Saturday, July 12, 2014

EPA 'guidance' using water conductivity to measure water pollution from strip mines is upheld on appeal

James River Coal Co. mine in southeastern Kentucky
A federal appeals court has upheld the Environmental Protection Agency's scheme for reducing water pollution from mountaintop-removal and other large-scale surface coal mines.

A three-judge panel of U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled unanimously that EPA's "guidance" to states and the Army Corps of Engineers for issuing permits under the Clean Water Act is just that — and not subject to legal challenge "at least at this point," Ken Ward Jr. points out for The Charleston Gazette.

The guidance relates to the electrical conductivity of water downstream from the mines, which is a rough measurement of "the level of substances such as sulfates and dissolved solids in water, which can leach out of rock crushed during mining," Bill Estep explains for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

After it issued the final guidance in 2011, "EPA objected to dozens of permits in Kentucky and other states," Estep notes. "The coal industry argued that the EPA put the new guidelines in place improperly and that the standards would cripple companies' ability to get permits in Eastern Kentucky and other parts of Appalachia. In the first eight months after the EPA issued the guidelines on an interim basis, only two coal companies received federal water-pollution permits for mountaintop mines in Eastern Kentucky, and both rejected the permits, saying the conditions were too stringent to meet, the Herald-Leader reported in 2011."

The decision overturned the ruling of a D.C. district judge. "The judges concluded the guidance document was not binding — that it did not impose any requirements in order to get a permit, and that state officials did not have to follow it," Estep reports. "The guidance document may well signal that the EPA will reject permits that don't meet its recommendations, but if that happens, those denials can be challenged in court, the court said. Kentucky authorities have proposed new permit rules to try to resolve the EPA's concerns."

Estep adds that Luke Popovich, spokesman for the National Mining Association, "said the decision could work to the industry's benefit. It could add fuel to complaints by many in Congress about regulatory over-reach, for instance, Popovich said. The finding that EPA's guidance document is not legally binding also leaves an avenue of relief for mining companies, and almost seems to invite challenges, he said."

Read more here:

West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said the decision “could create an endless regulatory loop that adversely affects the ability to issue permits. . . . We, in consultation with the other litigants, will continue to explore our legal options after additional review of the ruling.” Ward reports, "Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said the experience of coal companies he’s talked to is that the EPA and state officials are treating the agency’s guidance as if it’s binding, and that permits aren’t issued if they don’t comply with it."

Friday, July 11, 2014

RIP: John Seigenthaler, an exemplary and inspiring journalist who appreciated weekly papers

John Seigenthaler
John Seigenthaler, who died today at his home in Nashville, was not a rural journalist. But he was an exemplary and inspiring journalist, and he appreciated the contributions and sacrifices of rural and community journalists to the profession he loved and to the cause of open government, for which he crusaded.

In helping present the Tom and Pat Gish Award to the Ezzell family of The Canadian (Tex.) Record in 2007, Seigenthaler said, "I have never been among friends, among journalists, when I have felt more deeply touched by the emotion of being in the presence of people who have . . . committed their lives to tenacity, courage and integrity," the criteria for the award, given by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of The Rural Blog.

"Weekly journalism is what this country was about at the beginning. Weekly publishers were people of courage, of integrity, and tenacity stood against authority, stood against community evils, against national evils, international problems, took strong positions, and that’s our legacy. That’s MY legacy, and I never worked for a weekly. . . . One place young journalists should be looking for employment, for jobs where there is confidence about a future, is in rural America, where I find less concern about the future than in daily journalism. . . .

"It’s much easier for me, as a daily editor in a major city. There is much less danger of threat, much more chance that I have lawyers to protect me. There is much less likelihood that somebody will explode a bomb beneath my window of shoot into my plate-glass window or burn down our building, than for those who are in rural communities. And when I say I hope I have shown tenacity and courage and integrity, I can’t think of anything in my career that matches what must be those lonely days and nights when a lawsuit is threatened or danger is threatened, when life is threatened, in a rural community."

Seigenthaler concluded, "I think the tradition, the legacy, is best reflected today in rural journalism." For more of his remarks, click here. For his obituary, tributes and funeral information from The Tennessean, go here.

Good news about newspapers, and some useful inspiration and advice, from Mississippi

The summer edition of the Fourth Estate, the quarterly newsletter of the Mississippi Press Association, has a pair of great columns, one about the responsibility of those called to serve as reporters, the other saying the newspaper industry is alive and well has a bright future, despite the naysayers who believe print is a dying instrument. To see the current edition of click here.

Outgoing MPA President Jim Prince, editor and publisher of The Neshoba Democrat, writes: "Outside of the ministry or medicine, journalism is one of the most highly rewarding and satisfying careers there is. Good reporting still matters. We are called to speak truth to power. So, if you are ever inclined to doubt your calling, remember that we have a Constitutional responsibility. We are the Fourth Estate, the watchdog of government. We are free from any prior restraint or approval of the government. This is an enormous responsibility, a burden even. We are charged with telling the truth, without fear or favor."

Price adds, "The Founders carved out this special privilege no one anywhere else in the world has. Use that privilege to do good, to do the right thing. If you don’t, you are failing yourself, your community and our profession. Some of you are in far outposts. You are the only one; you are the voice. Your community depends on you. Keep the faith. A free press is part of the very fabric of our Republic. Your newspaper is necessary. What you say matters."

Layne Bruce, executive director of MPA and Mississippi Press Services, writes, "My favorite statistic to share with folks these days when I speak about the industry is that there are more print newspapers in this state today than there were five or six years. Truth is, a number of newspapers have opened their doors in just the past few years."

The list includes a pair of young owners, Clay Mansell, who runs a bi-weekly in Clinton and new publications in Pelahatchie and Wesson, and Jace Ponder, fresh out of college, runs The Gazebo Gazette, Bruce writes. "It is particularly gratifying to see a talented young man graduate and, not only go to work for a small town paper, but buy one. Then there’s our newest mogul, Mr. Mansell. He’s started three papers in just three years. It makes me smile about the future."

