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Pew Charitable Trusts, in response to their Freedom of Information Act request, Peterka reports. EPA defended its decision, saying the information already appears on state websites. But livestock producers were upset, which led the EPA to twice recall and re-release data, and has led to congressional investigations and a lawsuit by the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Pork Producers Council.

Sen. Chuck Grassley
The bill was introduced by veteran Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa) and freshman Democrat Joe Donnelly of Indiana. "It is unacceptable that the EPA released the personal contact information of over 80,000 livestock and poultry owners from across the nation," Donnelly said. "This blatant violation of privacy must not happen again."

The bill would prohibit the release of any identifying information, such as names, phone numbers, email addresses, physical addresses, and GPS coordinates, but "would not restrict EPA from releasing data in aggregate form or from operations that voluntarily consents to disclosure," Peterka reports. "State environmental authorities would still be allowed to gather and disseminate data to other state agencies and the federal government." (Read more)

Democrats from coal states form pro-coal group to fend off GOP's 'war on coal' attacks

Some Democratic lawmakers from coal states have been trying to distance themselves from President Obama's so-called "war on coal" by saying they don't support the president's climate initiative, a proposal many GOP members feel will help Republicans win mid-term elections. In response to the claims, some Democratic senators have launched their own pro-coal campaign, called the CoalBlue Project, Manuel Quinones reports for Environment & Energy News.

Nick Rahall
The group is backed by Reps. Nick Rahall of West Virginia and Bill Enyart ofIllinois, who are both up for re-election in 2014. Rahall this week joined several Republicans in "sending Obama a letter expressing 'grave concern' over forthcoming regulations to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants," Quinones notes. Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota are also on board. 

CoalBlue, "which is seeking 501(c)(4) nonprofit status from the Internal Revenue Service, wants to advocate within the Democratic Party for coal to remain a key U.S. energy source," Quinones writes. They are also "supportive of an energy agenda to reduce carbon emissions that also promotes technologies to burn coal in a cleaner fashion." (Read more)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

House farm bill's repeal of permanent farm law would make changes more difficult in next Farm Bill

Passing farm bills continues to get harder, as evidenced by the struggles the House has gone through trying to pass the current bill, which they split into two parts, separating the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known as food stamps, from the rest of the Farm Bill. Less noticed is the House's proposed repeal of permanent farm laws dating to the Great Depression.

"As John Gordley, a prominent agricultural lobbyist who once worked for Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) told the American Soybean Association (one of his clients), the problem with changing permanent laws is that if farmers don't like the changes they will be difficult to change again," Jerry Hagstrom writes for the National Journal. "But if permanent law were updated and SNAP were allowed to languish, the rest of agriculture, consumers, and the hungry would all suffer in the long run."

The history of permanent agricultural law "goes back to 1933, shortly after Franklin Roosevelt's election as president, when Congress passed the Agricultural Adjustment Act, to try to deal with the surplus of commodities and other aspects of the Great Depression in rural America," Hagstrom writes. "The AAA included production controls that the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional in 1936. That Court's decision, and recognition that soil erosion had created the Dust Bowl, led Congress to pass the Soil Conservation and Domestic Allotment Act of 1936."

"In 1938, Congress passed a new Agricultural Adjustment Act that incorporated the sections of the 1933 law that were unaffected by the Court ruling, the 1936 conservation law, and new commodity legislation that met the Court's standards," Hagstrom writes. "Portions of the 1938 AAA remain law, but in 1949 Congress passed a major new law that included high, fixed-support prices that would trigger subsidy payments when market prices fell below certain levels. The goal was to achieve parity between farm and nonfarm prices and incomes."

