Friday, June 06, 2014

Study finds that 21 percent of journalists have been denied media credentials

More than 21 percent of journalists who have applied for media credentials to federal, state, local and private organizations from 2008 to 2013 were denied passes, according to a study by Harvard University released by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society and the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.

The study, which is thought to be the first of its kind, found that "freelance journalists were significantly less likely to receive media credentials than employed journalists; photographers were more likely to be denied than non-photographers; and respondents who identified themselves as activists were more likely to be denied than those who did not," the Digital Media Law Project writes.

Participants were asked if they have been denied credentials to cover the White House, Congress, federal agencies, federal courts, federal law enforcement, U.S. military branches, governor's offices or state executive branches, state legislatures, state agencies or departments, state courts, state law enforcement, public universities, municipal government, county or municipal law enforcement, fire department or other emergency services, private venues such as conventions and political parties.

Of the 676 respondents who said they applied to one of 17 organizations, 145 said they were denied at least one request, the report found. Private venues were most likely to deny applicants' requests for credentials, with 62 of 325 respondents, or 17 percent, saying their requests were denied. The next most likely was municipal government, 13 percent, followed by state agencies, 12 percent, fire departments or emergency services, 10 percent and county or municipal law enforcement, 10 percent.

Federal agencies were less likely to deny requests, the report found. Only four percent of journalists were denied requests to cover federal courts (three of 68 requests denied) and military branches (four of 92 denied). Only two of 39, or 5 percent, of requests for federal law enforcement were denied. And only 7 percent of credential requests were denied for the White House (18 of 251 denied) and Congress (11 of 156 denied). To read the full report, click here.

Only 13 percent of uninsured to be penalized; collecting penalties could be difficult

Only 13 percent of the 30 million uninsured Americans will be penalized under federal health reform, according to a report by the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation. "That's down from 6 million in their September 2012 projection, mostly because of an increase in those who qualify for an exemption from the individual mandate," Jason Millman reports for The Washington Post. Health reform has been a hard sell in many rural areas. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that only 26 percent of rural residents approve of Obamacare.

But collecting the penalty, which in 2014 starts at $95 for an adult or 1 percent of taxable income, is another matter, Millman writes. The report states: "Among the uninsured people subject to the penalty, many are expected to voluntarily report on their tax returns that they are uninsured and to pay the amount owed. However, other people will try to avoid payments."

The groups "expect people earning more than 400 percent of the federal poverty level—the cut-off point for federal tax credits to purchase coverage on Obamacare exchanges—will pay the greatest share of the penalty in 2016," Millman writes. (Read more)

Without access to the Internet many Native Americans rely on radio for information, news

While some rural areas are waiting patiently—and sometimes impatiently—for faster Internet service or to be connected at all, Native Americans in isolated areas like the 7,000 residents of the Hopi Reservation in Arizona, rely on the local radio station to stay in tune with the rest of the world, Tristan Ahtone reports for Al Jazeera America. Only 10 percent of Indian County has access to broadband, according to some reports.

"As access to instant digital media and news spreads across the United States, tribal radio stations are a rich example of just how the digital divide continues to separate Native America from the United States and how tribes use technology often seen as outdated to bridge that gap," Ahtone writes. (To view the interactive version of this click here)
Richard Davis, manager for KUYI 88.1 on the Hopi reservation, told Ahtone, “There aren’t the basic emergency response services. There’s no fire department on Hopi. When there’s a wildfire, we’re going to be the only people that let folks know where it’s burning. When there are icy road conditions, we’re going to be the only folks letting people know where to drive a little more safely.” Some areas are completely isolated. KBRW in Barrow, Alaska, is the only station in about 94,000 square miles, said station manager Jeff Seifert.

Of the 53 Native stations in the U.S., it’s estimated that 92 percent create local programing, 75 percent produce hyperlocal news, 70 percent air tribal programming and 57 percent broadcast in their local tribal language, Ahtone writes. Thirty-five of the stations rely on funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, but federal funding has dropped 5 percent and is expected to keep decreasing. About 20 percent of the stations work on an annual budget of about $100,000 and more than half on a budget of $200,000. (Read more)

Federal judge rules that mountaintop removal is damaging Southern West Virginia streams

"Citing what he said was 'extensive scientific evidence,' a federal judge has ruled for the first time that conductivity pollution from mountaintop removal mining operations is damaging streams in Southern West Virginia," Ken Ward reports for the Charleston Gazette. "U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers concluded that mines operated by Alpha Natural Resources in Boone and Nicholas counties have 'caused or materially contributed to a significant adverse impact' to nearby streams, giving citizen groups a major victory that also supports Obama administration efforts to reduce mountaintop removal impacts."