'Right-to-farm' measures spread through Midwest

The right-to-farm movement is catching on in some Midwest states. The proposed laws or constitutional amendments are backed by powerful agriculture interests that "want to declare farming a right to fight back against animal-welfare activists and opponents of genetically modified crops." Measures have been approved in Indiana and North Dakota, and an amendment is up for vote in Missouri next month, Donnellee Eller reports for The Associated Press.

The Indiana measure, "which was written into state law but not enshrined in the constitution—protects the rights of farmers to use 'generally accepted' practices, including 'the use of ever-changing technology,'" Eller writes. In North Dakota, it "prohibits any law that 'abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ agricultural technology, modern livestock production and ranching practices.'" The Missouri measure, which goes to voters on Aug. 5, is a constitutional amendment that "asks voters whether the right 'to engage in farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed.'” Similar measures passed both branches of the Oklahoma legislature before dying in a conference committee.

But in Iowa, politicians say they aren't hearing much support for it, and no one seems to expect any such measure to go before the legislature in the foreseeable future. Ron Birkenholz, a spokesman for the Iowa Pork Producers Association, told Eller, “We’re getting along just fine without an amendment. Iowa is an agricultural state, and we’ve been farming for centuries without problems.” One reason no one has pushed right-to-farm in Iowa is that the state's constitution is more difficult to change than those in other states, Eller writes. "Proposed amendments must win approval of the House and Senate in two consecutive general assemblies and then go to the voters statewide." (Read more)

Rail delays have cost Minnesota corn, soybean and wheat farmers nearly $100 million

Rail shipping delays have cost Minnesota corn, soybean and wheat farmers nearly $100 million, according to researchers at the University of Minnesota. Farmers have been forced to store large amounts of grain while waiting out the delays, which are blamed on increased competition from oil and coal shipments, a bumper grain crop, an improved economy that is jacking up the amount of consumer goods and a bad winter.

The study "estimated that the rail delays cost Minnesota corn growers $72 million in lower prices from March to May, an average loss of 30 cents per bushel," Steve Karnowski reports for The Associated Press. The report found that revenue losses are $18.8 million for soybean growers—or 40.5 cents per bushel and $8.5 million for wheat growers—or 41 cents per bushel.

"The report also estimated that the 330 million bushels of corn remaining in on-farm storage bins across Minnesota as of June 1 was worth $122 million less because of rail bottlenecks," Karnowski writes. "It said the remaining 9.2 million bushels of hard red spring wheat stored at farms was worth $1.7 million less. Lower values were less of a problem for soybean growers because there's not much left of the 2013 crop." (Read more)

Dow Chemical wants to use Agent Orange to kill invasive, nearly indestructible superweeds

Agent Orange could soon be coming to a farm near you. "Dow Chemical is seeking federal approval for an herbicide containing one of the main ingredients in Agent Orange" to be sprayed on superweeds that can't be killed by traditional herbicides and choke crops, Clare Foran reports for the National Journal. "The Environmental Protection Agency, which is tasked with reviewing Dow's application, says that if the chemical, known as 2,4-D, is used in fields, trace amounts could end up in food and drinking water." (Getty Images by Sean Gallup)

Critics say Agent Orange could damage the environment and create health concerns, but EPA appears to be leaning towards siding with the chemical company, Foran writes. "The agency has already unveiled a proposal to greenlight the chemical compound, and is expected to make a final decision as early as this summer. The debate hinges on two questions: Does Dow's weed whacker carry any of the health risks of the wartime weapon? And, long term, would the pesticide create a bigger problem: a new generation of stronger, even harder-to-kill superweeds?"

Dow says its product won't be tainted with the cancer-causing contaminant like the Agent Orange used during the Vietnam War, Foran writes. "But testing conducted by an Agriculture Department researcher using samples collected in the mid-1990s showed that the chemical that plays a starring role in Dow's product can still contain contaminants similar to those found in Agent Orange. The study concluded that there was a 'need for more investigation into possible human health effects.'" (Read more)

Author Silas House responds to New York Times article about Eastern Kentucky with brilliant retort

Silas House
Silas House, author and National Endowment for the Humanities Chair in Appalachian Studies at Berea College, responded to The New York Times article “What’s The Matter With Eastern Kentucky?” in which Annie Lowery, referring to growing inequality, wrote, "What has happened in the smudge of the country between New Orleans and Pittsburgh — the Deep South and Appalachia — is in many ways as remarkable as what has happened in affluent cities."

Following are excerpts from House's post on his blog, titled "The Matter Is That You Don't Know What You're Talking About." To read the entire post, click here.

"Well, I am that smudge. My people are that smudge. My homeland is that smudge. And we are much, much more than that. In fact, we would fight for that smudge. Many of us have. Many of us have lain down to be arrested for it (Beverly May, for one), have even risked violence (The Widow Combs, for one) and death (Hazel King, for one) for it. . . .

"I will be the first to admit that that article possessed statistics that cannot be denied. But what good are statistics if the reporter using them does not acknowledge or use or even know the history surrounding them? Statistics are only as good as their context. I cannot imagine going into a country I do not know and having the audacity to write about it without knowing my facts, without having worked hard to understand the history of the place and its people, without having the ability to give the joys and sorrows of an entire culture historical context. That is the matter with “What’s The Matter With Eastern Kentucky.” . . .

"You cannot know a place without loving it and hating it and feeling everything in between. You cannot understand a complex people by only looking at data—something inside you has to crack to let in the light so your eyes and brain and heart can adjust properly. . . .