"Since then, whenever Congress has passed new farm legislation affecting commodities and dairy products, it has suspended the commodity title of the 1938 and 1949 laws for specific periods of time rather than simply amending a section of the 1938 or 1949 laws or passing new legislation and making it permanent," he writes. "Since the 1970s, the expiration of five-year farm bills and the need to pass a new bill have become triggers for enacting all kinds of changes and modernizations to Agriculture Department programs." (Read more)

Environmentalists say some coal plants have no limits on dumping toxic waste into waterways

Seventy percent of U.S. coal plants "that discharge coal ash and scrubber wastewater into waterways have no limits on toxic substances commonly found in these discharges -- substances like arsenic, boron, cadmium, lead, mercury and selenium," according to a report by five environmental groups, Rachel Morgan reports for the Beaver County Times, just outside Pittsburgh. About 33 percent of the plants are not required to monitor or report the discharge of the metals to governmental agencies or the public. (Times photo by Bob Donnan: Toxic metals have been dumped into Little Blue Run in southwestern Pennsylvania)

The report by the Environmental Integrity Project, Waterkeeper Alliance, Sierra Club, Earthjustice and Clean Water Action looked at 274 coal plants, finding that 26 percent "discharge coal ash or scrubber waste into rivers, lakes, streams that are already classified as impaired waterways due to poor water quality," Morgan reports. Half the plants are operating with an expired Clean Water Act permit.

In April the Environmental Protection Agency announced a range of proposed options regarding pollution and wastewater discharges from steam electric power plants into U.S. waterways, Morgan reports. "There are about 1,200 steam electric power plants that generate electricity using nuclear fuel or fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas in the U.S. Of those, about 500 are coal-fired units, the main source of the pollutants that would be regulated. Power plants smaller than 50 megawatts will not be subjected to the new regulations."

"The coalition is calling for the EPA to adopt Option 5, which would prevent nearly all the toxic waste from these plants from being dumped into waterways, and would reduce the pollution by more than 5 billion pounds annually," Morgan reports. "The second choice is Option 4, which would eliminate ash-contaminated discharges, and reduce annual pollution by 3.3 billion pounds, they said." (Read more) To view the full report, and look at findings in each of the 274 plants examined, click here.

W.Va. panel says documentary accurately depicts local drug culture and can lead addicts to seek help

Residents of Oceana, W. Va. have been battling for months to prove that a new documentary, "Oxyana," about the painkiller epidemic in the 1,400-population town in the southern part of the state is misleading in its depiction of the town and its people. However, a panel that viewed the film said Tuesday it is an accurate description of pill addiction in Wyoming County and the state, and can be helpful in leading users to seek help for drug addiction, Travis Crum reports for the Charleston Gazette. The film can be viewed online. (Photo: A still from the film)

The panel consisted of recovering drug addict Kelly Sizemore, who is now a social worker; state Chief Justice Brent Benjamin; and Kim Miller, director of development of the Prestera Center, a mental-health facility. Sizemore told Crum, "It really hit home. It hit on all parts of being an addict. The drug problem is everywhere today. It's not just in Oceana, it's in every small town in West Virginia."

"The panel members said the film opened a dialogue they hope will continue into activism," Crum writes. Miller told him, "You've seen the film. You can't hide anymore. We have to get these people help. We have to get them into recovery." Benjamin said 30 of the state's 55 counties have drug courts, with some having a recidivism rate as low as 14 percent. He said by 2017, all 55 counties will have drug courts.

Another documentary about the drug problem in West Virginia, "Hollow," focuses on neighboring McDowell County. (Read more)

Small business travels the country recycling lead from shotgun pellets at firing ranges

Cleaning up all the shotgun pellets at firing ranges might not seem like the most glamorous or interesting job in the world, but one company has made a killing getting the lead out. Rocky Mountain Shot Recovery, out of Utah, takes to the road, hitting 48 states and traveling 50,000 to 60,000 miles a year to clean up firing ranges, Brett French reports for the Billings Gazette. (French photo: Anthony Fuller shows how lead shot is sifted out of gun-range soil and separated into 50-gallon barrels)

The company spends about one month working at Billings Rod and Gun Club in Saddleback Trail, Mont., where RMSR owner Anthony Fuller said they should recover about 400,000 pounds of lead on just the skeet range, French writes.