Chambers "found that mining discharges had not only altered the chemistry of the streams but also 'unquestionably biologically impaired' them, leaving both the diversity and abundance of aquatic life 'profoundly reduced,'” Ward writes. The judge wrote: "Losing diversity in aquatic life, as sensitive species are extirpated and only pollution-tolerant species survive, is akin to the canary in a coal mine." (Wikipedia map: Nicholas County)

“As key ingredients to West Virginia‘s once abundant clean water, the upper reaches of West Virginia‘s complex network of flowing streams provide critical attributes―functions, in ecological science—that support the downstream water quality relied upon by West Virginians for drinking water, fishing and recreation and important economic uses,” Chambers wrote. “Protecting these uses is the overriding purpose of West Virginia’s water quality standards and the goal of the state’s permit requirements.” Alpha Resources has said it will appeal the ruling. (Read more)

USDA summit series kicks off today focusing on needs of rural LGBT community

Nearly 10 percent of the nation's same-sex couples live in rural areas, and "these couples are more likely to be low-income and are almost twice as likely to receive public assistance. The transgender community is particularly vulnerable," according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which today kicks off its Rural Pride Campaign in Greensboro, N.C.

The campaign, held in conjunction with the National Center for Lesbian Rights will consist of "a series of day-long summits to focus on the unique needs of the rural LGBT community, highlight the important federal policy efforts underway to protect this community and identify next steps to ensure all rural communities have access to the resources they need to thrive," USDA writes.

"This is the first time USDA is specifically reaching out the LGBT community," Nick de la Canal reports for WFAE 90.7 in Charlotte. Joseph Leonard Jr., USDA’s assistant secretary of civil rights, told WFAE, “It’s one thing when you go to shake someone’s hand. It’s another thing when someone walks up to you and shakes your hand. And that’s what USDA is trying to do. Many of the USDA’s programs are in more conservative areas of the country, and that’s why it was that much more important to make sure that persons are covered under this regulation.” (Read more)

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Big coal states got breaks in EPA climate plan

The Obama administration's plan for reducing carbon-dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants accommodates the needs and wants of coal states, Ari Phillips reports for Climate Progress.

"Unsurprisingly, politicians in these states have been among the most vehement attackers of the proposal, tying it into their 'war on coal' narrative," Phillips writes. "However, they fail to mention the concessions the EPA is giving them based on their existing energy generating fleets and limited potential to drastically cut emissions." (Click on image for larger version)
While Republicans in Kentucky's congressional delegation strongly criticized the plan, "John Lyons, Kentucky’s assistant secretary for climate policy, told The Wall Street Journal that he “EPA recognizes our issue and provided the flexibility that we had said was needed in order to meet whatever standards they put forward. They pretty much laid out every option out there that you could think about.” The state administration in Kentucky is Democratic. (Read more)

"Kentucky may be well positioned to meet a carbon emission target for power plants set by federal regulators, even as U.S. Senate candidates there blast the plan, saying it will cripple the state''s coal industry," reports Valerie Volcovici of Reuters.

Railway inspector found defect the day before a train carrying crude oil derailed in Lynchburg, Va.

One day before the April 30 accident that caused 17 tanker cars to derail in downtown Lynchburg, Va., spilling thousands of gallons of crude oil into the James River, a CSX Corp. inspection found a defect in the rail, Michael Martz reports for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. No serious injuries or deaths were reported from the accident.

"Massoud Tahamtani, director of the State Corporation Commission Division of Utility and Railroad Safety, told a state rail-safety task force about the defect but could not elaborate on its nature or whether it contributed to the wreck, which resulted in three cars tumbling into the James River and one burning up," Martz writes. Tahamtani told reporters, “We don’t know what [the defect] is. CSX told one of my inspectors after the accident and that the company was in the process of addressing it." (Read more)

Story on community paper's coverage of Sandy Hook shooting wins Mirror Award for reporting on media

A story by Rachel Aviv in The New Yorker detailing the Newtown Bee's response to a local tragedy that made international news—the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that left 26 people dead, including 20 children—was named best single article in traditional or legacy media in the annual Mirror Awards for coverage of media issues.

In her article, "Local Story," Aviv wrote that Bee reporter and photographer Shannon Hicks, a volunteer firefighter, traveled two miles to the school in response to a scanner report of someone being shot in the foot, and "assumed that the crime stemmed from a custody battle or a fight between parents. Then she saw a young officer, William Chapman, come out of the school yelling, 'Get the bus!' He had a limp girl in his arms. Hicks began calling for an ambulance, but then she saw one already approaching. Through the lens of her camera, she watched as Chapman, only a few strides from the ambulance, fell to the ground, apparently losing strength. She saw that the child’s face had lost color and knew then that she would never publish the photographs she was taking."

