Friday, August 08, 2014

Democrats have retreated from rural America, which could cost party seats in key elections

Democratic candidates who relied on rural voters to take control of the House and Senate in 2006 have largely ignored rural Americans the past several years, and it could cost them seats this election year in key races in mostly rural states, Matt Barron reports for The Hill. "With Senate control hinging on the outcome of races in four of the nation's 10 most rural states (West Virginia, Arkansas, South Dakota and Montana), Democrats have allowed what little rural electoral and policy infrastructure they once had to wither away and atrophy."

"With the exception of a Native American outreach effort, the national party committees have no rural vote components anymore," Barron writes. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee largely ignored rural America when it announced its community outreach chairs in March 2013, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has no rural desk and the Democratic National Committee's Rural Council "is unstaffed and still stuck in second-class status, unable to become a full-fledged caucuses. Why? Because under party rules, the group must represent at least 2 percent of the DNC membership, and its members must share an 'immutable characteristic.' As a result, the roadblock is that being rural is not a permanent trait. I swear, you can't make this stuff up."

"Things are no better at the state level—only a handful of state parties have a rural caucus to recognize geographic minorities," Barron writes. "Despite running on platforms that included pledges to form rural caucuses in their states, the Democratic chairmen in Georgia and South Carolina have yet to create them. In Massachusetts, a rural subcommittee adopted by the state party in February remains stillborn, having never met."

The Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee folded its Senate Rural Outreach operation after led by former Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark) lost the 2010 election, while the House Democratic Rural Working Group no longer exists, Barron writes. David "Mudcat" Saunders, one of the party's premier rural strategists, told Barron, "For them to turn their backs on the South and rural America is electoral insanity,  and it's damned immoral." (Read more)

CDC director visits Appalachian Kentucky to understand region's ills and how to treat them

Looking to find answers for the growing rate of chronic diseases—such as obesity—that are crippling the U.S., Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Tom Frieden went right to the heart of one of the nation's unhealthiest regions—Appalachian Kentucky. This week Frieden was in the Bluegrass State "to find out more about the underlying causes of the region's ills and how to treat them—and in the process gain traction against the rising burden of chronic disease that ails the nation," Laura Ungar reports for USA Today.

"Cancer, for example, touches nearly every American family. But in Kentucky, it strikes and kills at the nation's highest rate and is often diagnosed late," Ungar writes. "Other chronic diseases are just as prevalent here. Heart disease prevalence is 84 percent higher than the national average, diabetes is 47 percent higher and lung cancer kills at a rate 83 percent higher—and some of these numbers continue to rise." Fran Feltner, director of the University of Kentucky Center of Excellence in Rural Health, told Ungar, "We're in the stroke belt, the diabetes belt, the coronary valley. We get all those labels. We're in a sad state here."

Kentucky also leads the nation in smoking, Ungar writes. "Nearly a third of adults here smoke cigarettes, and those numbers have remained mostly level even as they've dropped nationally. And in a place where people used to grow, harvest and can their own food, many people now live far from well-stocked grocery stores and turn to convenience items, fast food and Mountain Dew."

Frieden and Benjamin Sommers, assistant professor of health policy and economics at the Harvard School of Public Health, "say improving the health of Appalachia and similarly unhealthy regions and populations will not be easy because it depends on changing seemingly intractable socioeconomic disparities and personal health habits," Ungar writes. "Obesity, meanwhile, is stubbornly rising nationally, spawning diabetes, heart disease and many cancers and spanning all socioeconomic levels. Frieden told a group in Hazard, Ky., that two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese, and 'we didn't have an outbreak of poor self-control. It's our environment.'" (Read more)

Tourist crashes drone into Yellowstone National Park hot spring; damage could be irreversible

While more people are using drones, including farmers and journalism programs, rural journalists, the energy industry and law enforcement, concern has grown about irresponsible or inexperienced operators flying drones with no regard for any laws or regulations, which has led to a few near misses between drones and planes. Those concerns were brought to light on Wednesday when a tourist "at Yellowstone National Park crashed a camera-equipped drone into its largest hot spring, possibly damaging the prized geothermal feature, a park official said on Wednesday," Laura Zuckerman reports for Reuters. (Your Take photo by Todd Atherly: Yellowstone's Grand Prismatic hot spring)

"The incident follows the crash earlier this summer of a drone into a marina at Yellowstone Lake and a string of radio-controlled aircraft violations at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming," Zuckerman writes. "The National Park Service in June announced a ban on so-called unmanned aerial vehicles, but officials say premier national parks in the U.S. West are reporting a sharp rise in the number of drones buzzing bison and boaters." The park is trying to determine how to extract the drone from the hot spring, which is 370 feet in diameter and 121 feet deep, without damaging the site.

