Friday, August 09, 2013

Report: Merging small school districts could save billions; rural lobby disputes that

Bigger is better when it comes to school districts, says a report by the Center for American Progress, which says consolidating districts with fewer than 1,000 students could lead to huge savings. "Many states have large percentages of small, non-remote districts that may represent hundreds of millions of dollars in lost potential capacity," Ulrich Boser writes for the center. Those districts "might represent as much as $1 billion in lost annual capacity, by which we mean money that may not have had to be spent if the district was larger." Their research found the optimal district size was 2,000 to 4,000 students. (Associated Press photo by Scott Eisen)

Ten states with 3,625 small school districts account for more than $650 million in lost potential cost, or about 68 percent of the total, Boser writes. New Jersey tops the list with an estimated loss of $105 million. New York has a loss of $99.5 million, followed by Illinois at $90.9 million, Texas at $82.7 million, California at $64.4 million, Vermont at $54.2 million, Oklahoma at $48.1 million, Missouri at $44.8 million, Montana at nearly $37.5 million and Wisconsin at just over $37 million. (Read more) To read the full report click here.

The Rural School and Community Trust argues that research "shows that state policies that broadly push mergers of schools and districts will not save money and will likely lower the quality of education — especially for the poor."

Heroin use on the rise in rural America

A crackdown of prescription pills has led to an increase in heroin use, "especially in rural areas, amid ample supply and a shift away from costlier prescription narcotics that are becoming tougher to acquire," Zusha Elinson and Arian Campos-Flores report for The Wall Street Journal. "Small-town police forces strain to handle the additional narcotics investigations and drug-related crimes such as burglaries. Some afflicted areas are far from hospital emergency rooms, raising the risk that an overdose will be deadly." (Journal photo by Mike Kane: A heroin user shoots up in Washington)

Rep. John Nygren (R-Wis.) told the Journal that some employers in the 11,000-population town of Marintette "are having difficulty filling positions because so many applicants are testing positive for heroin," the Journal reports. "The problem prompted the local chamber of commerce in April to begin assembling a consortium of community organizations to address the problem. Meanwhile, a sharp rise in heroin-related crime has fed a 31 percent increase in the inmate population at the 164-bed local jail over the past two years. The town has no residential treatment centers for addicts.

Bill Mark, director of the Northern Kentucky Drug Strike Force, told the Journal, some counties "are experiencing heroin literally for the first time." He said last year, 28 of the state's 120 counties logged their first heroin arrests since he started tracking such data in 2008.

Norman Redberg, executive director of Kittitas County Alcohol Drug Dependency Service in the 18,000-population town of Ellenburg, Wash., said he evaluated 27 heroin in the first six months of the year, compared with three in 2008.

W.H. Holbrook, chief of police In Huntington, W.Va., told the Journal that heroin became the top drug problem in the city of around 50,000 about six months ago. "Last month, a local task force nabbed 3.7 pounds of the drug, one of the largest seizures ever in the region. And police are contending with a steady increase in property crimes like larceny, driven by addicts trying to feed their habit." (Read more) (Graphic by the Wall Street Journal)

Animal rights groups must post $500,000 bond to continue fight against horse slaughterhouses

Animal rights groups trying to put a stop to proposed horse slaughterhouses in New Mexico and Iowa were ordered by a federal magistrate on Thursday to post a bond of nearly $500,000 to cover "the companies’ costs and lost profits for the next 30 days should the animal rights groups lose the case," The Associated Press reports. Last week a temporary restraining order was placed on the plants. Within the next 30 days a hearing on the temporary bans will be heard in federal court.

Pat Rogers, who represents Responsible Transportation, the Iowa company, told the AP, “The bond requires the plaintiffs to put their money where their mouth is. There are real-life consequences to these actions and we’re appreciative of the judge recognizing that." Attorneys said their clients could lose more than $1.5 million in lost revenues in one month. Attorneys for the animal rights groups argued that the estimated losses "were highly speculative and the result of creative accounting." (Read more)

Both slaughterhouses had planned to open this week, but were blocked from doing so on Aug. 5 by a New Mexico federal judge who said the Department of Agriculture should have done an environmental review before granting inspection to the meatpackers.

Snakes alive! Serpent handling Pentecostal preachers from Tenn., Ky. to star in reality show

A pair of snake-handling Pentecostal preachers, one from Tennessee, the other from Kentucky, will be featured in a reality show called "Snake Salvation" that will begin airing at 8 p.m. on Sept. 10 on the National Geographic Channel. The show, whose 16 episodes have titles such as “Casting out Demons,” “Bitten in Church” and “Venom in the Vein,” stars Andrew Hamblin of Tabernacle Church of God in LaFollette, Tenn., and Jamie Coots of Full Gospel Tabernacle in Jesus Name church of Middlesboro, Ky., Bob Smietana reports for The Tennessean. (Tennessean photo by Shelley Mays: Jamie Coots handling a snake in church)

"(Executive producer Matthew) Testa said that because their faith is dangerous and illegal to practice in most states, serpent-handing congregations have been wary of the media in the past," Smietana reports. "By getting to know Coots and Hamblin, he said, viewers will get a view into a unique religious culture." Testa told Smietana, “We live at a time when, because of the Internet and television, we are all becoming more and more alike. To find a really distinct American subculture is incredibly rare.”