"A few minutes later, officers began to lead the first class of children out of the school. The students had been instructed to keep their eyes closed as they walked through the hallway of the building, where the principal and the school psychologist lay dead," Aviv writes. "With their eyes clenched shut and their hands gripping the shoulders or the shirt of the classmate in front of them, the children appeared trusting, a mood that Hicks hoped to capture. Her photograph (above) of the class has become the iconic picture of the tragedy—the next day, it ran on the front page of the Times—but, at the time, Hicks was thinking that 14 sets of parents would see the photograph on the Bee’s website and know that their children were safe." To read the full article, click here. To visit the Bee, click here.

The Mirror Awards are sponsored by Syracuse University. Other winners are:
  • Best Single Story – Radio, Television, Cable or Online Broadcast Media: “The Breaking News Consumer’s Handbook” by Brooke Gladstone, Katya Rogers, Alex Goldman, PJ Vogt, Sarah Abdurrahman and Chris Neary, "On the Media," WNYC, New York.
  • Best Profile in Traditional/Legacy or Digital Media: “The Operator,” Dr. Mehmet Oz, by Michael Specter, The New Yorker.
  • John M. Higgins Award for Best In-Depth/Enterprise Reporting: “Combat Journalism” by Frank Greve, CQ Researcher.

Crusading, award-winning weekly closes after less than 3½ years when grocery chain cuts weekly ads

The Yancey County News, an award-winning, crusading weekly newspaper in western North Carolina, shut down operations last week after less than four years of service when it lost its main source of advertising, Al Cross reports for the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes The Rural Blog.

Jonathan and Susan Austin in Burnsville, N.C.
(Photo: Bill Sanders, Asheville Citizen-Times)
"The weekly newspaper never exceeded a regular circulation of 1,000 but punched above its weight from the get-go, reporting in its first edition about a state investigation of vote-fraud allegations," Cross writes. "Then it analyzed state investigators' records to report that the county had an unusually high number of absentee ballots, many of which were witnessed by employees of the county sheriff’s department and cast by criminal defendants, some of whose charges were then dropped."

"The paper also revealed that the mountain county's chief deputy, the arresting officer in several cases in which the suspects immediately voted and were given leniency, was also pawning county-owned guns for personal gain," Cross writes. "He has resigned and pleaded guilty to failing to discharge his duties."

In just two years and five months of operation, publishers Jonathan and Susan Austin won the Ancil Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism, the E.W. Scripps Award for Distinguished Service to the First Amendment, and the Tom and Pat Gish Award for courage, integrity and tenacity from the institute, based at the University of Kentucky. (Read more) The paper's Facebook page is here.

Feds to stop using black-lung opinions of coal-industry doctor who's rarely found it

"Citing an investigative report by ABC News and the Center for Public Integrity, the U.S. Department of Labor has ordered officials handling black lung claims from mine workers to stop relying on the medical opinions of a leading Johns Hopkins doctor whose work for coal companies helped lead to benefits being denied to thousands of miners over the last two decades," Brian Ross, Matthew Mosk and Randy Kreider report for ABC.

In reviewing more than 1,500 claims of black lung since 2000, Dr. Paul S. Wheeler didn't certify a single claim, the investigation found. In fact, during a 2009 court testimony, "Wheeler said the last time he recalled finding a case of severe black lung, a finding that would automatically qualify a miner for benefits under a special federal program, was in 'the 1970's or the early 80's,'" ABC reports. Johns Hopkins suspended Wheeler's unit a few days after the October 2013 investigative report was released, and is still conducting its own investigation on the matter. (ABC photo: For each X-ray Wheeler reads, coal companies pay Johns Hopkins $750.)

Wheeler said "that he could not conclude the coal miners had black lung without first seeing a biopsy—a step not required by the government program that provides financial support to coal miners who have fallen ill with the deadly disease," ABC reports. "He said other maladies were as likely, or more likely, to cause lung damage that could be mistaken as black lung." Dr. Jack Parker of West Virginia University called Wheeler's X-ray readings "intellectually dishonest."

The Labor Department, which said it wasn't aware of Wheeler's history, "is now preparing to notify every miner whose benefits were denied based in part on the doctor's X-ray readings that they should consider reapplying for those benefits," ABC reports. Sen. Robert Casey (D-Pa.) told ABC, "This sends a signal that the Department of Labor hasn't sent in a long time. That they're not going to tolerate a system that's rigged."