One of the problems is that the FAA has yet to announce any regulations for drone use and is expected to miss a September 2015 deadline set by Congress "because of technical and regulatory obstacles that are unlikely to be resolved anytime soon," Craig Whitlock reports for The Washington Post. Without any regulations, and with a federal judge in March dismissing an FAA fine against a drone user, commercial drone use appears to be legal below 400 feet. But regulating any drone use has been difficult for the FAA to accomplish.

Poverty rates for children in Appalachian Ohio up

UPDATE, Aug. 15: The Columbus Dispatch has since deleted the story from its website, because of errors. An editor's note says: "After this story was originally printed and posted online, a data error was discovered in the report on which the story is based. We have deleted the story because the information provided to The Dispatch was incorrect. According to the updated report, the overall child poverty rate in Ohio increased by 75 percent from 2002 to 2012 and rural, non-Appalachian counties’ child poverty rates increased, on average, by 92 percent. Appalachian counties’ child poverty rates increased by 70 percent. (Read more)

Ohio's child poverty rate went up 39 percent from 2002 to 2012, while it went up 136 percent in just the Appalachian counties, according to the Children's Defense Fund report, Jim Ryan reports for The Columbus Dispatch.

"This is the worst I've ever seen it," said Jack Frech, director of the Athens County Department of Job and Family Services.

The report showed that slightly more than 28 percent of children who live in Appalachian Ohio live in poverty and are "more likely to suffer from hunger, obesity and a lack of health care than children in the rest of the state, the nonprofit child-advocacy group reported," Ryan writes. However, rural, non-Appalachian counties have a 19.65 percent poverty rate, which is lower than the 23.6 percent statewide average.

Executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks Lisa Hamler-Fugitt said the group has attempted to solve the hunger problem in various ways. "It sponsors about 2,500 free farmer's markets with surplus goods from Ohio growers," Ryan reports. Hamler-Fugitt said, "The Great Recession didn't end for the people standing in our food lines."

"The Children's Defense Fund report recommended seven state and local initiatives that would help children in need, including state tax incentives that help families make healthy food choices," Ryan writes. "It also called for more child fitness and wellness programs and incentives to encourage doctors to work in rural areas."

Frech said, "The Appalachian area has historically had a problem with poverty because of the lack of jobs—lack of decent-paying jobs—that goes back years and years."

Registration deadline approaching for free science journalist seminars on climate change

The Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting is offering journalists a pair of free science seminars on covering climate change. The seminars are scheduled for Sept. 18-19 in Chicago.

"Climate Change and the News: Seminar for News Editors" will focus on what news audiences need to know about climate change and how communities are tackling the issue. The registration deadline is Aug. 25.

"Climate Change and the News: Impact in the Great Lakes" will concentrate on the physical basis for climate change science; effects of climate change on water quality and supply in the Great Lakes region; relationships between climate change and extreme weather events; impacts of climate change upon Great Lake fisheries, forests and agriculture; public health challenges raised by climate change; and how climate change is driving policy and economic decisions in the region. The registration deadline is Aug. 18. (Read more)

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Kids still deliver the news in small Iowa towns; author writes book about those who did the job

Many changes have occurred in the newspaper business over the years. One change that doesn't get much attention is how the state of news carriers has changed, from the once longstanding tradition of children walking or riding their bikes through neighborhoods to deliver papers door-to-door to the more typical sight seen today of adults making deliveries via car. But in some small towns, fresh-faced kids—most of them probably experiencing their first job—are still delivering the news. (NPR photo by Noah Adams: Meridith Beeber on her paper route in Templeton, Iowa.)