"A front-end loader scrapes the topsoil into a pile, then hauls full buckets that are dumped into a rotating hopper. The company has a proprietary piece of specially built equipment that sifts the dirt, screens out the lead into 50-gallon barrels and kicks out the remaining dirt," French writes. "Once the shot is separated into 50-gallon barrels that weigh about 3,000 pounds each, the lead is dumped into a rotating buffer — not unlike one that polishes rocks — to be shined for resale. Fuller either ships the recycled shot to Louisiana, where it is reused, or sells it back to the gun club where he’s working." (Read more)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Postal reform bill would limit rural office closings

The Fernandina Beach, Fla., post office, will close next month,
despite efforts to save it, reports.
(Copyright photo by LoneStarMike via
The postal-reform bill being considered by a House committee today includes a provision that would limit closure of rural post offices to no more than 5 percent of total office closures in a year.

The provision is found in House Resolution 2615, filed by Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., and is included in HR 2748, titled the Postal Reform Act of 2013 and filed by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. It is expected to approve the bill, which would allow the U.S. Postal Service to limit Saturday mail delivery to packages but let newspapers use mailboxes to make their own deliveries on Saturdays, as they can now do on Sundays.

The Smith-Issa legislation would also require the Postal Service to "provide adequate notice of its intention to close or consolidate [a rural] post office at least 60 days prior to the proposed date of such closing" to the office's postal customers, and to survey them about the closing or consolidation and "one or more alternative options." It would also require the service to "provide alternative access to postal services to those served" by a closed post office and give its customers explaining its choice of the alternative. For the committee summary of the reform bill, click here.

Rising CO2 levels blamed for flourishing poison ivy

Soon, everyone could be itching a little more than usual. "Climate change is making poison ivy grow faster, bigger and meaner," David Templeton reports for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette."Rising atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide and higher temperatures are to poison ivy what garbage is for rats, dormant water is for mosquitoes and road kill is to buzzards." All plants feed on carbon dioxide, and rising levels have led to reports of pie-pan sized leaves that are choking trees and filling the edge of woodlands. (Post-Gazette photo by Larry Roberts)

The amount of poison ivy has doubled since the 1960s and could double again if carbon dioxide levels continue to rise, Templeton writes. Jacqueline Mohan, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Georgia, told Templeton poison ivy can flourish by wrapping around trees and hindering tree growth while the vines take control. "It's getting happier and nastier," she said. (Read more)

Trying to avoid poison ivy isn't easy. It grows "everywhere in the U.S. except the far West, deserts and at high altitude," according to The west has poison oak, which is similar to poison ivy. Both are abundant on roadsides and edges of fields. (Read more)

Risk of death from injury is significantly higher in the most rural areas than in the most urban ones

Of the 1,295,919 injury deaths that occurred between 1999 and 2006 in the U.S. -- excluding the 9-11 terrorist attacks -- researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia found the risk of injury death was 22 percent higher in the most rural counties than in the most urban ones. And even though homicide rates are significantly higher in cities, unintentional injury deaths in the most rural areas are 40 percent higher than in cities, and the overall rate of unintentional injury deaths are more than 15 times that of homicides. (Photo: Motor vehicle accidents are the most common form of injury death in the U.S.. Last year highway deaths rose 5.6 percent. Drivers are more likely to die on a rural road than other roads) 

"The most common causes of injury death were motor vehicle crashes, leading to 27.61 deaths per 100,000 people in most rural areas and 10.58 per 100,000 in most urban areas," News Medical reports. "Though the risk of firearm-related death showed no difference across the rural-urban spectrum in the entire population as a whole, when age subgroups were studied, firearm-related deaths were found to be significantly higher in rural areas for children and people 45 years and older; however, for people age 20 to 44, the risk of firearm-related death was significantly lower in rural areas."

"Rural counties with large black populations had significantly lower risk of injury death than those with small black populations. The opposite was true for Latino populations: Rural counties with large Latino populations had significantly higher risk of injury death than rural counties with small Latino populations," News Medical reports. "Rural counties with the highest levels of college-educated inhabitants and median income had significantly increased risk of injury death compared to rural counties with the lowest levels of each." (Read more)

The study was released online in Annals of Emergency Medicine, a subscription-only site. To view a news release from the University of Pennsylvania Health Systemclick here.