The investigation also found that Jackson Kelly, the leading law firm that defends coal companies when miners file lawsuits over black lung, has a record of withholding evidence. In some cases, Jackson Kelly's own doctors found evidence of cancer, but the law firm kept quiet about it, referring instead to doctors hired by the plaintiff who didn't search for, or find, evidence of black lung. (Read more)

Sociologist says immigrants, millennials and retiree housing are keys to thriving rural communities

Rural communities can thrive by "attracting immigrants, hanging on to retiring baby boomers and appealing to millennials in need of affordable housing," Ben Winchester (left), an extension sociologist and analyst of demographic changes for the University of Minnesota, said Wednesday at a symposium hosted by the Center for Small Towns, Dave Peters reports for Minnesota Public Radio.

Winchester said rural areas can boost their local economies and increase growth by welcoming immigrants, and can work to keep retirees from moving away to urban areas to live in townhomes, condos and apartments by providing those housing choices in rural areas, Peters writes. He said rural towns can also boost growth by providing affordable housing for the growing number of people in their 30s and 40s who are moving to or returning to rural areas. (Read more)

Vilsack kicks off 'Made in Rural America' forums, touting program designed to boost exports

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has started a series of regional forums for "Made in Rural America," a new program designed to help rural businesses use federal resources to sell their products abroad. (Pittsburgh Post Gazette photo by Darrell Sapp)

The form in Canonsburg, Pa., about 20 miles from Pittsburgh was the first of five. "At the forum, administration officials promoted, a dedicated web portal to help rural businesses exploit export opportunities," Breanne Brammer reports for Agri-Pulse, a Washington newsletter. "The site, which allows businesses to search information and resources from 24 federal agencies, has had over 5 million page views, officials said."

Vilsack said that "In 2013, exported food and agricultural products topped a record-breaking $144 billion and supported nearly one million jobs. With the success of agricultural exports, we know that other rural businesses such as manufacturers, service providers and value-added producers have much to offer the world market and the ability to grow and create jobs when their exports are increased."

He said several area companies are already exporting products, but "there are plenty more opportunities, and no business is too small to participate," Molly Born reports for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Vilsack said only 1 percent of America’s businesses sell to 95 percent of the world’s consumers. The next "Made in Rural America" event is July 18 near Memphis. (Read more)

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Veterans of tobacco wars see similarities, maybe answers, in the 'war on coal' or climate change

The fight between climate-change foes and coal over the Environmental Protection Agenc's proposed rules to cut carbon-dioxide emissions 30 percent by 2030, could resemble one fought in the 1990s over tobacco, writes Jonathan Weisman of The New York Times: "Federal and state officials keyed in on a widely reviled product pulled from the earth in some of the nation’s poorest regions, intent on regulating it to minimize its health effects and societal damage."

The outcome could be similar, if the government follows the same pattern, Weisman suggests after interviewing Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who was a leader in the fight for the national settlement with cigarette manufacturers as attorney general of his state.

“We really were looking for a way to reimburse the states for the payments they were making for people hurt by disease, and to help the states that would be impacted most negatively if demand dropped” for tobacco, Bluemnthal told Weisman. “There is absolutely a way to do it again, and in the long run, those regions would be much healthier financially and economically to be less dependent on one product, especially a product of finite quantity in the ground, than to continue to eat, live and breathe coal.”

Some don't see enough similarity. Republican economist Doug Holtz-Eakin told Weisman, "In the end, smoking became unacceptable. That was not a legal statement. It was a social statement, and consensus was broad and has held for a long time. Maybe you get there on carbon emissions, but right now, this is an issue for the elites.”

There are major differences between smoking and coal, mostly that someone can quit smoking, but it's more difficult for someone to stop driving, Weisman writes. "The government’s method of weaning the nation from each product — by raising the price — has a regressive impact. In the case of carbon emissions, it hits not just the poor who can least afford higher energy prices but also those in rural areas who tend to drive long distances. The impact of raising the cost of fossil fuels would be broader than taxing tobacco."

But anti-tobacco activists went beyond the product, pointing the finger at manufacturers who knew the health risks involved, and not just for smokers, Weisman notes: "Legal action was meant to alleviate the broad societal cost of smoking — higher Medicaid costs, more intensive use of the health-care system and thus higher taxes. By demonstrating how everyone was hurt, tobacco opponents tried to engage the public."

Weisman writes, "Already, numerous economists have tried to devise a carbon tax that would be less harmful to the working class by using part of the proceeds to lower other taxes hitting workers. Last year, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center explored using a carbon tax to generate the revenue to lower the corporate income tax, with tax rebates to help workers. That would help ease business opposition to carbon regulations. Blumenthal said that considering how the sale of carbon emissions permits to industry or a carbon tax could help the regions most hurt is 'a very important thought'.” (Read more) And the story doesn't note that President Obama said in his landmark speech on climate change last year that areas affected by new regulations deserved federal compensation.