One such case is in Carroll, Iowa (Wikipedia map: Carroll County), where in "a town of 10,000 surrounded by farmland, factories and parks, the award-winning Daily Times Herald still relies on young people to get the news to local homes each day," Noah Adams reports for NPR. "The family that owns and runs the paper believes the most important news they cover is about the town's young people—schools, sports, the arts—and it just makes sense to have them delivering those stories to the community." About 80 percent of the Herald's papers are delivered by children.

"The paper is a surviving exception to a trend," Adams writes. "Circulation managers at the two nearest big papers, The Des Moines Register and the Omaha World Herald, said they employ very few kids.  One big thing that makes it work here is that the paper comes out only five days a week, and in the afternoon—after school. It's a local family-owned operation with 16 pages and lots of color pictures. In 2013 it was named Iowa's 'Newspaper of the Year.'"

"Doug Burns, the vice president for news and son of the paper's co-owner, carried a paper route for many years as a kid. But he has misgivings, he says, about the way it's going now," Adams writes. Burns told him, "You see more parents around their kids, helping their kids with the route, rather than realizing that this was maybe the first opportunity for a young person to have independence. There was sort of a beautiful solitude in delivering papers in the era that I did it, that I think is probably missing from the experience today."

Some carriers, like Jaxson Kuhlmann, are gaining the full experience, Adams writes. Kuhlmann, who delivers 36 to 38 papers daily on his figure-eight shaped route within a three-block radius of his home, earns about $45 every two weeks. He told Adams, "I'm saving up for a trip to Washington D.C.—it's a class trip." (Read more)

UPDATE: Linda Ireland, editor of the LaRue County Herald-News in Kentucky, sends us a copy of a story she wrote about a local man who is one of several former child paper carriers in a book, Little Merchants, by Sandra L. Walker of Washington state. Grant Wise recalls for Ireland his adventures as a carrier and how it taught him about money, responsibility and community in a small town. To read the story, click here.

Rural residents, especially in states with large rural populations, pay more for Obamacare

While rural residents, as a whole, paid slightly higher monthly rates in 2014 for healthcare under federal health reform, residents in some states with largely rural populations and fewer insurance choices are paying significantly higher rates than residents in more urban areas, says a study by the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics at the University of Pennsylvania. (Penn LDI map)
"The average monthly premium for the second-cheapest silver plan, which is designed to cover 70 percent of medical costs, was $387 in rural counties, compared to $369 for urban counties," Paul Demko reports for Modern Healthcare. "But those in states with a large percentage of rural residents, regardless of where they lived, saw significantly higher premiums this year. For states with less than 5 percent of residents living in rural counties, the average premium was $402. But for states where more than half of the population lived in rural counties, the average monthly premium was $452."

In Nevada, rural residents paid an average of $201 more per month than urban residents, the report says. Rural residents in Colorado paid $181 more than urban ones. In Georgia the difference was $93, followed by New Mexico, $73; Kentucky, $58; Minnesota, $55; Missouri, $54; Illinois, $53 and Maine, $51. In some states rural residents did pay less than urban ones, led by Mississippi, where rural residents averaged $72 less per month. Rural residents in Pennsylvania paid $51 less, followed by Connecticut, $50; Nebraska, $37; Texas, $20 and Massachusetts, $15.

Urban residents also had more choices, Demko writes. "On average, they could select from 17 different plans offered by five different carriers. For rural residents, there were roughly 14 plan options available from four insurers. Rural residents also were less likely to have narrow-network options, which are often cheaper than plans with broad provider networks. Just 18 percent of rural counties offered such plans, compared to 38 percent of urban counties." (Read more)

Rural residents more likely to be on food stamps; rural rates higher for children, seniors

From 2008 to 2012, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, also known as food stamps, went to 14.6 percent of rural households, compared to 10.9 percent of urban households, says the Center for Rural Affairs in a report released on Wednesday. Nationwide, 11.4 percent of households received SNAP benefits, and about 86 percent of eligible rural residents receive food stamps—compared to about 73 percent of rural ones.