Early draft of long-anticipated EPA report calls for shutting injection wells that are causing earthquakes

Environmental Protection Agency officials released an early draft of a long-awaited report about the link between disposal of hydraulic fracturing waste and earthquakes, saying "oil and gas wastewater injection wells that are causing earthquakes should stop operating if there's no way to stop the shaking," Mike Soraghan reports for Environment & Energy News. But before going that far, EPA has a list of options to consider, including "scaling back how much well owners can inject, and requiring more data collection or public education about 'the complexities of injection-induced seismicity'."

There is no timetable for when the draft, which was originally scheduled to be completed by the end of 2011, will be released. An EPA spokesman said in the statement that the agency is hoping to submit the draft for peer review "later this year, Soraghan reports. The document could change substantially as the work group addresses comments from reviewers." To read the draft click here.

"Scientists have known for decades that underground injection of fluid can lubricate faults and unleash earthquakes," Soraghan reports. "Some seismologists now think the boom in shale drilling in the United States -- and the wastewater it produces -- might be causing a sharp increase in the number of earthquakes in the middle of the country. A study released last year found that deep injection of oil and gas wastewater appears to be causing more earthquakes than previously thought.

Some states have ignored the warning signs as they rewrite their drilling laws, but a few states have responded. Officials in Arkansas and Ohio shut down wells linked to earthquakes, and a Texas company shut down wells that were causing quakes near the Dallas-Fort Worth airport, Soraghan reports. "Oil and gas production is regulated almost entirely by states," he notes. "But a federal law, the Safe Drinking Water Act, governs underground injection of drilling wastewater. EPA regulates disposal directly in a few states, such as Pennsylvania, but in most it has handed day-to-day regulation to state agencies." (Read more)

Democrats target Republicans who receive farm subsidies but voted for farm bill without food stamps

George Miller
"House Democrats are targeting Republicans who receive farm subsidies but opposed a stripped-down farm bill with no food stamp assistance," Ginger Gibson reports for Politico. Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) released a report Monday saying 14 GOP lawmakers who voted for the bill with no nutrition programs "have received a total of $7.2 million in farm subsidies" since 2004, and have a net worth of $124.5 million.

The reports says 14 Republicans --  Robert Aderholt (Ala.), Blake Farenthold (Tex.), Stephen Fincher (Tenn.), Vicky Hartzler (Mo.), John Kline (Minn.), Doug LaMalfa (Calif.), Tom Latham (Iowa), Frank Lucas (Okla.), Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.), Randy Neugebauer (Tex.), Kristi Noem (S. Dak.), Marlin Stutzman (Ind.), Mac Thornberry (Tex.), and David Valadao (Calif.). -- previously voted to give states large financial incentives to get families off the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the formal name for food stamps. To read the report click here.

The House farm bill "originally included funding for SNAP, but when it failed to get enough votes in the House in June, Republicans stripped food stamp funding from the bill to gain enough GOP support for passage," Gibson notes. The bill passed the House almost entirely along party lines. (Read more)

Monday, July 22, 2013

Finding, developing and helping entrepreneurs could be key to economic revival in Central Appalachia

Appalachian Regional Commission
map shows in red the counties that it
considers "distressed," orange those
it considers "at risk," white those it
considers "transitional" and blue
those it considers "competitive."
For full map, click here.
With its main industry, coal, facing continued decline, there is a renewed sense of urgency in Central Appalachia about building a more diverse and sustainable economy in the region. Some think the key is developing entrepreneurship, so people in the region can create homegrown jobs. That's a complex process, and "Many of Appalachia's talented and ambitious entrepreneurs have left for better opportunities elsewhere," Lexington Herald-Leader columnist Tom Eblen writes in a column that spotlights the entrepreneurship ideas of Thomas Miller, a retired Ford Foundation officer who was earlier president of Kentucky Highlands Investment Corp.