"I’ll be honest with you: sometimes I get frustrated and wonder why my people keep putting terrible representatives back in office. But then I remind myself that voting is complicated in a region where extractive industry has such a stranglehold on everything from local churches and schools to county and state government. Appalachia is a country that has been in the clutches of big corporation propaganda since before propaganda became a marketing strategy on Madison Avenue. And it’s a place where politics and religion are as tangled as a ball of fishing line that has been tossed into the depths of your tackle box and needed quickly: very, very tangled. As much as many of us think for ourselves, there is no denying that as a region many of us have fallen prey to that propaganda. Keep telling people that coal is their only resource, toss in a free T-shirt, shut down the unions, get into the churches and schools...well, you see how this works. . . .

"I’ll use myself as an example here. Because of my outspokenness on the problems created by Big Coal I’ve been called a traitor to my own people. I am proud to be from a coal mining family, but that pride comes from the hard work done by the miners, not an allegiance to the companies that became rich on their backs. Nothing makes me sadder than when I see my own people being fiercely loyal to the corporations that have hurt us over and over. In short, we’ve been convinced to vote against our own interests, but the reasons are not as simple as being brainwashed. Once again, history matters here.

"Mostly I get sad because once there I see how the media portrayals of my people have led to life being worse for us. If you tell people they are worthless long enough, some part of them begins to believe it. Calling a place “a smudge” certainly doesn’t help. . . .

"It is tempting to gather some statistics about this reporter’s socio-economic background and then use that to judge her point of view, but that wouldn’t be classy—and it wouldn’t be accurate, since we’d also need to factor in historical and cultural context. Yet that is what members of the media sometimes do to the people of Appalachia, base their theories on statistics while not taking history and culture into account. As an economics reporter for The New York Times, Lowrey needs to understand that great economic reporting should be about more than statistics. Much more, like history and culture. Especially when reporting on a region like Appalachia that has historically been a sacrificial ground for the rest of the nation. Especially when reporting on a place that has given up its land, timber, natural gas, coal, young people, and many other natural resources throughout the history of this country. . . .

"The thing is, it is hard to live in Appalachia, especially in Southeastern Kentucky. The statistics exhibit some proof of that. The economy is not good. The environment is being devastated. Many places throughout the region are food deserts. There’s a reason I had to move an hour away, after all. The problem with “What's the Matter With Eastern Kentucky” is that the reporter thinks of the people and the place she is writing about as “a smudge.” Not as a place where the history and culture matter. And that’s what’s the matter with the article. . . .

"My point here is, once again, that to properly examine quality of life in the region, one needs to do more than look at data. I do not mean that only Appalachians can write about Appalachia. But I do mean that anyone who is attempting to write about it must become immersed in a special kind of way. Appalachia is the kind of place everyone thinks they understand but very few actually do, and that’s mostly because they haven’t taken the time to educate themselves properly."

House has advice for those who would write about Appalachia: "One must sit and jaw for awhile with folks on their front porches, to attend weddings and high school graduations. One must study the history of the place and come to understand it, must sit at a wake and look at the lines on the faces of the people, the calluses on their hands, understand the gestational and generational complexities of poverty and pride and culture. One must stand for awhile outside the funeral home and smell the air, study the gravestones out back that await the inscriptions of names belonging to people, not statistics. Otherwise, you don’t know what you’re talking about."

Companies can drill for coalfield gas in Va. without all landowners' OK; some still not getting royalties

Companies working in Virginia are taking advantage of a state law passed in 1990 that only requires permission from state legislators to drill for natural gas in the state's coalfields, Cathy Dyson reports for of Fredericksburg's Free Lance-Star. "Called coal-bed methane, the gas used to be the scourge of miners—because it choked out the oxygen and caused suffocation. Coal companies ventilated the mines and let the gas escape into the air." (FLS photo by Suzanne Carr Rossi: Consol Energy site)

The law says that "If gas companies have leases on one-fourth of a drilling unit—usually 60 to 80 acres—they can get permission from the state Gas and Oil Board to drill on the majority of the parcels," Dyson writes. That leaves landowners, many of whom say they aren't seeing a dime in royalties, with no say in the matter. 

A brochure from the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, the agency that regulates gas drilling in Virginia, says, "One owner cannot keep others from producing their gas or oil around a well by refusing to participate in the drilling unit,” Dyson writes. As a result, Texas-based Shore Exploration and Production Corp. has leased 84,000 acres in Caroline, Essex, King George, King and Queen, and Westmoreland counties near the Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay.

Mike Yates, commissioner of revenue in Dickenson County near the Kentucky border, told Dyson, “Gas companies were given a lot of rights with legislation that allowed forced pooling. In my opinion, what happened was the biggest taking of private property in the history of the commonwealth.” One Southwest Virginia landowner, who has spent 20 years fighting for royalties he has not received, says he is owed $250,000 for a claim that has netted the gas company $2 million. Consol Energy claims it pays the royalties, but it's up to the Gas and Oil Board to award them.

The issue was first explored in a Pulitzer Prize-wining series in the Bristol Herald Courier by Daniel Gilbert, now an energy reporter for The Wall Street Journal. Gas companies disagree that the law is hurting people. Greg Kozera, president of the Virginia Oil and Gas Association, told Dyson, “Virginia did a unique thing when it passed the law because it allowed development to proceed. If that hadn’t happened, we wouldn’t have had the jobs, we wouldn’t have had the industry.”

Gas drilling is a $2 billion-a-year industry in Virginia, which ranked 15th in the U.S. in gas production in 2012, Dyson writes. But the state isn't reaping the rewards, with 89 percent of natural gas drilled in Southwest Virginia coming from two Pennsylvania companies, CNX Gas and EQT Production Corp. (Read more)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Decline in statehouse reporters continues, but at slower rate, Pew Research Center finds

About 70 percent of daily newspapers and 86 percent of television stations don't assign a reporter of any kind to cover their statehouse, according to a study of 801 dailies by the Pew Research Center. Since 2003 the number of full-time reporters assigned to statehouses has dropped by 164, a decrease of 35 percent. Of the 918 local television stations studied, only 130 assign a reporter to the statehouse.