Appalachian Food Summit chef sees a future for Appalachia in its heritage of good, nutritious food

Travis Milton (Photo: Malcolm J. Wilson/
In the first Appalachian Food Summit at Hindman Settlement School in Kentucky last month, Travis Milton made a locally sourced meal for about 70 people. The summit celebrates the idea that rural regions might be helpful for those who appreciate tasty, nutritious and sustainably produced food, Milton writes for the Daily Yonder.

Since Milton, who is a chef at Comfort Restaurant in Richmond, Va., attended the summit on May 18, he has spent more time thinking about his great grandparents' barn in Wise County, Virginia. On the way to Hindman, he took a friend to see what is left of the farm, which was purchased by a limestone company. He walked around the property, rekindling memories, and came up with these inspirational lines: "While we face the present and try to plot a course for our future, the beginning of the answers lies in our past. I am very proud of where and what I come from, and I want us to all be able to take pride in where we are going."

Milton says the food summit was beautiful and that people came in with questions about how they could help one another in their communities. He said he arrived with many questions of his own and left with even more questions. That's not a bad thing, though, because it shows that Appalachia is at a turning point, and it's time to discuss what's next. "Let's resurrect the walls of our canning sheds, our spring houses and our long-lost homesteads so our families, our history and our memories are not forgotten. This is our time and our future, so pull up a chair because everyone is welcome a this table," Milton writes. (Read more)

Spider venom could be cure to saving honeybees, by replacing type of pesticide blamed for hive losses

Spider venom could be the cure to saving the world's shrinking honeybee population, according to a study by researchers at Australia's Newcastle University published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society. Researchers say they have created a bio-pesticide using "a natural toxin from the venom of an Australian funnel web spider (right) and snowdrop lectin" that is highly toxic to a number of key insect pests but is safe for honeybees, according to a Newcastle news release.

Pesticides known as neonicotinoids have been blamed for wiping out 40 to 50 percent of hives, while another virus, tobacco ringspot, has also been blamed for the deaths of honeybees, which pollinate about 90 crops worldwide, generating $14 billion a year.

The study's "authors say the insect-specific compound has huge potential as an environmentally-benign, ‘bee-safe’ bio-pesticide and an alternative to the chemical neonicotinoid pesticides," states the release. Lead researcher Erich Nakasu said in a statement: “This is an oral pesticide, so unlike some that get absorbed through the exoskeleton, the spider/snowdrop recombinant protein has to be ingested by the insects.” Although the pesticide goes to the bee's brain, it has no effect on the insect. Larvae were also shown to be unaffected by the pesticide. (Read more)

'Pink slime' or 'finely textured beef' returns, thanks to record high beef prices

"Pink slime" is back. With beef prices hitting record highs and ground beef prices up 17 percent since last year, makers of the product the beef industry calls "finely textured beef" are seeing a higher demand for their relatively inexpensive product, Brad Cooper reports for The Kansas City Star.

Steve Kay, publisher of Cattle Buyers Weekly, told Cooper, “The fallout over the media furor has died down. Now that the emotion is out of it, [consumers] realize the product always was and still is a perfectly legitimate beef product,” which at one time was in 70 percent of ground beef sold in the U.S.

Controversy in March 2012 over the product cost the beef industry profits, was blamed for the closure of three plants and resulted in a lawsuit filed by Beef Products, the leading user, against ABC News. Beef Products said it has seen an increase in sales recently but wouldn't give specific numbers because of the ongoing lawsuit, while Cargill, whose sales of the product dropped 80 percent immediately after the controversy, reports that sales are now only down 40 percent, Cooper writes.

Feds say Ga. can't drug-test food stamp recipients

Some states, including Georgia, have tried to require recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families—commonly called welfare—to submit to drug tests, but Georgia is the only state trying to force some food-stamp recipients to take such tests, Craig Schneider reports for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. A new law would allow state workers—when they're reasonably suspicious—to require certain food-stamp recipients to be tested for drug use.

The measure is scheduled to become law July 1, but last week federal officials told the state it cannot require drug tests for food-stamp applicants and recipients. The U.S. Department of Agriculture policy "prohibits the states from mandating drug testing of applicants and recipients," according to a letter from Robin D. Bailey, regional administrator of USDA's Food and Nutrition Service. (Read more)

Former Colorado cop accused of abusing authority by killing beloved elk is convicted of four felonies

Former Boulder, Colo., police officer Sam Carter, who was accused of killing a bull elk that was a welcome denizen of a Boulder neighborhood, then using his badge to try to cover up his deed, was convicted Tuesday evening on nine accounts, including four felonies.