Rural areas also had a highest percentage of children and seniors receiving benefits, the report says. Combining rural areas and small micropolitan areas, 3.6 percent of seniors 60 or older received benefits, and 7.5 percent of households with children under 18 received benefits—compared to 2.8 percent of metro areas with seniors 60 or older and 6.2 percent of households with children under 18. The national average was 2.9 percent of seniors 60 or older receiving benefits and 6.4 percent of households with children under 18. (Center for Rural Affairs graphic)

"Ultimately, the rural-urban SNAP participation rate gap is a reflection on the rural economy in recent years," the report says. "Rural areas of the nation have generally lower incomes than do urban areas, and rural areas also generally have higher poverty levels. These economic facts and the effects of the Great Recession made more rural people more reliant on programs such as SNAP, particularly, as the data outlined above show, those households with older and younger vulnerable members." (Read more)

Rural poverty directly related to successes and failures of towns in which people choose to live

The new face of rural poverty is directly related to the successes and failures of the towns where people live, Lydia DePillis reports for The Washington Post. "That’s the story of the new rural poverty in America: If your hometown went south, you probably did with it, unless you managed to get out and had the wherewithal to not come back."

The poverty of Las Animas, Colo., where jobs are few and far between and farming jobs have been replaced by tractor tines, "isn’t the poverty of Appalachia or the Mississippi Delta or an Indian reservation, entrenched and intergenerational, enforced by age-old hierarchies of race and class," DePillis writes. "It’s the kind of poverty that can affect anyone who finds themselves in a place when the native industries disappear, as they have in Southeast Colorado and other rural areas across America." (USDA graphic)

Tracey Farrigan, an economist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture who is studying how rural poverty has spread, told DePillis, “I think it’s more of a place-based poverty than it is demographic. People are moving to areas where they can afford to live, which are areas with less support for them. It’s kind of a cycle. So the places are poor, and the people are poor.”

The history of Las Animas' plunge to poverty goes back 30 years, DePillis writes. "The sugar beet factory closed in the 1980s, along with other processing facilities; agricultural consolidation meant small farmers would have to drive hours to sell their livestock and crops. Other employment centers quickly followed suit. In 2001, the century-old Fort Lyon Veterans Administration Hospital seven miles away shut down, and hundreds of well-paid medical jobs disappeared. A bus factory a few miles to the east of Las Animas and a pickle factory to the west went dark in 2005. In 2011, the state closed the prison that it had started on the hospital grounds and last year replaced it with a program for homeless addicts that employs a fraction of the staff."

With the loss of jobs, people left town, with the population dropping from nearly 3,300 in 1998 to around 2,400 today, DePillis writes. "This year’s graduating class of seniors was at an all-time low of 23 kids, down from about 100 in 1975. The poverty rate increased from 20.4 percent in 2000 to 31.7 percent in 2012. The percentage of males in the workforce sank by 25 percent, to about half that national average."

Still, despite few jobs, many of the residents who remain have no plans of leaving, DePillis writes. City councilman Frank Schmeiser told DePillis, “You could ask ten people what they think of the area, and nine of them would say they can’t stand it, but they never leave. It seems like a lot of people are just beaten down, almost depressive. We could get jobs, and jobs that we wanted, pretty easily elsewhere. We stay here because we’re insane, I guess." (Read more)

Iowa officials fear Des Moines faces algae threat to water supplies, similar to that in Toledo

Algae-based toxins in Lake Erie tainted drinking water supplies in Toledo, Ohio, and have led state officials to adopt a law requiring farmers to obtain fertilizer licenses in an attempt to control farm run-off in water supplies. Environmentalists and water officials fear Des Moines is headed in a similar direction, Donnelle Eller reports for the Des Moines Register. Bill Stowe, chief executive of the Des Moines Water Works, told Eller, "It’s not a matter of if—it’s a matter of when. With the right conditions, it could have been Des Moines.”

Eller writes, "The state has adopted a voluntary plan that has Iowa farmers working to reduce nutrients, such as phosphorus and nitrogen, which can feed the toxic blooms and contribute to high levels of nitrates that must be removed from drinking water. But Stowe said Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy is a 'prescription for failure,' and conditions contributing to the toxic blooms will only worsen without regulations forcing broader action by Iowa farmers and landowners."