The show's producers said in a statement: “Many community members scoff at their bizarre practices, members of their own families teeter on faithfulness and reformed criminals use it as their best defense against backsliding into sin. National Geographic’s cameras were there when many church members were bitten by one of the poisonous serpents. But the pastors’ own faith never falters that they’ll be able to inspire their masses to seek their personal Snake Salvation.” (Read more)

Rising costs, Medicaid changes result in the loss of school nurses in Eastern Kentucky

Students in some Eastern Kentucky schools won't be able to run to the nurse's office every time they need medical attention, because rising costs are forcing many schools to cut the number of nurses available to students. Last year the Kentucky River District Health Department provided 33 nurses at a cost of $5,000 each to Perry, Knott, Leslie, Letcher, Wolfe, Owsley, and Lee counties, but this year there will only be eight nurses, Cris Ritchie reports for the Hazard Herald. One of the main reasons is that the cost of each nurse has risen to $15,000. 

Jonathan Jet, superintendent of Perry County Schools, told Ritchie that last year the district had nurses at each of its 10 schools, but this year will only have nurses at three schools. Jett said  "a recent agreement signed with Primary Care Centers of Eastern Kentucky and Mountain Comprehensive Health Care will ensure that providers such as physician’s assistants will be at some schools for a period of time during each week. These agreements coupled with the three nurses the district will employ should be able to fill the void that a reduction in nurses will leave."

But not all Kentucky schools will be covered. Karen Cooper, director of the district health department in Hazard, said "67 percent of the districts in Kentucky which provided school nurses last year have either discontinued or scaled back their programs," Ritchie writes. She said "after the state’s move to Medicaid managed care in November 2011, reimbursements have not been made like they were before managed care was instituted. As a result, Cooper said the health department lost money in providing school nurses last year, and simply couldn’t afford to take another loss." Cooper told Ritchie, “They’re in the same issue we are. It’s a Medicaid issue.” (Read more)

Panel to debate if federal public-affairs offices hinder or help the cause of open government

John M. Donnelly
The National Press Club will be hosting a webcast panel at 6:20 p.m. Monday to debate whether federal public-affairs offices hinder more than help the cause of open government. "Although executive branch communications offices can be useful, at times indispensable, in helping the press cover the government, reporters need to always be free to seek information in other ways," the National Press Club writes. "Yet doing so has become difficult to a degree that some say jeopardizes the access the press and the public have to information."

"Public affairs offices increasingly require that reporters conduct all interviews through the press office. U.S. departments and agencies often mandate that their employees only talk to reporters through official channels and with communications staff present," the National Press Club writes. "On the other side of the issue, public affairs professionals believe these controls are necessary to ensure that the press gets accurate information and the department or agency’s message is unified and coherent."

The free event will be moderated by John M. Donnelly, chairman of the NPC Press Freedom Committee and a senior writer with CQ Roll Call. Also on hand will be Tony Fratto, former deputy assistant to President George W. Bush and principal deputy press secretary; John Verrico, president-elect of the National Association of Government Communicators; Linda Petersen, freedom of information chair for the Society of Professional Journalists, and president of the Utah Foundation for Open Government; Kennesaw State University's Carolyn Carlson; and freelance reporter Kathryn Foxhall. For more information or to register click here.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Hot shot survivor opens up to press, talks about tragic events that left 19 firefighters dead

Brendan McDonough, the sole hot shots survivor of the unit that lost 19 firefighters in Arizona, has stayed away from the media since the June 30 incident. But McDonough decided recently to sit down with the The Prescott Daily Courier, which has extensively covered the event, and opened up about his experience and the other members of the crew. The paper's exclusive video, bottom of page, was aired nationally. (Courier photo by Matt Hinshaw: Brendan McDonough)

"I wouldn't have traded the years I spent with those men for anything in this world," McDonough told Joanna Dodder Nellans. "They made me the man, and father I am today. How successful I am physically, emotionally, spiritually - I owe it to them."

While McDonough didn't want to discuss some things that happened that fateful day, he talked openly about his experience, and the role he was assigned to play in fighting the blaze. McDonough's job was to be a lookout, and look "for trigger points that would signal the need to re-evaluate what he and the crew were doing, and whether their positions remained safe," Nellans writes. "As the lookout, Brendan would measure weather conditions hourly, scan radio traffic, watch the fire and the crew, and relay information back to the crew."