"More important than having capital, he said, is having people who know how to successfully put capital to work," Eblen writes. "Miller proposes creating an Eastern Kentucky Venture Fund, led by a half dozen or so senior Kentucky business people with exceptional talents. They would need to raise at least $250 million in public and private equity and debt to create and nurture entrepreneurs and to invest in new businesses, often through existing organizations such as Kentucky Highlands. And an important focus would need to be creating businesses that bring new money into the region by producing products sold elsewhere."

Miller, left, who lives in Berea, Ky., told Eblen that logical investors include utilities, foundations and regional corporations. Government can play a role, but can't lead the effort, Miller says: "Government is about trying to please a lot of constituencies. Private investment is about saying 'no' 99 percent of the time." He also cautions that his is "probably a 50-year strategy, and the first 10 years aren't going to be pretty." Miller put his ideas in writing in January; you can read them here.

Eblen warns, "This effort would require culture change in a region where work has often meant working for someone else. And it would require extensive training in economics, entrepreneurship and business skills, from elementary school through college, both in the classroom and through extracurricular activities such as Junior Achievement." (Read more)

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Eight community newspapers to close in N.C. and Ohio; owner says they're not rural enough

Eight community newspapers in North Carolina and Ohio will shut down in August because they aren't considered rural enough to fit the business model of Civitas Media, a community news company formed in September 2012 by the merger of Freedom Central, Heartland Publications, Impressions Media, and Ohio Community Media.

Newspapers closing are Ohio's Kettering-Oakwood Times, the Centerville-Washington Township Times and Springboro Sun, and North Carolina's Apex Herald, the Holly Springs Sun, the Garner News, the Cleveland Post and the Fuquay-Varina Independent.

Civitas CEO Michael Bush said, “Our core business is focused on developing community news and information portals, in areas that are predominately rural and would not be served well otherwise. The suburban newspaper isn’t a fit in this business model. We have offered employment in the Civitas Media organization to the 12 employees who are being affected by this decision.”

Scott Champion, chief operating officer, said no new owners will take up ownership of the papers, Thomas Gnau reports for the Dayton Daily News. Champion told Gnau, “It’s economic reasons,” and Champion and Bush both referred further questions to the statement. The company is based in Davidson, N.C., and has 15 papers in the state, soon to be 10.

Last year Civitas executives hinted at company-wide operational streamlining, but at the time, Bush said the company had no plans to cut any of its daily publications, Thompson Wall reports for the Triangle Business Journal in the Raleigh/Durham area. (Read more)

House GOP stuck on food stamps, which are a bigger rural program that you may think

House Republicans continue to struggle to find agreement on a food-stamp bill. Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said, "We are committed to acting with urgency to bring to the floor a bill under the nutrition title of what was formerly the farm bill," Pete Kasperowicz reports for The Hill. Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said that goes against the GOP's original plan, which was to pass the farm bill without the food-stamp language in order to get to a Senate conference. But Cantor told him he never said that was the plan. (Read more)

There is some concern that if the House doesn't approve a food stamp title, "then basically we’ll go into this conference with the Senate with 11 titles of a 12-title farm bill. They’ll have 12," House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) said in a radio interview, reports. "The Senate will say you didn’t cut anything, therefore why should we cut that $20.5 billion you talked about on the floor?" (Read more)

The Farm Bill has long been a log-rolling exercise by rural interests interested in farming and urban interests interested in anti-hunger programs, but it's mostly rural areas, especially in the South, and many represented by Republicans, that benefit from food stamps, The Wall Street Journal says in the legend of this map. (Click on image for larger version)

In a story accompanying the map, Corey Boles reports, "Funding for nutrition programs has doubled to about $80 billion a year since 2008 in the face of the weakened economy and now accounts for about 80 percent of spending in the roughly $950 billion Senate version of the farm bill. Whether and how to curtail that increase is a primary stumbling block to completing the farm bill." The House wants to cut $20 billion over the next 10 years, while the Senate has said $4 billion on its bill. (Read more)

In Mississippi, for example, 669,000 residents, or 22 percent of the population, receive food assistance, according to the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The percent is 21 percent in Louisiana, Tennessee, Oregon and New Mexico, 20 percent in Georgia and Kentucky, and 19 percent in Alabama, South Carolina, West Virginia, Maine and Florida. To view the benefits by state click here.