Des Moines has come close to losing its water supply in the past, with algae-based toxins so high that Water Works was unable to use Raccoon River in 2009 and the Des Moines River in 2012, Eller writes. And currently, two beaches in the state at Black Hawk State Park "are currently not recommended for swimming because of blue-green algae that can produce toxins." So far this year the state has issued 11 advisories, with four weeks left in the recreational beach season. Last year the number of advisories was 24, three times more than in 2011. (Read more)

South Korea's Internet speed three times as fast as speed in some mostly rural states, report says

Rural Americans—especially those in the South—looking for faster Internet speeds might consider moving to Asia or Europe. Several mostly rural states are not only lagging behind the rest of the U.S. in Internet speed but also trail many of the world's developed countries, Niraj Chokshi reports for The Washington Post.

Alaska, Arkansas, Montana and Kentucky are the states with the slowest speeds, all averaging less than 7.4 megabits per second, which trails Poland and Hungary, which average 7.5 megabits per second, according to the Akamai State of the Internet Report. West Virginia, Mississippi, New Mexico, Idaho, Louisiana, Missouri and Wyoming all average 8 megabits per seconds or less, while Hawaii, Kansas, Arizona, Maine, Iowa, Alabama and Oklahoma average less than 9 megabits per second.

The average U.S. speed is 10.5, the report says. In comparison, South Korea averages 23.6 megabits per second, followed by Japan, 14.6; Hong Kong, 13.3; Switzerland, 12.7; Netherlands, 12.4; Sweden, 11.6; Czech Republic, 11.2 and Finland and Ireland, 10.7.

Virginia has the fastest speed in the U.S. at 13.3 megabits per second. Next is Delaware and Massachusetts, 13.1; Rhode Island, 12.9; Washington D.C., 12.8; New Hampshire, 12.3; Utah, 12.1; Michigan, 11.8; and Connecticut, North Dakota and Oregon, 11.7. (Read more)

Bill Clinton subtly questions Obama rural policies, to separate president and Senate candidate

Former President Bill Clinton indirectly questioned President Obama's commitment to rural America as he tried to put some distance between the president and the Democratic challenger to U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell in Kentucky.

Clinton told a crowd in Hazard, "We have not done anything meaningful for rural America since the New Markets Tax Credit" in 1999, when he last visited the Eastern Kentucky town. He said likewise in Lexington, at a fund-raiser for Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.

"President Obama would likely disagree," Rural Blog Publisher Al Cross writes on the Senate-race blog he maintains with his University of Kentucky students. "Last month the White House announced creation of a $10 billion investment fund for rural development, and the administration has recently taken steps to make parts of Eastern Kentucky more eligible for federal aid." McConnell has campaigned less against Grimes than Obama, who is unpopular in the state, especially its two coalfields, due to his anti-coal policies. (Read more)

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Rural areas gained 150,000 jobs in past year

The rural job market is making a comeback. The number of jobs in June in non-metro and micro counties increased by more than 150,000 since June 2013, Bill Bishop reports for the Daily Yonder. The addition of jobs caused the unemployment rate to drop in non-metro counties from 7.9 percent in June 2014 to 6.6 percent in June 2013 and in micro counties from 7.8 percent to 6.4 percent. Another reason for the lower unemployment rate could be that more people are leaving rural areas or not looking for jobs, with "176,000 fewer people in the rural workforce this June compared to June of 2013." (Yonder map shows were jobs were gained and lost. For an interactive county-by-county version click here)
While the news is fairly good for rural America, metro areas continue to gain jobs at a faster rate, gaining more than two million jobs during the past year, with the pace of job growth in urban areas twice that of rural areas, Bishop writes. Metro areas also have a lower unemployment rate, at 6.3 percent. (Read more)

Federal report says changes need to be made to improve rural healthcare system

Rural areas only have 54 specialists for every 100,000 residents, while urban areas have 134 specialists for every 100,000 residents, according to a federal report that says changes need to be made to improve rural healthcare. The report by the Joint Economic Committee, authored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), says: "Improving rural Americans’ access to affordable health care would improve their quality of life and bolster economic opportunity in rural areas."