He told Nellans, "The fire was moving away from us." But later that afternoon, winds changed 180 degrees. "I could already see the wind had shifted and I had met my trigger point to re-evaluate where I was, and I needed to find a different position. I've never experienced a storm of that magnitude I've never seen winds like that. It literally chooses which way it wants to go. There's nothing that stops it." McDonough said he called his crew, and asked "if they need anything just give me a call and I'll see them soon. And that's the last time I talked to them."

McDonough told Nellans, "When I heard they had to deploy, I was crushed mentally and emotionally. I didn't know what to do...It was just a horrible, freak accident... You know you can die on this job...but it's in the back of your head because if you always think about it, it's going to weigh you down."

McDonough "has seen plenty of news articles about the hotshots, but he doesn't want to talk about them," Nellans writes. McDonough told her, "I'll make a statement that I'll always stand behind my 19 brothers and support them, and I'll make it known that there was no bad decision made. That no one's at fault for what happened. And I will never forget that day, and I'll make sure that they're remembered. I'll make it known that I was there and I know what happened...there was a lot of other people that were there and knew what happened, and that it was just an accident." (Read more)

Community journalist recalls shooting at municipal board meeting that left three dead

Chris Reber
Public shootings become national news, and fodder for journalists who descend on towns to seek out survivors for first-hand accounts of what happened. Often, the reality of the horror is overshadowed by the need to get photos of people weeping or bloody, and to be the first to interview survivors or the family of victims.

But small-town journalist Chris Reber found himself on the other side of the news Monday when he went to a meeting to write a story, and a gunman entered the building and killed three people. Reber relayed his frightening experience to his editors at the Pocono Record in the 5,500-population town of Stroudsburg in eastern Pennsylvania, and his first-hand account was published in the paper, as written by editor Chris Mele. Reber's story wasn't sensationalized, but told from the honest point-of-view of someone who survived a nightmare.

In describing his experience, Reber said: "The thing that got my attention: plaster flying out, blowing out through the walls. Witnesses would later tell me they saw pictures exploding away from the walls. I heard more than 10 shots. It was automatic, like a string of firecrackers. That's what everyone said. I crawled out to a hallway and then got outside. There is nothing in reality you can compare it to. It just was not in reality. All I could think was: It wasn't happening to me...It wasn't real to me until I went back inside and saw people bleeding." (Read more)

The shooting suspect, whose property was filled with junk, was evicted last year, losing his property two weeks ago, and his shooting rampage was reportedly in response to that, as can be read in the Record here, here, here, and here.

Eastern Kentucky continues to reach record lows for coal jobs, while western coalfields add jobs

Kentucky coal jobs reached a modern low in the first quarter of the year, and declined even lower in the second quarter, hitting the lowest number since at least 1927, Bill Estep reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. All the job losses came in Eastern Kentucky, where the state cut another 916 jobs during the second quarter. Eastern Kentucky has historically produced more coal than Western Kentucky, but western coalfields added 65 jobs during the second quarter, and accounted for 50.2 percent of all production. (Herald-Leader photo: Pine Branch Coal Sales in Eastern Kentucky)

"Those losses came on the heels of more than 4,000 coal-industry layoffs in Eastern Kentucky in 2012 and a continued slide during the first three months of 2013," Estep reports. "Since mid-2011, Eastern Kentucky has lost more than 5,700 coal jobs, or nearly 42 percent, while the decline in Western Kentucky has been 105 jobs, or 2.3 percent."

Read more here:

As of July, an estimated 12,342 people work in coal mines and related facilities, with 7,951 in Eastern Kentucky and 4,391 in Western Kentucky, Estep reports. "Officials in Eastern Kentucky said some laid-off miners have moved away to get work, while others are driving long distances for jobs or working at mines so far from home they have to live away from their families for extended periods."

Statewide, coal production fell 1.3 percent in the second quarter, and production in Eastern Kentucky has declined 41.4 percent since mid-2011, Estep reports. "Western Kentucky coal was once at a disadvantage in meeting clean-air rules because it has a higher sulfur content, but the installation of scrubbers at many power plants has helped fuel a comeback in the region. Eastern Kentucky faces a number of challenges, including competition from relatively cheap natural gas and lower-cost coal from other parts of the country; higher mining costs and declining productivity, which reflect the fact that much of the best coal has already been mined; and tougher rules aimed at protecting air and water quality." (Read more)

Michael Happ, 21, buys struggling community newspaper, keeps one-man operation going

A small-town newspaper is alive, because a 21-year-old with little journalism experience decided to make one of his dreams come true. Michael Happ was still in college studying political science and theology at Creighton University when his father informed him of an opportunity to buy the weekly Beacon-Observer in the Elm Creek, Neb., pop. 913. Happ jumped at the chance, buying the paper in March, and putting out his first edition in May, Jessica Kokesh reports for the Kearney Hub in Kearney, Neb. (Hub photo by Jessica Kokesh)

Happ, who wrote for his local paper throughout junior high and worked in the communications office for Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle during college, told Kokesh owning a newspaper has been a dream of his since he was young. He told her, “I tried to talk myself out of it, but if it’s my dream, I better go for it,. I was standing at Ninth and Harney in Omaha when I made the offer. It was pretty intense.”