Among statehouse reporters, 139, or 9 percent, work for wire services, the report found. Of those 139 reporters, 91 are full-time and 69 of those work for The Associated Press. "Although the wire service reduced statehouse staffing during the recession, the AP is now increasing the size of some of its Capitol bureaus," the Pew report says.

Newspapers still have the highest percentage of statehouse reporters, but 16 percent now work for non-traditional outlets, such as digital-only sites, the study found.

Fewer than half of the 1,592 journalists who cover statehouses do so full-time, the report found. Texas has the most full-time reporters, at 53; South Dakota has the fewest, two. The study defines full-time reporters as "those physically assigned to the Capitol building to cover the news there, from legislative activity to the governor’s office to individual state agencies." To read the full study click here.

UPDATE, July 24: Pew has developed an interactive map to show the number of statehouse reporters for every 500,000 people in each state. Here's a screen grab with an example:

EPA head visits Missouri to explain proposed changes in water regulations; farmers are riled up

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy is in Missouri today attempting to explain to agriculture and other industries a much-maligned EPA proposal to simplify federal water laws, Chris Adams reports for McClatchy Newspapers. The problem is that some see the proposed rules as expanding EPA's jurisdiction, a claim the agency denies. But the 88-page document "clarifies that the Clean Water Act protects 'most seasonal and rain-dependent streams' as well as 'wetlands near rivers and streams' and other types of waterways."

Read more here:

Earlier this week McCarthy "held a conference call with reporters to address what she called 'a growing list of misunderstandings that have been floating around' about the rule," Adams writes. McCarthy told reporters, “Hopefully, it’s an opportunity for me to set the record straight, to explain that while this is not about restricting farmers, it’s about protecting downstream water quality for all of us and doing it in a way that doesn’t get in the way of American agriculture . . . while there are legitimate concerns, we’re hearing some concerns that really are—to put frankly—they’re ludicrous.”

Despite McCarthy's claims, the American Farm Bureau Federation has said EPA needs to "ditch the rule,” Adams writes. "Other farm groups and associations involved with land use have pushed back as well, saying that the proposed rule is too broad and will give the EPA far more control over agricultural and other lands than it now has." Farm Bureau believes that "under the proposed rule, nearly every drop of water that falls would be regulated by the federal government."

Farm Bureau said the rule would "include smaller waters and even some dry land [and] as a result, permit requirements that apply to navigable waters would also apply to ditches, small ponds and even depressions in fields and pastures that are only wet when there is heavy rain." Don Parrish, Farm Bureau's senior director of regulatory affairs, says McCarthy's "public statements don’t match up with what the rule itself says," Adams writes. Parrish told Adams, “EPA may say ‘We don’t intend for that to happen,’ but I can’t take that to court. The words differ in black and white from what she is saying. The words she says to the press will not be what stands up in court.” (Read more)

Commercial plant making cellulosic ethanol; two more plants expected to open in Iowa this year

Production of commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol, which is considered more environmentally friendly than conventional ethanol, is up and running in northwest Iowa, Donnelle Eller reports for The Des Moines Register. Galva-based Quad County Corn Processors last week produced a limited amount but was expected to be at full speed this week and "plans to quickly scale-up so that it's producing about 2 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol a year." (Register photo by Charlie Litchfield: Bales of cellulosic field refuse outside a plant last winter)

Agri-Pulse, a Washington newsletter, reports that in 2007 a bipartisan Congress "overwhelmingly adopted an updated Renewable Fuel Standard that calls for 16 billion gallons of cellulosic ethanol to make up the largest of a 36-billion-gallon biofuel target by 2022. Underscoring that optimism was the decision by Congress to cap corn ethanol's annual contribution at 15 billion gallons in 2015 and beyond." (Agri-Pulse is subscription only, but a free trial is available by clicking here.)

"The dramatic reduction of carbon emissions offered by fuel from corn stalks or agriculture residues when compared to gasoline and the availability as an almost limitless source of feedstock led Congress to establish an upward progression of cellulosic ethanol targets under RFS," Agri-Pulse writes. But the Environmental Protection Agency kept revising its cellulosic ethanol targets, lowering numbers from an original target of 1.75 billion in 2014 to only 17 million gallons. Blenders have still called the target number excessive, and EPA data shows that as of early June, less than 30,000 gallons of cellulosic ethanol has been produced this year.

But production could increase at a rapid rate, with two more facilities expected to be up and running in Iowa by the end of the year, Eller writes. DuPont Danisco is building a $225 million cellulosic ethanol plant near the town of Nevada, Iowa, that "plans to make 30 million gallons of ethanol annually from corncobs, husks and stalks, known as stover." Poet-DSM is building a $250 million cellulosic plant in the northwest Iowa town of Emmetsburg and plans to produce 25 million gallons of cellulosic ethanol annually. (Read more)

Rural Kansas hospital says it has good strategy for recruiting doctors; Michigan ups incentives

While many rural areas have struggled with doctor shortages, medical professionals in Lakin, Kan., say they have uncovered the key to recruitment success, Mike Shields reports for the Kansas Health Institute. "In Kearny County, on the High Plains near the Kansas-Colorado boundary where there are only about five residents per square mile, one small hospital has adopted a distinctive approach to recruitment that in a relatively short time has produced a staff that includes five doctors, five physician assistants and a growing volume of patients."

The key, Kearny County Hospital CEO Benjamin Anderson told Shields, is to direct searches at four specific types of doctors: someone born and raised in the area looking to return home; foreign doctors who gained U.S. resident status by agreeing to work (usually temporarily) in an under-served area; a "challenged doctor" with addictions or other problems who struggles with accountability issues; and a missionary-type person, someone "driven by by mission or purpose” to treat those in need.