More than 40 percent of rural residents travel more than 30 minutes to a hospital, compared to 25 percent of urban ones, and rural residents have to make longer treks to see a specialist, the report says. EMS response times are also longer in rural areas, with limited services often staffed by volunteers. Rural areas are also more reliant than urban areas on jobs from medical facilities. Technology is another concern. Only 19 percent of rural hospitals have adapted electronic health record systems, compared to 29 percent in urban areas. Rural hospitals are also more likely to rely on Medicaid and Medicare for revenue.

"Ensuring access to health care in rural areas can help improve workforce productivity, quality of life and economic growth," the report says. Suggested ways to improve rural healthcare are by protecting critical access hospitals, funding programs that attract doctors to rural areas, enhancing training for rural health care practitioners in preventive services, expanding Telehealth Resource Centers and the Telehealth Network Grant Program and improving transportation infrastructure. (Read more)

In isolated Alaskan villages that lack law enforcement locals say help is slow arriving

"Rural Alaska has the worst crime statistics in the nation’s Native American communities—and the country," and in some of the towns and villages where there is no local law enforcement, residents believe race plays a large part in slow response times from state police, Sari Horwitz reports for The Washington Post. (Post photo by Linda Davidson: Kake, Alaska) 

In February 2013 the dead body of a 13-year-old murder victim in Kake, an isolated community only accessible by air or boat, spent 11 hours in a church, with the body and crime scene being guarded by locals as they waited for police to arrive, Horwitz writes. Local resident Joel Jackson told Horwitz, “They have the capability of flying at night now . . . but still nobody came. And that upset me greatly. When there’s any fishing violation or hunting violation, they’re here in full force—over a dead animal. To have one of our own laying there for [so long] was traumatic for everybody.”

In Alaska there is only about one trooper per every million acres, Horwitz writes. "Getting to rural communities can take days and is often delayed by the great distances to cover, the vagaries of the weather and—in the minds of many Alaska Natives—the low priority placed on protecting local tribes." Locals in one area said when they catch a criminal they lock them in a closet, and in another area, they handcuff suspects to an anvil inside a hut.

"Alaska Native communities experience the highest rates of family violence, suicide and alcohol abuse in the United States: a domestic violence rate 10 times the national average; physical assault of women 12 times the national average; and a suicide rate almost four times the national average," Horwitz writes. "Rape in Alaska occurs at the highest rate in the nation—three times the national average."

Statistics aren't helped much by the fact that there are at least 75 remote Alaska Native villages with no law enforcement, Horwitz writes. "Of the nation’s 566 federally recognized tribes, 229 of them are in Alaska, most in tiny villages with no access by roads."

Associate Attorney General Tony West told Horwitz, “Unfortunately, there are places in rural Alaska that if a woman is raped or a child is beaten, that victim might not get any help whatsoever. It can take a day and a half before responders show up to the scene of a crime or to a call for help. Imagine if you were a victim of violence and you can’t get help because weather conditions don’t allow you to get out of your village. Where are you supposed to go? You have nowhere to go.”

And in places like Kake, where the unemployment rate is 80 percent, and there is no local law enforcement, many criminals have little fear of being arrested, Horwitz writes. And when a public safety officer, known in Alaska as a VPSO, is sent to a town like Kake, they aren't allowed to carry firearms, which doesn't bode well for these poorly trained officers with limited authority working in a state that has one of the nation's highest rate of gun ownership. (Read more)

In response to toxic drinking water in Lake Erie, Ohio law would require fertilizer licenses

Concern about tainted drinking water in Lake Erie caused by algae blooms, which are made toxic from farm runoff, has led regulators to require Ohio farmers to acquire a fertilizer license, Mark Peters and Matthew Dolan report for The Wall Street Journal. The licenses, which will become mandatory in 2017 and will require farmers to take a one-day class, "are aimed at cutting fertilizer use by showing farmers how they can apply less nutrients without hurting crop yields. The law also allows regulators to revoke such certifications if problems are found on a farm." (Getty Images: Algae in Lake Erie)

"A big part of Toledo's problem comes from the Maumee River, which drains a broad swath of agricultural land, feeding the bloom on Toledo's end of the lake," Peters and Dolan write. "Other major cities near the Great Lakes such as Chicago and Detroit haven't experienced similar restrictions, but some are voicing new concerns about the potential threats to their drinking-water supplies."