"Prosecutors say Carter shot the trophy elk in the residential area while on duty—without reporting that he'd fired his weapon—then claimed the animal had been injured and needed to be put down. Text messages showed he had planned the kill," Mitchell Byars reports for the Daily Camera in Boulder. The felonies include attempting to influence a public official, forgery and two counts of tampering with evidence. Carter, who will sentenced on Aug. 29, could face up to six years for the first felony.

District Attorney Stan Garnett, who said prosecutors who were hoping for at least one felony conviction so Carter could never work in law enforcement again, "said the verdict served to 'vindicate' the outrage the Boulder community felt and was important because it involved an officer abusing his authority," Byars writes. Garnett told him, "This was about something that is essential to every community, and that is integrity in public service." (Read more)

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Some in coal industry relieved about EPA proposal; emission reductions vary widely by state

Some coal executives have privately expressed relief about the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed rules cutting carbon dioxide from coal-fired plants by 30 percent by 2030, saying the rules are not as bad as they had feared, Alicia Mundy and John Miller report for The Wall Street Journal.

The industry feared the proposed rules would measure emission reductions from as recently as 2012 as opposed to the 2005 date the industry was hoping for and got, "since emissions from electric plants have dropped since then," the Journal reports. Still, Washington-based lawyer Scott Segal, who works with coal-fired power plants, told the Journal, "This rule could have been a whole lot worse. But as it is, it will still inflict considerable economic harm for little or no benefit." (Read more)

The rules vary by state. For example, South Carolina will be required to cut emissions from 1,587 pounds per megawatt hour in 2012 to the proposed figure of 772 lb/MWh in 2030, a reduction of 51.3 percent, according to EPA's "Clean Power Plan." Arkansas will be required to cut emissions by 44 percent, Tennessee by 38 percent, Virginia by 37.5 percent, Illinois by 33 percent and Pennsylvania by 31 percent. Here's a state-by-state list.

The numbers are lower in states with high rates of carbon dioxide emissions, such as Kentucky, which will only have to reduce emissions 18 percent. Indiana will be required to cut emissions by 22 percent, West Virginia by 23 percent and Ohio by 27 percent. For state-by-state proposals click here.

Some Democratic candidates fear the rules could have major implications on elections. "The National Republican Senatorial Committee announced that it would use the decision against vulnerable Democrats with automated calls on Tuesday, hitting voice-mail boxes in Virginia, Louisiana, Colorado and Alaska—all states where Democratic senators are seeking reelection," Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson report for The Washington Post. "The committee will also target Northern Virginia swing voters, Gulf Coast residents, and independents in Colorado and Alaska, a committee spokeswoman said."

In response, some Democratic candidates have been quick to criticize the rules, including Kentucky Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is running against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, who is running for an open U.S. Senate seat. Rep. Nick J. Rahall II (D-W.Va.), who is running for re-election, has also said he will introduce legislation blocking the rules. Those states are the two that get more than 90 percent of their electricity from coal. (Read more)

Hollywood has yet to convert all films to digital, but drive-ins are still scrambling to make changes

Time could be running out for many of America's drive-in theaters. With film distributors planning to convert all movies to digital, theaters have been forced to spend between $70,000 and $100,000 per screen to stay in business. An online contest sponsored by Honda paid for 10 drive-ins to convert to digital, and the publicity saved 17 more theaters, says the contest website. But for theater owners who can't foot the bill to convert to digital, pieces of rural American history could be coming to an end. (Plain Dealer photo by Joshua Gunter: North Ridgeville, Ohio drive-in)

Rick Stinnett, owner of two drive-ins around Bessemer City, N.C., paid $100,000 to convert one theater to digital, but doing the other theater will require him to "build a new dust-free, air-tight projection room from scratch," Joe DePriest reports for the Charlotte Observer. "Whether he can afford the project depends on how well the drive-in does in coming months." If the 400-car theater doesn't make enough money to offset the costs of converting, the theater will likely close.

So far, converting to digital hasn't been "do or die" in the mom-and-pop world of drive-ins, mainly because Hollywood has yet to follow through on its promise to eliminate 35mm film, Michael Sangiacomo reports for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland. Theater owner D. Edward Vogel told him, "Last year, the studios were saying that they would no longer make film copies of new movies, meaning if theaters didn't switch to digital, they could not get the movies. But here we are a year later, and the film copies are still being made."