Anderson told Shields that doctors they recruit “aren’t that interested in country clubs, not that interested in ego and money and prestige and elite social clubs. What they are there for is to serve. That doesn’t mean our community is Third World, and it doesn’t mean it is inferior. There is need everywhere.” The hospital also offers four-day work weeks, limited emergency-room calls and eight weeks off each year to pursue other interests or missionary work. (Read more)

While that method has worked in Kansas, Michigan is trying to draw new doctors the old fashioned way—through incentives. Gov. Rick Snyder signed a bill this week that hopes to bring more doctors to under-served areas by increasing "the maximum annual repayment benefit for a doctor from $25,000 to $40,000, which "creates a lifetime cap of $200,000," reports the Midland Daily News. It also allows the state Department of Community Health "to give preference to physicians studying general practice, family practice, obstetrics, pediatrics or internal medicine." (Read more)

1/3 of rural roads in some states in poor condition; many rural bridges deficient; death rates high

About one-third of rural roads in Connecticut, Rhode Island, West Virginia, Hawaii, Michigan and Kansas are rated as being in poor condition, according to a report released Thursday by The Road Information Program, funded by lobbies interested in highways and their safety. TRIP says federal transportation data from 2012 rated 15 percent of the nation's major rural roads as being in poor condition and another 40 percent as mediocre or fair. Data from 2013 shows that "12 percent of the nation’s rural bridges were rated as structurally deficient, and 10 percent were functionally obsolete."

Connecticut's rural roads are in the worst shape, with 35 percent rated as being in poor condition, the report says. Next are Rhode Island and West Virginia, at 33 percent; Hawaii and Michigan, 32 percent; Kansas, 30 percent; Oklahoma, 29 percent; Maine, 28 percent; Mississippi, 25 percent; Arkansas and Missouri, 23 percent; Washington, 22 percent; New Mexico, Alabama and Vermont, 21 percent; Alaska, 20 percent; New Hampshire and Virginia, 18 percent; and Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, 17 percent.

One-fourth of all rural bridges in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island were rated as deficient. Iowa was next, at 22 percent, followed by South Dakota, 21 percent; Oklahoma, 20 percent; Hawaii and Nebraska, 19 percent; North Dakota, 17 percent; Maine and Louisiana, 16 percent; Missouri and New Hampshire, 15 percent; Mississippi, North Carolina, New Jersey, Wyoming, New York and Michigan, 14 percent; and West Virginia and California, 13 percent.

The report found that in 2012 non-interstate rural roads "had a traffic fatality rate of 2.21 deaths for every 100 million vehicle miles of travel, compared to a fatality rate on all other roads of 0.78 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles of travel." The highest fatality rate was in South Carolina, which had 3.99 deaths per every 100 million vehicle miles of travel, compared to 0.68 on all other roads.

South Carolina was followed by Florida, 3.35 fatalities per every 100 million miles, compared to 0.95 on other roads; West Virginia, 2.8 and 0.99; Texas, 2.76/1.03; Arkansas, 2.71/0.87; Tennessee, 2.68/0.95; Arizona, 2.66/1.11; Kentucky, 2.64/0.78; California, 2.61/0.63; Pennsylvania, 2.6/0.91; Oklahoma, 2.52/0.92; Hawaii, 2.48/.089; North Carolina, 2.44/0.64; Montana, 2.4/0.95; North Dakota, 2.33/0.77; Kansas, 2.26/0.74; South Dakota, 2.21/0.74; Ohio, 2.15/0.63; New York, 2.13/0.59; and Indiana, 2.09/0.56.

"TRIP is sponsored by insurance companies, equipment manufacturers, distributors and suppliers, businesses involved in highway and transit engineering and construction, labor unions, and organizations concerned with an efficient and safe surface transportation network that promotes economic development and quality of life," its website says.

Immigrants in rural Minnesota share culture and heritage through folk art

Rural immigrants in some corners of Minnesota have been able to share their culture and heritage with locals, and each other, "with the help of arts groups, local festivals and public money that supports cultural pursuits," Gregg Aamot reports for MinnPost. (Aamot photo: The "Tapestry of Friendship")

"Lisa Rathje, a folklorist and teacher at Goucher College in Baltimore, traveled throughout Minnesota as a consultant for the Minnesota State Arts Board, looking, in particular, for examples of folk art," Aamot writes. "She said she was struck by the interesting work being done by immigrants and refugees—much of it non-commercially—and the interesting combination of cultures that can be expressed in various works." Rathje told him, “Newer immigrants and refugees are aware of that tension—aware of those shared lives and that gets revealed in their work."

One place where that is clearly evident is in Pelican Rapids, "an Otter Tail County town of 2,500 people where Somalis, Eastern Europeans, Latin Americans and others were first drawn by work at West Central Turkeys and other agricultural industries," Aamot writes. "Many now express their talent and culture through art."

"This intersection of old and new is captured in a community quilt, called the 'Tapestry of Friendship,' on display at the local library," Aamot writes. "The 25 patches on the quilt were made by local women with roots in older immigrant communities—such as Norwegian, Swedish, Dutch and Irish—and newer ones, including Somali, Bosnian and Mexican. Native American culture is also represented in the quilt. In an accompanying pamphlet, each woman explains the origins and significance of each patch in a short essay." (Read more)

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Rural schools increasing in population; Hispanic students up 32.5 percent from 2008 to 2012

Rural student populations are on the rise. More than 10.5 million students were enrolled in rural schools in 2012, an increase of 9.1 percent from 2008, when the number was about 9.6 million students, Daniel Showalter reports for the Daily Yonder. During that same time enrollment decreased in suburban areas by 7.8 percent and by 1.4 percent in urban areas. (The interactive Yonder map shows changes in rural student populations. To see results by county click here

The number of non-white students increased significantly in rural areas from 2008 to 2012, rising by 23.9 percent, while the number of rural white students increased by 4.7 percent, Showalter writes. Hispanic enrollment increased by 32.5 percent, Asian by 22.7 percent and African American by 1.5 percent. All data was taken from the National Center for Education Statistics, which labels rural differently from how the Yonder labels it. (Read more)

Journalist's book details Appalachian furniture maker's fight to keep jobs from being outsourced

Beth Macy
Inspired by a story she wrote in 2012 for The Roanoke Times, journalist Beth Macy has taken the idea one step further and turned it into a book, Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local - and Helped Save an American Town. In April Columbia University gave Macy a $30,000 J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award, which is "given annually to aid in the completion of a significant work of nonfiction on a topic of American political or social concern," Carole Tarrant reports for the Times. Macy left the paper in May to work on a second book.