Adam Sharp, vice president of public policy for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, told the Journal, "This is a big deal. We recognize it, and we're going to resolve it." But environmentalists say the rule doesn't go far enough. Howard Learner, president of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, a Midwest advocacy group, told the Journal, "This isn't a matter of farmers fine-tuning what they're doing. This requires a substantial rethinking of how nitrogen and phosphorus is used in the agriculture sector."

Across the U.S. "progress has been made when it comes to better fertilizer management, according to the Environmental Defense Fund," Peters and Dolan write. "Farmers and retailers have increased demand for nutrient-efficient products and helped to reduce fertilizer loss by an average of 25 percent on half a million acres in six states, including Ohio, while also keeping up or increasing crop yields, the group said."

"Still, the response by farmers and regulators, not just in Ohio, but in farm states across the Midwest, has drawn criticism from other environmental groups that don't see progress," the Journal writes. "They are fighting in court to force the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set limits on nutrient levels for lakes, streams and rivers." (Read more)

Rural Massachusetts has become ground zero in fight to stop Northeastern pipelines

In New England, where many residents rely on natural gas to get through brutal winters, there's a battle brewing over pipelines that transport shale oil and tar-sands oil, Gram Slattery reports for The Christian Science Monitor. And rural towns in Massachusetts have become ground zero in the Northeast’s pipeline fight—at least when it concerns the transportion of shale oil.

At the heart of the debate are small towns like Deerfield, Mass., where the 180-mile Northeast Energy Direct pipeline is slated to run right through farmland, carrying "fracked gas from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale Fields across the seam of northern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire," Slattery writes. Local landowners, environmental activists and concerned citizens across the region "say the construction of new fossil-fuels infrastructure is a step in the wrong direction in an era of increased wind, solar and hydropower. They also say the pipeline, which will open up a 50-foot-wide gash across Massachusetts, will harm the state’s most pristine forests and increasingly scarce farmlands." (Proposed Northeast Energy Direct pipeline)

Dozens of towns have already made their voices heard, passing measures opposing the pipeline, Slattery writes. "A march involving 1,500 Bay Staters concluded at the State House July 30, when activists delivered 10,300 signatures opposing the project. Two days earlier, three environmental advisers to Massachusetts Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick resigned their posts to protest the pipeline proposal."

Critics "say the project will bring steadier heating and electricity to a region where winter energy bills can be ruinous," Slattery writes. "They point out that Massachusetts has been shutting down dirty coal plants in recent years. And by year's end, Vermont will shutter the controversial Yankee Nuclear Power Plant in Vernon. As recently as 2008, the 40-year-old power plant provided 72 percent of the Green Mountain State’s electricity."

"As a result, New England residents have been relying more and more on natural gas, which has jumped from the region's fourth-most-used source of electricity in 2000 to its most used today," Slattery writes. "The problem, according to pipeline advocates, is that the infrastructure to support this reliance on natural gas during cold snaps isn’t yet there—causing extreme price volatility in the winter months."

"New England’s five progressive governors also see gas pipelines as a potential boon for the environment, a position that puts them philosophically at odds with the protesters," Slattery writes. "The natural gas that will coarse through the 36-inch-wide pipe, the governors say, will allow the region to continue weaning itself from what they describe as dirtier sources of energy, like coal and oil heat."

Opponents fear the environmental risks of fracking, Slattery writes. The pipeline requires approval by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but protesters are pressuring state legislators to bar the project. (Read more)

SSTI conference Sept. 14-16 to highlight best practices to spur rural economic growth

The SSTI Regional Prosperity Through Innovation conference, scheduled from Sept. 14-16 in Chicago, will offer several rural-centric sessions, including "Embracing Your Region's Roots: Supporting Innovation in Rural Communities." During the session, "experts will share best practices from across the country on rural communities supporting entrepreneurship, spurring innovation and connecting regional innovation assets to support economic growth. They also will share how communities are embracing and promoting their rural strengths to give them a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining talent and building strategic industry clusters."