Happ bought the Beacon-Observer building, "and built an apartment for himself in the back room where the printing press used to be," Kokesh writes. "He said he hopes to introduce online coverage once things have slowed down, and plans to redesign the Beacon-Observer when he’s more familiar with the design software." He also said he wants to expand the coverage area. Happ told Kokesh, “Everyone wants to talk and I have to keep apologizing to them because the phone keeps ringing.” (Read more)

Connecticut reporter takes first-place in SEJ awards for outstanding beat writing

Neena Satija
The Society of Environmental Journalists announced its winners of the 2012-2013 Awards for Reporting on the Environment. Of the 234 entries, 21 winners are being awarded in seven categories. While most of the winners are from major metropolitan newspapers, the lone rural winner was Neena Satija of The Connecticut Mirror, who took first-place for small-market outstanding beat writing for her story collection titled "Shoreline Vulnerability in Farifield County." The awards will be held Oct. 2 at the Chattanooga Convention Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in conjunction with SEJ's 23rd Annual Conference. First-place winners receive $500 and a trophy.

Judge's wrote of Satija: "With deft, detailed writing, for instance, she tactfully balances the plight of a low-income community, built in a flood plain and still recovering from major storms, with the struggles of an overtaxed housing department without the resources to truly fix the problem. Then Satija turns around and explains why it’s problematic that a $120 billion investment company, with enough money to build anywhere, would choose to locate its new headquarters in the middle of another high-risk flood zone."

"Truly jaw-dropping, however, was Satija’s two-part series on problems at Stamford’s Water Pollution Control Authority. Satija spent four months digging into public records and tracking down dozens of current and former employees to show readers how infrastructure problems fell by the wayside as former leaders – including Connecticut’s current governor – pushed ahead with an expensive and poorly-planned waste-to-energy project. The stories do what every good investigation should: hold public officials accountable." (Read more)

To read Satija's stories click on the links:
"Bridgeport residents still suffering from Sandy's hardships"
"Bridgewater plan faces another potential setback: climate change"
"Striving for innovation, spending millions, Stamford leaders ignored major problems"
"Stamford's failed attempt at energy innovation cost taxpayers tens of millions"
"Public housing residents nervously await next storm -- with good reason"

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

How connected is your area? Map details broadband availability; nearly 1/4 of rural areas lack it

High-speed Internet availability in rural areas is sometimes spotty, and in some doesn't even exist. What is the availability in your area? The National Broadband Map allows you to type in a place name and see all its broadband providers and their advertised speeds. There is also a tool to compare data within areas. The map defines broadband as 3 mbps download and 768 kbps upload, which is lower than the Federal Communications Commission definition (4 mbps down, 1 mbps up). To use the tool click here.

Researchers Brian Whitacre of Oklahoma State University, Roberto Gallardo of Mississippi State Universityand Sharon Strover of the University of Texas took a closer look at the National Broadband Map data for the Daily Yonderand found that 23.7 percent of rural residents lacked access to 3 mbps Internet service, while only 1.8 percent of non-rural residents did.

"More rural areas are significantly worse off in terms of the availability of wired broadband infrastructure," they write. "Thirty percent of non-core counties (no cities of 10,000 or more) have more than 40 percent of their population lacking access to wired broadband infrastructure. Only five percent of non-core counties meet this highest category of availability, compared to nearly 40 percent of metro counties." (Read more) On the National Broadband Map, the size of the red dots indicates the percentage of a county’s population that lacks wired broadband. The larger the dot, the greater the percentage of the population that lacks service.

EPA finalizes Renewable Fuel Standard percentages in four categories; backs off some goals

The Environmental Protection Agency's "final 2013 overall volumes and standards require 16.55 billion gallons of renewable fuels to be blended into the U.S. fuel supply (a 9.74 percent blend)," Derrick Cain reports for Agri-Pulse, a Washington newsletter. "The rule reduces the targets of cellulosic biofuels and advanced biofuel based on current production, gives refineries and importers four more months to comply with the 2013 targets, and signals that the EPA will reduce targets in 2014 to address 'blend wall' concerns."

"The EPA standard specifically requires: biomass-based diesel (1.28 billion gallons; 1.13 percent), advanced biofuels (2.75 billion gallons; 1.62 percent), and cellulosic biofuels (6 million gallons; 0.004 percent)," Cain reports. "The 6 million mark for cellulosic biofuels was reduced from a proposed 14 million level among concerns there would not be enough of the fuel to meet that level."