The book, set to be published Tuesday, July 15, centers on John Bassett, who lives and works in Henry County, Virginia, an area where 19,000 jobs have been outsourced, Ralph Berrier reports for the Times. Macy's story chronicles "how the brash, cocky, opinionated Bassett had been cast aside by his own family and was left with one small factory in Galax, Va., the Vaughan-Bassett company. From that humble outpost, he launched the largest anti-dumping petition against Chinese manufacturers—and he won. He pumped the money back into his company and added jobs."

Macy told Berrier, "The story has everything. He’s a rich Bassett, he’s a fighter who took on China and he won in the International Court of Trade and he’s from Galax. It’s a family-feud story, and it’s the story of every factory that closed in America, from textiles to whatever. I said, 'I have to go meet him.'" (Read more)
New York Times reviewer Janet Maslin says Factory Man "is loaded with colorful minutiae . . . but it also seriously traces an important arc of regional decline, as the conditions that once made Appalachia ideal furniture country begin to fail." (Read more)

Kirkus Reviews says: "The author’s brightly written, richly detailed narrative not only illuminates globalization and the issue of offshoring, but succeeds brilliantly in conveying the human costs borne by low-income people displaced from a way of life—i.e., factory jobs that their Appalachian families had worked for generations." (Read more)

UPDATE, July 15: Macy was interviewed on "Fresh Air." To hear it, click here.

Dairy Farmers of America agrees to settle lawsuit and pay farmers in Northeast $50 million

While the Dairy Farmers of America cooperative is not admitting any wrongdoing, it has agreed to settle a lawsuit filed by Vermont and New York farmers for $50 million. The farmers filed the suit in 2009, claiming they lost $341 million when DFA, Deans Foods and HP Hood "worked together to suppress prices paid to farmers and deny them access to milk processors," reports Agri-Pulse, a Washington newsletter. The complaint against Hood was dismissed in 2010, and Dean agreed in 2011 to pay $30 million.

Monica Massey, vice-president of DFA's Kansas City office, told Agri-Pulse: "While we believe the allegations against us are without merit and the activities of the DFA, Dairy Marketing Service and other affiliated milk marketing cooperatives in the Northeast benefited cooperative members and independent producers alike, the cost to continue to defend ourselves has become too great."

The number of farmers who will receive money is uncertain. DFA said in 2011 that as many as 13,000 farmers would split proceeds, but lawyers said at the time that the number was less than half that figure, Agri-Pulse writes. "The Boston milk market order website shows nearly 6,500 farmers in New England and New York state; the total grows to about 11,900 if Pennsylvania and Maryland are included." Agri-Pulse is subscription only, but a free trial is available by clicking here.

Farm writer is getting his kicks on old Route 66, seeing rural America's hidden treasures

Chris Clayton of DTN/The Progressive Farmer is getting a firsthand look at rural America by traveling old U.S. Route 66, "and taking a look at the history, the towns and different kinds of agriculture and farming businesses along the route," he writes. (Clayton photo: Funks Grove, Ill.)

During his travels Clayton has met many interesting people and seen many interesting sights. One such is in Madison County, Illinois, where the agricultural history is rooted in horseradish, Clayton writes. "You might not discover that when passing the towns of Collinsville or Edwardsville on the interstate. If you do veer off the four-lane, you are more likely to learn about catsup than horseradish. The 170-foot-tall Brooks Rich & Tangy Catsup bottle/water tower is considered the world's tallest. It's on State Route 159 in Collinsville, a short jaunt off the Route 66 byway." (Read more)

There's also Illinois resident Tim Seifert, a modern farmer living in a world bent on nostalgia. While Seifert uses technology to help on his farm outside Auburn, Ill., the big attraction in his neck of the woods is "a 1.4-mile stretch of brick road north of town, created in 1932, that was an early section of Route 66," Clayton writes. Seifert told him, "I don't know what the affiliation is, but they will stop and put a beanie baby or something on the road. They will get down on their knees and take photos of the bricks."

"It needs to be preserved, but on the other hand, it's not functional," Seifert said. "We've got 80,000-pound trucks running up and down it, and the bridge is so narrow you can't get across it with equipment. So we have got nostalgia, that's fine, but it kind of hinders our progress from time to time." (Read more)

'Rolling coal' drivers fighting 'War on Coal' by purposely releasing more exhaust into the air

How far will some people go to protest government regulations? A trend that has quietly gained steam, to a large extent in rural areas, is called rolling coal, "in which truck drivers spend thousands of dollars altering their rides to produce ever greater amounts of smoke" as a form of political protest, Ryan Grenoble writes for theHuffington Post. (YouTube image)

"Modifications include a variety of components that increase the amount of fuel entering the truck's engine. When there's so much fuel that it fails to combust properly, 'it leaves the engine as soot,' according to an article on, a website dedicated to diesel truck owners," Grenoble writes. "That soot, which coal rollers call "Prius repellent" in online videos and forums and on decals on their trucks, can then be channeled up through 'smoke stacks,' where it exits onto bystanders (or a Prius following too closely) in a thick, pollutant-heavy black cloud."

One seller of smoke stack kits told the Post, “I run into a lot of people that really don’t like Obama at all. If he’s into the environment, if he’s into this or that, we’re not. I hear a lot of that. To get a single stack on my truck—that’s my way of giving them the finger. You want clean air and a tiny carbon footprint? Well, screw you.” (Read more)

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Some in South wary of plans to trim voting precincts

When a Republican member of the elections board in Cleveland County, North Carolina, explained the plan to consolidate five voting precincts into two, it sounded logical and helpful. He spoke of wheelchair access and $10,000 in savings every election. However, some African Americans are skeptical about the true reasons behind the change, Richard Fausset writes for The New York Times. (NYT graphic)

Those precincts have a lot of black voters who often vote Democratic. "We know that this is part of a bigger trend—a movement to suppress people's right to vote," said Rev. Dante Murphy, president of the Cleveland County branch of the NAACP.