Still, most of the roughly 350 drive-in theaters, with about 600 screens, are converting to digital—or attempting to—in anticipation of the conversion, Sangiacomo writes. Between 50 to 70 percent of drive-ins have already converted to digital, said Vogel, who said he has heard of only one theater—in Maine—closing because it was unable to convert. (Read more)

Read more here:

Small tankers, distant fire hydrants can complicate firefighters' responses to blazes in remote areas

Muskogee Phoenix photo: the May 2 fire site
One of the joys of living in rural America is the peace and serenity of small-town or country life. But with fewer people, homes sometimes few and far between, and fewer emergency services, comes the fear of fire departments running out of water during a blaze. That's a problem in many rural areas, including Muskogee County, Oklahoma, where in city limits fire hydrants must be within 500 feet of each other, but no such ordinance exists in rural areas, E.I. Hillin reports for the Muskogee Phoenix. As a result, emergency responders ran out of water while trying to put out a house fire on May 2, Hillin writes. Dailey said it took more than 25,000 gallons to extinguish the fire but that their tankers only hold 10,000 gallons, and the nearest fire hydrant was more than a mile away. That required fire fighters to make several trips to get more water. (Read more)

South and West bringing in the most newcomers

Immigration from other countries is becoming less common, and population changes in the U.S. come mainly from state-to-state migration. To see an interactive map (static version below) showing moves to and from each county, click here. "Between 2010 and 2013, Texas, Florida, the Carolinas and Colorado were the strongest people magnets, drawing nearly a million movers, according to a Stateline analysis of recently released Census Bureau population estimates," Tim Henderson reports for Stateline. 
On the other hand, New York, Illinois, California, New Jersey and Michigan have collectively lost almost a million people to interstate moves. Nearly 1.2 million people have moved to the South or West from the Northeast and Midwest between 2010 and 2013, according to the Stateline analysis. "North Carolina and Texas are very similar in that they're both what we call 'sticky states'—the percentage of adults born here who are still living here is very high, plus we are both really large migrant destinations," said Rebecca Tippett, director of Carolina Demography, a University of North Carolina population-research unit.

In the last 10 years, the number of citizens moving to Texas each year has grown from 100,000 to 400,000, and Austin is the nation's "capital for population growth," according to the Census Bureau. The most common reason people move is for employment, and "Movement out of the Northeast and into the newer areas of the county is nothing new as people seek greener pastures and lower costs," Henderson writes. Other states that gained lots of movers include Colorado, Montana and North Dakota, which have seen booms in oil and gas drilling. (Read more)

Rural Kansas hospitals use specialized robots, at $50,000 apiece, to deal with doctor shortages

Some rural hospitals in Kansas have found a way to make up for a shortage of doctors bu using robots tho assist with various procedures "including emergency room stroke treatment, dermatology and specialty pediatrics," Mike Shields reports for the Kansas Health Institute. The robots can also connect "distant doctors with patients and local medical providers in real time via a high-definition mobile visual display that includes various monitoring and imaging attachments such as a digital stethoscope." (Hamilton County Hospital photo)

Robots have been a lifesaver for businesses such as Syracuse-based Hamilton County Hospital, which in June 2013 lacked a single doctor and was on the brink of closing, Shields writes. Since adding a robot the hospital has seen a 40 percent growth in patients.

The University of Kansas Hospital is also working with facilities to help stroke doctors connect with patients via the robots, Shields writes. KU spokesman Tony Nunn said "doctors will be available around the clock for remote consultations" and will be able to link to the robot using an iPad or computer. Nunn told Shields, “It’s like ‘The Jetsons’ on steroids."

The robots are created by California-based InTouch Health, which states it serves more than 1,000 hospitals worldwide. Twenty Kansas facilities currently use robots, and 10 more expected to begin using them by next month, Shields writes. But the cost is steep—around $50,000 per robot. Hamilton County chief executive Bryan Coffey has been so impressed by his robot that he wrote an article offering suggestions about how small hospitals can find the funds to afford robots. (Read more)

Monday, June 02, 2014

Obama EPA seeks to cut CO2 emissions 30% by 2030; coal industry, coal-dependent states complain

States that rely heavily on coal-fired plants will be hit hardest by proposed Environmental Protection Agency rules, proposed Monday, that seek "a 30 percent reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions by 2030 from existing power plants based on emission levels from 2005," Amy Harder reports for The Wall Street Journal.

"The rule, scheduled to be completed one year from now, will give flexibility to the states, which must implement the rules and submit compliance plans to EPA by June 2016," Harder writes. "States can decide how to meet the reductions, including joining or creating new cap-and-trade programs, deploying more renewable energy or ramping up energy-efficiency technologies. Each state will have different percent reduction standards, and the national average will be 25 percent by 2020 and 30 percent by 2030."

As both sides spar -- between the push for cleaner energy to help curb climate change versus the "war on coal" and the loss of jobs -- many theories are being thrown around about climate change and global warming, whether they exist, and if so, how much is caused by human activity. Background articles can be found on the EPA website, at the Explaining Climate Change, the World Wildlife Fund and Skeptical Science sites, and in a Climate Change 101 tutorial with Bill Nye published by Smithsonian magazine. Other links to studies are here, here and here.