The announcement has drawn mostly rave reviews. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety, told Cain, “I have long supported the goals of Renewable Fuel Standard, incentivizing environmentally-friendly options that move our country away from foreign fossil fuels, while safeguarding our energy security. I also strongly believe that as we make investments in renewable fuels to lower our dependency on foreign oil, we must ensure that we don’t have an adverse impact on the environment or our economy.”

Tom Buis, chief executive officer of ethanol producer Growth Energy, told Cain, “We look forward to closely reviewing the final rule and we strongly support increasing levels of renewable fuel into our nation’s fuel supply. The RFS continues to be a resounding success, helping create jobs in America that cannot be outsourced, revitalizing rural economies across the country in addition to reducing our dependence on foreign oil and improving our environment, all while providing consumers with a choice and savings at the pump.”

Danny Murphy, president of the American Soybean Association, said the updated volumes for 2013 will allow “promising growth” of the biodiesel industry, Cain writes. Anne Steckel, vice president of federal affairs for the National Biodiesel Board, said the EPA’s decision will help consumers, create jobs, and reduce emissions. She told Cain, "With nearly 1.1 billion gallons of production last year, the biodiesel industry produced enough fuel to fill 87 percent of the total advanced requirement in 2012."

There is some opposition from groups, such as the Feed Food Fairness Coalition. The group said, “This is just another example of the inflexibility of the RFS mandate, which is imposing numerous unintended consequences, not the least of which is higher food prices for small businesses in the food chain. “The Feed Food Fairness coalition will continue to advocate for a complete repeal of the RFS to put an end to this failed experiment which has helped no one except a small group of special interests, while needlessly harming livestock farmers, food chain businesses and consumers.” (Read more) To read the full report click here.

Obama lieutenants open dialogue on coal; Democrats from Central Appalachia want officials to visit

The Obama administration, which has often shied away from talking about coal, has recently been opening the doors to talk about the subject. President Obama said in announcing the greenhouse-gas regulations would be extended to existing power plants that the federal government should help mitigate the economic dislocation that will result.

Last week, administration environmental leaders met with West Virginia Democrats as part of what advocates are calling an increasing dialogue between both sides of the contentious debate, Manuel Quinones reports for Environment & Energy News.  

It's not the first time the administration has tried to open talks with coal supporters and critics. New Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy has met several times with the National Mining Association, and officials of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity have also met with top administration officials, Quinones reports. Kentucky state Rep. Leslie Combs (D-Pikeville) met with a regional EPA director who is now McCarthy's chief of staff, and called for an administration official to visit the troubled Central Appalachian coalfield.

Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) told Quinones last week, "Certainly the doors of communication were opened further than they had been with the previous administrator. (McCarthy) expressed a genuine willingness to listen, not sit in a room and roll her eyes and fidget around like she can't wait to get to the next meeting."

West Virginia's "Sen. Joe Manchin, the only Democrat to vote against McCarthy's confirmation last month, helped organize the meeting and is now calling on the new EPA chief to visit the Mountain State," Quinones reports. Manchin said, "We as a delegation made it clear it was imperative that Ms. McCarthy visit West Virginia to see firsthand the devastating effects that will occur if any new, unobtainable and unreasonable regulations are imposed by the EPA." He said his hope is that EPA will be a "partner rather than a constant adversary." (Read more)

Budget cuts close 77 small-town Calif. courthouses; cases are sent to cities and videostreamed

Small-town courthouses are disappearing in California, forcing police, lawyers, defendants, plaintiffs, and anyone else involved in a case to shell out cash to travel to courts in nearby cities. State budget cuts are closing 77 courthouses, and many courts have already reduced hours at public service counters, Emily Green reports for NPR. (Photo by KFSN, Fresno: Seven courthouses in the Fresno area closed last week)

The small Northern California town of Coalinga once had a full-time judge and held jury hearings in town, but the judge was replaced by visiting judges, then eventually that stopped. "Now, in the wood-paneled courtroom, a large flat-screen television hangs where the podium used to be," Green reports. The television is used for video streaming for traffic court. Most cases are held an hour away in Fresno, and last year travel expenses cost the Coalinga Police Department around $25,000.

Gary Hoff, presiding judge of Fresno County Superior Court, told Green, "We knew that closing the courts would deny people in outlying jurisdictions the availability of going to a local courthouse to take care of their business. I know others have disagreed with our choice, but financially we could not do anything else but close those courts. We have to live within our budget." (Read more)

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Inquiry could delay Keystone XL pipeline; Eastern Gulf line expected to carry almost as much oil

While an independent government inquiry into the State Department's choice of a private contractor to steer the latest Keystone XL environmental review could stall President Obama's final decision on the project until 2014, a little known pipeline nearly as big as Keystone is going relatively unnoticed, and is expected to be approved.