The same issue has arisen in a number of communities, especially those in the South, "where changes to election laws no longer require advance approval from the federal government after a year-old Supreme Court ruling voided a key section of the Voting Rights Act," Fausset reports.

Voting-rights advocates say such changes and some new state laws that limit ballot access and require voters to show picture IDs add up to a deliberate effort to reduce voting by minorities, Fausset reports, while supporters of the changes say the new laws protect against voter fraud and can even be more cost-effective. Though in many places the obvious racism of the 1960s is mostly a thing of the past, "what often lingers is a racial mistrust that can make the moving of a polling place from a fellowship hall to a public park seem innocent to some, sinister to others," Fausset notes.

Francis X. De Luca, president of the Civitas Institute, a conservative North Carolina think tank, said, "This is something that local people can work out." However, voting-rights advocates and usually Democrats—whose success in states such as North Carolina depend on good black voter turnout—are less trusting. Others say local election changes are difficult to follow because they no longer need to get approval from the U.S. Justice Department.

The NAACP's Murphy said the reduction in polling places would cause longer lines, which might discourage some voters, and people might show up at the wrong location. Election-board member Alan Langley voiced surprise that anyone would think the proposal "was based on racial, or even partisan, motives," Fausset reports.

Painkillers most popular in the South; Ala. leads

Powerful painkillers are a contributing factor in the the rising rate of overdose deaths in the U.S. Now the government is pointing out the states whose doctors write the most prescriptions, Mike Stobbe writes for The Associated Press.

The reports are part of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's campaign to prevent deaths from prescription opioids such as Vicodin and OxyContin. Drug overdose deaths reached 41,000 in 2011, and 41 percent of them had to do with prescription painkillers. "The state account comes from a database of U.S. retail pharmacies that fill the bulk of prescriptions," Stobbe writes.

In 2012, Southern states had the most prescriptions. Alabama had the most, with 143 for every 100 people, and Tennessee was second. The other leading states were West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Louisiana. Southern doctors also prescribed the most antibiotics and stimulants for children. Although chronic disease rates are often higher in the South, research has shown that doesn't explain the disparity.

"Prescriptions go up; deaths go up. Prescriptions go down; deaths go down," said CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden. However, evidence to confirm the connection is lacking. The CDC keeps track of death rates but combines all drug overdoses, including heroin and cocaine. Those rankings are not the same as the prescription list. "But officials cite studies that show higher overdose rates when there are more prescriptions of painkillers and larger doses prescribed," Stobbe writes.

To help fix the problem, officials suggest more prescription drug monitoring programs at the state level and laws to stop "pill mills," which are offices and clinics that prescribe too many addictive medicines. In Florida, pill mills became a big issue in the last 10 years, but from 2010-2011, the state set up stricter pain clinic regulations, and police did some raids. "By 2012, prescriptions for oxycodone alone fell 24 percent, and the death rate for prescription drug overdoses dropped 23 percent," Stobbe writes. (Read more)

Weekly editor-publisher wins Virginia prize for editorial leadership in the community for third time

Anne Adams
We're about three months late with this, but when a weekly editor has won a state's top award for editorial leadership three times in six years, it remains newsworthy.

Anne Adams, editor and publisher of The Recorder in Monterey, Va., has won the 27th annual D. Lathan Mims Award for Editorial Leadership in the Community from the Virginia Press Association.

"The citizens of Bath and Highland counties should be glad that Adams is on their side," wrote Marian Anderfuren, associate vice president for interactive communications at Tidewater Community College and a former editor at the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk. "She demonstrates deep knowledge and affection for her community, and she beats a steady drum for good government, open official dealings, and plain common sense."

Anderfuren cited Adams' battle with a school superintendent over transparency in the school budget, "outrage at a redistricting ploy by the Virginia Senate that seemed to undermine a favorite son, Creigh Deeds," and her groundbreaking coverage of Deeds' attempted murder by his son, who then committed suicide. The incident highlighted the need for more mental-health beds in the Virginia Alleghenies and resulted in reform.

The award, presented for work published during the 2013 calendar year, is named for the late D. Lathan Mims, a former editor and general manager of the Daily News-Record in Harrisonburg and a former president of the press association. Adams won it in 2007-08 and 2010. Only one other editor has won it more times; four-time winner John Edwards, longtime editor of the Smithfield Times, was this year's runner-up. (Read more)

Monday, July 07, 2014

New York anti-fracking ruling could have major impact on the rest of the country

Getty Images by Andrew Burton:
Anti-fracking protesters in New York
Last week's 5-2 ruling by New York's high court that towns can use zoning ordinances to ban hydraulic fracturing could have major implications for the rest of the country. The ruling— stemming from cases in the small towns of Dryden and Middlefield, which had been sued for banning fracking—could open the door for other states to pass similar laws, Steven Mufson reports for The Washington Post.

"There has been a wave of local resolutions, laws and proposals to ban or limit fracking and the disposal of fracking waste, including 35 in New Jersey, 13 in California, 10 in Colorado, 18 in Michigan and many more in Ohio, Pennsylvania and North Carolina, according to the activist group Food & Water Watch," Mufson writes. "Even the District has adopted a resolution urging a prohibition on fracking in the George Washington National Forest."

"In the eyes of the oil and gas industry, though, putting the power to regulate fracking in local hands is bad for business and bad for U.S. energy policy," Mufson writes. "Shale gas drilling has unlocked vast reserves, and shale gas now accounts for about 40 percent of total U.S. natural gas production. Without it, companies would be lining up to import natural gas, not export it as many now want to do."