The plan could be bad news for some coal states, and not just because they mine the black rock. In West Virginia and Kentucky, respectively, 96 percent and 92 percent of electricity comes from coal. "In arguing against EPA action on carbon dioxide emissions, coal backers complain that the technology isn’t ready yet—and that the federal government needs to do more to support research and development of it," Ken Ward reports for The Charleston Gazette. Rep. Nick J. Rahall (D-W.Va.) said on the House floor, “It will be very bad for jobs. The only real question is where, on a scale from devastating to a death blow, the new rule will fall.” (Read more)

“The administration for all intents and purposes is creating America’s next energy crisis,” said Mike Duncan, president and CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. “The administration chose political expediency over practical reality as it unveiled energy standards devoid of commonsense and flexibility.”

Appalachian miniature opera on radio, web tonight

"Dust in the Bottomland," an original musical about modern Appalachia, in the form of a miniature opera, will be heard tonight on WMMT-FM in Whitesburg, Ky., and its website, which will have a podcast for later listening. The show "paints a complex and moving portrait . . . about one young man's return to southern West Virginia to be with his family as his sister is in a coma from a drug overdose, and the choices he faces once home," reports Mimi Pickering of Appalshop, which owns the station. What Pickering calls "a stunningly beautiful and powerful performance" will be followed by an interview with composer Nate May and singer Andrew Munn.

Frac-sand mines in Illinois, warehouses in Pennsylvania are unwelcome to some rural residents

Rural areas have been lagging in population growth since 2006. For some, preserving the rural lifestyle involves a constant battle to fight off urban invasion. For example, the arrival of bright lights from frac-sand mining companies in Illinois and the construction of warehouses in Pennsylvania have made life miserable for residents who once enjoyed the peace, quiet and comfort of country living. map
A few weeks ago the Quality Sand Products facility in Utica, Ill., turned its bright white lights on, and "the lights have stayed on all night, every night," often shining into the homes of residents, Rachel Stella reports for the News Tribune. Another sand mine is scheduled to be opened by Aramoni and will come within 100 yards of some properties. The sand is to be used in hyrdaulic fracturing of oil and gas wells.

In addition to the annoying glare of the lights, farmers worry that the night light will hurt soybean crops, Stella writes. Former agronomy and crop science professor Doug Stockley said soybeans "are sensitive to 'photoperiodism,” and "artificial lighting can stand in for daylight to light-sensitive plants, which will not recognize nighttime if exposed to the artificial light even after the sun has set." He told Stella, “Soybeans depend on that cycle of night and day to determine when it’s appropriate to move from a vegetative state to a flowering and reproductive state. As the days decrease in length, the soybean plant senses that, and once it reaches a certain point, it says, ‘Hey, it’s time to switch over and do flowering.’” (Read more)

A similar problem is occurring around Carlisle, Pa., where historical Revolutionary War farms are being replaced with warehouses that tower above homes and block out the sky, Joseph Cress reports for The Sentinel. Mary and Jim Dodrill said they fear increased traffic and noise will decrease their property value if warehouses are built on two sides of their farm.

"While the state agency would encourage private property owners to value their historic resources, there are no laws prohibiting developers of private property from tearing down an old farmhouse or any other structure to make way for a warehouse or some other use," said Howard Pollman, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Pollman told Cress, “Private property rights trump everything." (Read more)

Drought-plagued Nevada county fearful that fracking will deplete agricultural water supplies

Fearing that hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas could leave less water for ranchers and farmers in drought-plagued central Nevada, Lander County (Wikipedia map) has joined forces with the Center for Biological Diversity to protest the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s sale of leases in 102 parcels that could lead to 270 square miles of public lands being used for fracking, Martin Griffin reports for The Associated Press. Fracking is new to Nevada, having started only in March.

Rob Mrowka, a senior scientist with the center, told Griffin, "Fracking typically requires from 2 million to 5.6 million gallons of water for each well and can lower water tables, reducing water available to communities and wildlife." (Read more)

Foster Farms salmonella cases have now been reported in more than half of U.S. states

Salmonella cases linked to chicken from Foster Farms plants have reached 27 states and Puerto Rico, totaling 574 cases, up from 20 states and Puerto Rico and 232 cases in October, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control. Of those stricken with the disease, 37 percent have been hospitalized, but no deaths have been reported.

The seven states that have been added lately are Georgia, Louisiana, Tennessee, Montana, Illinois, Delaware and Hawaii, with one reported case in each state. California accounts for 76 percent of all cases, with 441. Arizona has the next highest reported cases at 25. (Read more)