"If the initial inquiry turns up information that merits a more in-depth audit, a further probe of the department's internal procedures could prolong the process," Elana Schor reports for Environment and Energy News. After the inquiry is finished, there will be a 90-day public comment period. (Read more 

While most the focus is on Keystone, the Eastern Gulf Crude Access Pipeline Project has received little attention. Planned for 2015, the 774-mile line would be capable of carrying almost as much oil as Keystone, and would run from Illinois to Louisiana, Lisa Song reports for Inside Climate News.

"The Eastern Gulf pipeline still needs various federal and state approvals, but it's expected to sail through the regulatory process with relative ease, because much of it is already built,," Song reports. "The bulk of the pipeline—574 miles—will be repurposed from an existing natural-gas line, so the project needs only 200 miles of new construction, including 40 miles from Patoka to Johnsonville, Ill., and 160 miles from Boyce to St. James, La." (Read more)

Owners of cloned horses win access to American Quarter Horse Association's prestigious registry

A Texas jury ruled that the American Quarter Horse Association is violating state and federal antitrust laws by banning cloned horses from its prestigious registry, Betsy Blaney reports for The Associated Press. "Jurors didn't award any of the $6 million in damages being sought by the breeders, but (attorney Nancy) Stone said her clients' primary interest was 'to get these horses registered.'" No American breeding groups allow cloned horses to be registered. (Turner Strategies photo by Sally Harrison: Champion horse Royal Blue Boon, right, meets her clone, Royal Blue Boon Too)

The lawsuit was filed by a rancher and veterinarian, who "argued that the association was operating a monopoly by excluding clones. The lawsuit notes that the group already allowed other non-natural breeding technologies such as artificial insemination," Blaney reports. "The 280,000-member association argued that its rules were fair in requiring that all horses in its registry have a registered mother and a registered father, which is impossible with clones. The group also said it had the right to set its own rules as long as they were reasonable and lawful."

American Paint Horse Association spokesman Billy Smith told Blaney breeders worldwide could be affected because semen could be transported to other countries, though some international laws might not allow the use of clones. Smith said Tuesday that a fundamental element to any breed registry is the rules that dictate the qualifications for animals to get listed. (Read more)

With no vet school and lots of animals, Arkansas looks for a way to fund veterinary training

Like many states, Arkansas and its most rural areas are in need of veterinarians. But no state university offers a veterinary program, forcing aspiring vets to leave the state to obtain their degree. Through grants, 12 veterinary students each year can earn in-state tuition at Louisiana State University, the University of Missouri, Tuskegee University and Oklahoma State University. "But a premature depletion of the program’s funds has left the state unable to support the veterinary grants," Julie Scheidegger reports for DVM360, a news source for veterinary medical information. (Photo by DVM360)

"In 2008, the state Legislature moved $20 million from the program’s reserves to offset lottery revenue shortcomings, exhausting the fund much earlier than expected," Scheidegger reports. Shane Broadway, interim director of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, told Scheidegger, “Instead of running out in 2017, it runs out now." In 2011 and 2013, higher education officials requested lawmakers to act to help the program, but they were not unsuccessful, Scheidegger reports.

Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe wants the Legislature to move $1.1 million from the "rainy day fund" to the program. Approval, which is expected, "would guarantee one year of financial assistance for the dozen students set to begin programs this fall," Scheidegger reports. But it is only one-time money, meaning students attending LSU in 2013-14 for about $21,500 will be responsible for about $48,350 the following year, if the program is not continued. (Read more)

Fewer dentists are practicing in rural America, but some states are trying to change that

The number of dentists in rural Nebraska keeps shrinking, and there is little interest among new dentists in setting up practice in the state's rural areas. States like Nebraska, Kentucky and Kansas are trying to lure more dentists to rural areas through incentive programs or by educating the area's youth about the benefits of becoming a dentist and practicing close to home. (Kansas Health Institute photo by Ann Williamson: Dental patients waiting at the Kansas Mission of Mercy Dental Clinic in Manhattan. The free clinics treat thousands who otherwise might not have access to dental care.)

Twenty of Nebraska's 93 counties don't have a dentist, and 31 counties only have one or two, the Fremont Tribune reports. Even worse, 39 percent of the state's dentists are nearing retirement, and there is little interest among recent college graduates in setting up practices in rural areas. Kim McFarland of the University of Nebraska told the Tribune she estimates that of the 45 new dentists entering practice in the state each year, only five or six go to rural areas.