In Colorado, 59 percent of voters in Longmont, Colo., cast ballots in favor of a ban on fracking and waste disposal, even though nationwide industry groups poured money into Longmont Taxpayers for Common Sense, which opposed the ban," Mufson writes. "Since then, four more Colorado towns have also banned or declared a long moratorium on fracking. Court challenges have been filed." (Read more)

Rural residents more likely than urban ones to pay high-deductibles on health insurance

Researchers at the University of Southern Maine found that based on data from the National Health Interview Survey from 2007 to 2010 almost 23 percent of rural residents purchased high-deductible health insurance plans, compared to 20 percent of urban residents, Abigail Gay reports for the Daily Yonder. "The more rural the county, the more likely residents were to purchase high-deductible plans, the study showed. More than a quarter of people living in rural counties that were not adjacent to a metro area had high-deductible plans."

"The study used data from before the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act," Gay writes. "The act’s requirements that many residents get private insurance could cause another spike in the purchase of high-deductible plans, the study said." Researchers found that federal health reform “has the potential to greatly expand health insurance coverage for many rural Americans. However, the impact on access to health care may depend, in part, on the benefit design of the plans into which rural residents enroll.”

The study found that rural residents had a harder time affording prescription drugs in 2013, Gay writes. Also, rural residents spent an average of 26 percent more on out-of-pocket expenses than their urban counterparts who had the same premium. Since 2007, high-deductible enrollments have risen 47 percent. In 2012, about 33 percent of people who had private medical insurance were enrolled in high-deductible plans. (Read more) (Maine Rural Health Research Center graphic)

Rural Radio station provides news, sports and music for rural audience

Rural Radio features everything rural. The station, SiriusXM Channel 80, which went live on July 15, 2013, is the first rural-concentrated station, providing "a variety of programming focused on agriculture, equine, hunting, fishing, western sports and rural lifestyle," Kelsey Johnson reports for RFD-TV. Approaching its one-year anniversary, Rural Radio includes news reports on agriculture, the commodities market, local weather, FFA and music. It also includes results, highlights and individual features from western sports such as bull riding, cutting pen, horse shows and bass fishing. (Read more) (Rural Radio daily schedule)

Both parties attacking House centrists, trying to unseat major players in upcoming elections

As election season nears, House Democrats are trying to unseat Republicans in areas where President Obama won the majority of the vote, while House Republicans are targeting Democrats in areas where Obama lost. Both sides have set their sights on beating incumbents of the opposing party, even if those politicians have more often than not voted in favor of the other party.

"As the ranks of centrist lawmakers in both parties have thinned, political operatives' efforts to oust them have intensified," Kristina Peterson reports for The Wall Street Journal. While once there were 60 to 70 middle-of-the-road Democrats in the House, only nine remain, with two of those retiring. As a result seven Democrats—Collin Peterson (Minn.), Nick Rahall (W.V.), John Barrow (Ga.), Patrick Murphy (Fla.), Pete Gallego (Texas) and two Arizona lawmakers—are the new targets of the GOP. At the same time Democrats are focusing their sights on 14 House Republicans in districts won by Obama in 2012. (WSJ graphic)

Even though Peterson, the ranking Democrat and former chairman of House Agriculture, considers himself a conservative and voted against federal health reform, the National Republican Campaign Committee spent $3.2 million in Minnesota on advertisements attacking Peterson and Rep. Rick Nolan, Peterson writes. Peterson said at a fundraiser, "The Republicans are going after me because there's nobody else to go after. I'm the bottom of the barrel." Peterson won his 2012 re-election with 60 percent of the vote, while Obama earned 44 percent of the vote.

But pro-Republican ads have continued to link Democratic candidates to Obama, even if those candidates rarely vote in favor of the president, Peterson writes. "It is a strategy aimed at tying conservative Democrats to a national party viewed with suspicion at home."  David Wasserman, a House expert at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, told her, "It is simpler for voters to connect the dots between a congressman and a president of the same party than to understand nuances those members are trying to convey."

Democrats are "employing a similar strategy against the 14 House Republicans they are targeting," Peterson writes. "A new paid online ad campaign from Democrats blasted House Republicans for stalling on immigration a year after the Senate passed bipartisan legislation." (Read more)

Drought-stricken Californians wasting water; neighbors encouraged to tattle on overuse

Residents in drought-stricken California are turning against one another, using long-standing grudges as an excuse to try to get their neighbors in trouble. Despite severe drought, many residents have done little to conserve water, and some have continued using it excessively in spite of the consequences, Ian Lovett reports for The New York Times. "In five months since the drought emergency was declared, Californians have cut their water consumption only 5 percent compared with recent years, according to state officials—a far cry from the 20 percent that Gov. Jerry Brown called for in January."

As as result, residents are being asked "to tattle on their neighbors for wasting water—and the residents have responded in droves," Lovett writes. "Sacramento, for instance, has received more than 6,000 reports of water waste this year, up twentyfold from last year," and the city has issued more than 2,000 notices of violations.

And when telling on neighbors doesn't work, "some drought-conscious Californians have turned not only to tattling but also to an age-old strategy to persuade friends and neighbors to cut back: shaming," Lovett writes. "On Twitter, radio shows and elsewhere, Californians are indulging in such sports as shower-shaming (trying to embarrass a neighbor or relative who takes a leisurely wash), car-wash-shaming and lawn-shaming." (This photo of a San Francisco city employee washing a sidewalk with a hose was posted on Twitter)

Officials in Los Angeles are going so far as to "offer residents door hangers, which they are encouraged to slip anonymously around the doorknobs of neighbors whose sprinklers are watering the sidewalk," Lovett writes. " The notices offer a prim reminder of the local water rules and the drought. The Irvine Ranch Water District, meanwhile, shows residents how their water consumption compares with that of other homes in the area—and puts labels on customers’ bills that range from 'low volume' to 'wasteful.'” (Read more)