Horse slaughter plants in New Mexico, Iowa to open Aug. 5, unless judge issues restraining order

UPDATE JULY 23: The New Mexico Environment Department told Valley Meat Co. it won't renew the company's lapsed waste water permit without a public hearing, while former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, and actor Robert Redford, have formed an animal protection foundation, and joined the lawsuit filed by animal rights' groups, The Associated Press reports. Attorney General Gary King also said he filed a motion to intervene on behalf of horse slaughter opponents. The lack of a permit won't stop the company from opening, but will require them to haul their own waste.

The opening of horse slaughter plants in New Mexico and Iowa on Aug. 5 hinges on an Aug. 2 federal court hearing in New Mexico on a lawsuit filed by animal protection groups, The Associated Press reports. "The Humane Society of the United States, Front Range Equine Rescue of Larkspur, Colo., and others filed the suit against the Department of Agriculture, alleging it failed to conduct the proper environmental reviews before issuing permits for Valley Meat Co. of Roswell, N.M., and Responsible Transportation in Sigourney, Iowa." The judge can issue a temporary restraining order to prevent the plants from opening. Both plants received grants for inspection earlier this summer.

The lawsuit "cites negative environmental consequences caused by horse slaughter, including air and water pollution," AP reports. "The lawsuit alleges that the animals can be fed drugs and medication not fit for human consumption because horses in the U.S. 'are not raised in regulated industries conscious of public health and safety concerns, but rather in private homes, on racetracks and as working animals.'" (Read more)

The opening of the plants could be short-lived, because appropriations bills pending in the House and Senate would prohibit USDA from spending any money on inspection of horse slaughterhouses.

See how your state ranks in NPR coverage, according to the network’s ombudsman

NPR reports more stories relating to California than any other state, but Washington, D.C., where decisions are made for the entire nation, has the most coverage when ranked by stories per population size. Delaware gets the least coverage, but New Jersey is at the bottom of the list when rankings are weighted by population, according to NPR ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos. His study used data from 2006-2011.

Schumacher-Matos used a simple methodology: "I slice and dice by ranking the number of stories on a per capita basis and against the location of NPR's 20 national bureaus and offices. I drill further by taking one month's stories and pulling apart the Washington ones to see if the headquarters staff was overly obsessed with its own surroundings. I also weigh the proportion of foreign stories."

The national average was 1.33 stories per 100,000 people, but in 2006-11 NPR reported 1,253 stories, or 34.57 per 100,000 people, about Washington, D.C. It reported 2,546, or 1.14 per 100,000, relating to California. New York had the second highest total of stories at 1,981, for an average of 1.71. Delaware had 51 stories, or 1 for every 100,000 people, and New Jersey had 242, or 0.47 for every 100,000 people. Texas was near the top of the list with 888 stories, but ended up near the bottom in stories per population, with only 0.59 for every 100,000 people. To read about the study and see how your state ranked, click here.

Appeals court saves small weekly paper from possible doom in fight for open records

The Sacramento Valley Mirror lives on, and justice is served. Tim Crews, owner, publisher and editor of the paper in Willows, Calif., population 6,200, had filed a California Public Records Act request for the local school district to turn over a year's worth of emails from the school superintendent, but about 3,000 emails were withheld. Crews filed suit against the district. A county judge, calling the lawsuit frivolous, ordered Crews to pay $56,595 in attorneys' fees and costs, The Press Democrat in Santa Rosa reports. Crews only makes $20,000 a year. (Sacramento Bee photo by Randy Pench: Tim Crews)

If the decision had been withheld, if would have set a dangerous precedent, the Democrat opines. "Allowing public agency to threaten requesters with liability for attorneys' fees would have had a chilling effect on the public's right to access government information under the Public Records Act," the paper writes. "Fortunately, that threat was put to rest  by state appellate court which struck down the lower court order, noting that Crews' petition for school records — emails in this case — 'was not utterly devoid of merit or taken for an improper motive. Consequently, his action was not frivolous, and he should not have been ordered to pay attorney fees and costs.' Another important win for openness. (Read more)