Nebraska has an incentive program that gives a dental-school graduate up to $20,000 a year in tuition reimbursement for workign in underserved rural areas, the Tribune reports. But McFarland said students often graduate with $200,000 or more in debt. She told the Tribune, "We just need to make sure we're recruiting dental students from rural areas and giving them incentives to practice in rural areas." That won't be easy, because the state's two dental schools, at the University of Nebraska and Creighton University — are operating at capacity, McFarland said. (Read more)

Grants in Kentucky and Kansas are helping to raise awareness about the need for dentists in rural areas. Morehead State University received approval this week from the Appalachian Regional Commission for a $400,000 grant to initiate the Appalachian Rural Dental Education Partnership Program, MSU reports. Matching resources from Morehead and the University of Kentucky, which is partnering with Morehead in the program, brings the total to $514,437. 

"The program will increase awareness and support for dental careers among kindergarten through 12th-grade students in Eastern Kentucky; establish a new undergraduate predental curriculum at MSU with links to the UK dental school; and improve oral health conditions at MSU and in the surrounding region," MSU reports. "The strategic will ultimately improve access to dental professionals in underserved areas such as Appalachian Kentucky's distressed counties." (Read more)

In Kansas, in response to a 2011 report that 57,000 people in the state live at least 30 minutes from the nearest dentist, it was announced this week that "the DentaQuest Foundation has given a $100,000 grant to Oral Health Kansas to develop a plan for improving access to dental care," Jim McLean reports for the Kansas Health Institute. "The nonprofit group will work with several other Kansas oral health organizations to craft the plan and submit to the foundation for a  possible two-year implementation grant." (Read more)

Monday, August 05, 2013

Judge blocks opening of horse slaughterhouses, saying environmental review needed

UPDATE, Aug. 8: The animal rights groups that won a temporary ban on domestic horse slaughter expect to find out Thursday how much bond they must post to ensure their legal challenge can proceed, The Associated Press reports. The Humane Society of the United States, Front Range Equine Rescue and others won a temporary restraining order last week that blocked plans by companies in Roswell, N.M., and Sigourney, Iowa, to start slaughtering horses.The groups must post a bond to cover the companies' losses should they lose their lawsuit, which challenges the U.S. Department of Agriculture's June decision to open the plants. The attorney representing Valley Meat Co. in Roswell says he will seek at least $10 million. (Read more)

Two horse slaughterhouses that wanted to start operations this week were blocked from doing so Friday by a New Mexico federal judge who said the Department of Agriculture should have done an environmental review before granting inspection to the meatpackers.

"Chief U.S. District Judge M. Christine Armijo said opponents of horse slaughter had met their burden in establishing that a temporary restraining order against the plants was justified," reports Milan Simonich for the Las Cruces Sun-News. "Armijo's ruling means that Valley Meat Co. of Roswell, N.M., and Responsible Transportation of Sigourney, Iowa, are barred from starting business for at least 30 days."

A. Blair Dunn, attorney for Valley Meat and a Missouri company that wants to open a horse abattoir, "said he would ask for bond of $10 million to $25 million from opponents of the plants," including the Humane Society of the United States, on grounds that Armijo's temporary restraining order would keep the plants from opening for anywhere from six months to a year. (Read more) The bond hearing was delayed late this afternoon.

Bipartisan bill in Senate would allow Postal Service to eliminate Saturday delivery

Tom Carper
UPDATE, Aug. 6: The presidents of four unions sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Monday expressing “utter dismay” with the Senate bill, saying it would downsize the service to pay for the pre-funding requirement, among other complaints, Josh Hicks reports for The Washington Post. Jim Sauber, chief of staff to the president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, said “The legislation on both sides of the Hill is likely to lead to a death spiral for the Postal Service.” (Read more)

Saturday mail may soon be a thing of the past. The long-awaited, bipartisan Postal Service reform bill announced Friday by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) "would permit five or fewer delivery days per week after a year," Nicole Guadiano reports for the Wilmington News-Journal. "The intention is to allow for the elimination of Saturday mail and give the postal service flexibility for extra days around long weekends and holiday." A similar bill is pending in the House.

"The bill also would require centralized or curbside delivery of mail for new addresses and existing addresses could lose door delivery. But it would ban for two years changes to delivery speed — such as overnight delivery of mail — and plant closings," Guadiano reports. "Other reforms proposed in the bill would allow the service to sell non-postal products and ship beer and wine and would give the service more authority to set prices on its own." (Read more)

"Ending Saturday delivery and changing the mode of delivery for tens of millions of customers may save $5 or $6 billion, but it will also mean cutting 40,000 to 60,000 jobs," Save the Post Office reports. " The Postal Service’s five-year plan calls for reducing the career workforce to 400,000 by 2017. A 100,000 more jobs remain to be cut." The service wants to limit Saturday delivery to packages, a service on which it makes money.

Two key sections were cut from the earlier Senate bill, Save the Post Office reports. One "maintained overnight delivery standards for three years, which would have prevented the closure of many processing plants," and the other "established retail service standards to help guarantee access to a post office. One such standard, for example, would have put a limit on how far and how long you should need to travel to your post office." (Read more)

Bernie Sanders
In response to the proposal, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) issued a statement saying it makes no sense and is weaker than legislation the Senate passed last year. That included a two-year guarantee of full Saturday delivery. Sanders wrote, “This bill would lead to the elimination of tens of thousands of decent-paying jobs – many of them held by military veterans. That is why I have introduced the Postal Service Protection Act with 28 co-sponsors." To read his full statement click here.

In the Daily Yonder, Donna Kallner writes about mail as "rural America's communications lifeline."

Probe of Ark. oil spill confirms manufacturing defects in pipeline; could be a warning for others

"Findings of a metallurgical investigation into the cause of the Mayflower (Ark.) oil spill point to manufacturing defects, the same defects that the pipeline industry has known exist in pipelines since as early as 1989," Courtney Spradlin reports for the Log Cabin Democrat in Conway, Ark., about 10 miles from Mayflower. Last month, ExxonMobil released a report which also blamed manufacturing defects for the spill that in March sent 150,000 gallons of crude oil into Mayflower. (Photo submitted to the Democrat: A ruptured pipeline, provided in a report from Hurst Metallurgical Research Lab)

"Multiple reports, including one of more than 200 pages of highly technical information released at the close of a metallurgical study of the failed pipeline Thursday, show pipelines similarly manufactured, and in the same era as the ruptured line in Mayflower, are inferior and susceptible to failure," Spradlin reports.

Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Ark.) told Spradlin, "Exxon officials admitted a corrosion test from 2010 and a test performed this year to detect cracking within the pipeline did not show any indication of a manufacturing flaw." She writes, "Exxon’s admission pulls into question Exxon’s current inspection tests’ relevancy if tests failed in February to detect defects that would lead to a more than 5,000-barrel crude oil spill in March." (Read more)

Because the "1940s-era construction process" used for the pipeline was used on many others, the rupture could be a warning of more to come. The industry says proper monitoring and prevention measures can keep the pipelines safe, but Exxon has not revealed whether it met those industry standards, Elizabeth Douglass and David Hasemyer of Inside Climate News report.

Leading author seeks small towns to discover 'under-reported aspects of American realities'

We've long considered James Fallows one of America's best reporters, writers and authors, and here's fresh evidence: He and his wife "are kicking off an open-ended exploration of smaller-town America," as he calls it. "The idea is to learn about places that illustrate under-reported aspects of current American realities -- economic, technological, social, demographic, and all the rest."

Jim says he's done a lot of research for the trip, but he knows this is an enterprise that calls for great diversity of input, so he's asking for recommendations for places to visit: "What is a smaller American town whose story deserves more attention? 'Smaller' is a flexible definition. The simplest approximation might be: a place that doesn't get much national notice and is rarely in the news. (For instance: Aspen, Colo., is a small town but wouldn't qualify; Sioux Falls, S.D., is fairly large, but does.) We'll be grateful for your thoughts, via the form below."

Coal mine health and safety seminar set Aug. 22

A one-day seminar this month will look at current health and safety issues in coal mining. The focus of the 2013 Central Appalachian Regional Work Safety and Health Symposium, scheduled for Aug. 22 in Lexington, Ky., will be research indicating the risk for respiratory diseases among coal miners, state-of-the-art tools and techniques for measuring coal dust, current and proposed exposure limits, and the need for periodic health surveillance of coal workers.

Among the speakers will be U.S. Rep. Andy Barr of Lexington, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety Joseph Main, and experts in respiratory disease, health surveillance, industrial hygiene, and occupational safety and health. Main is expected to discuss the pending proposal for lower limits on respirable dust.

The conference is sponsored by the University of Kentucky's Department of Mining Engineering and the Central Appalachian Regional Education and Research Center, a partnership of UK and Eastern Kentucky University, funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. It will be held in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Kentucky Mining Institute.

The fee for the conference is $25. For more information or to register online click here.

Lawmakers go on August break with new Farm Bill looking less likely

The Farm Bill remains in limbo, and with lawmakers on break until September, a month in which there are only nine legislative days, current farm law's expiration of Sept. 30 looms ever closer. Matters will only continue to get complicated "if House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) brings a revised Farm Bill nutrition title to the floor that cuts up to $40 billion over 10 years from the nation’s largest domestic food aid program," food stamps, Ellyn Ferguson reports for Roll Call.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters, “To put their members on record as supporting $40 billion in cuts, that really makes the path back the harder one for the farm bill. Senate Agriculture Chairwoman  Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) "called the possible nutrition bill 'one more road block.' She said the possible new nutrition bill could 'put us in a situation where it’s going to make it harder to get a farm bill done,'” Ferguson reports.

Stabenow and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-Okla.) "say they hope to iron out such differences between the Senate bill and the agriculture-only bill through informal talks during the August recess. The goal, they said, is to get as many issues resolved as possible by September so they’ll be ready for a likely formal conference committee," Ferguson reports.