Other sessions include: "Engaging Underserved Communities"; "Sustaining Your Organization"; "Telling Your Story"; "An Emerging Trend: Innovation Through a Univeristy"; "Corporate Connections: Connecting Large and Small Companies" and "New Approaches to Commercialization."

The cost is $625 for SSTI member or conference sponsor, $550 for SSTI additional member and $725 for all others. For more information or to register click here.

$27.8 million settlement approved between TVA and victims of 2008 coal-ash disaster

More than five years after the Tennessee Valley Authority coal-ash disaster in Kingston and Harriman, Tenn., that has led to more than $1 billion in clean-up costs, a U.S. district judge approved a settlement requiring TVA to pay victims $27.8 million, reports The Chattanoogan. "More than a billion gallons of toxic sludge knocked homes from their foundations and contaminated the Emory and Clinch rivers." In 2012 a federal judge ruled that TVA was liable for the spill.

"The final settlement agreement will allow more than 800 residents and property owners affected by the coal ash spill to hold TVA accountable for the impact to their way of life," The Chattanoogan writes. "Cleanup efforts continue even years after the spill, with total costs expected to exceed $1.2 billion. It is estimated there is at least 500,000 cubic yards of coal ash still remaining on the bottoms of the Emory and Clinch rivers. Sludge from the coal ash containment pond contains toxic substances including arsenic, lead, mercury and other heavy metals." (Read more)

Photographer captures urbanites who have given up city life for remote, isolated sustainability

A photographer in Europe has captured a unique lifestyle, traveling the country to visit people who have taken rural, remote and isolation to extreme terms. "In his series entitled "Scrublands," photographer Antoine Bruy focuses on people across Europe who have abandoned their busy city lives for a self-sufficient lifestyle in remote, rural areas, often without electricity or running water," Andrea Romano reports for Mashable, A British-American news website. (Bruy photo)

"Bruy spent between three and a half months in each locale, discovering how each person he encountered lived on a personal level," Romano writes. "During his travels, Bruy met people from all walks of life—former city dwellers with run-of-the-mill city jobs, like lawyers and engineers. They all live on crops grown by sustainable farming, homes made of recovered material and animals raised by their very own hands." Bruy hopes his project, which has been in progress since 2010, will eventually lead him to take similar photos in the U.S. (Read more)

Link between health and mountaintop removal one of top concerns discussed at SOAR session

Links between mountaintop removal and health was one of the main concerns on Wednesday during a Shaping Our Appalachian Future conference in Hazard, Ky., Bill Estep reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. SOAR is an initiative searching for ways to improve and diversify the economy of Appalachian Kentucky. (Estep photo: CDC head Dr. Thomas Frieden speaks at the SOAR meeting)

Two weeks ago Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) led a congressional hearing on the dangers of mountaintop removal. That, and recent studies about the dangers of mountaintop removal, may have been why mountain top removal and health tied as the most discussed theme at the conference, along with coordinated school health programs, Estep writes. Other discussed topics issues included: the need for more physical and health education in schools, transportation to get people to health facilities, more substance-abuse treatment, and laws to ban smoking in public places.

Dr. Nikki Stone, who practices in Hazard, "said she was surprised that mining was one of the top issues broached at the health sessions," Estep writes. "She said many people in the region have long been reluctant to talk about the possible link between mining and health problems because the coal industry was the backbone of the economy. Even now, they brought it up gingerly in the health committee meetings, Stone said." She said the decline in coal has created an opening to address the concerns.

The head of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Thomas Frieden, is taking part in SOAR sessions this week at the invitation of Rep. Hal Rogers (Ky.-R), who started SOAR along with Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, Estep writes. "Asked whether he would support having the CDC study the public health effects of mountaintop mining in Central Appalachia, Frieden said the agency 'only goes where it's invited.'" He told Estep, "If invited in, we could certainly look at it." (Read more)

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Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Compromise reached in Colorado to take anti-fracking initiatives off November ballot

It looks like Colorado residents won't get to vote on whether or not to ban fracking in their towns, Mark Jaffe reports for The Denver Post. Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who has said he will do whatever it takes to beat anti-fracking initiatives, "on Monday unveiled a delicately balanced compromise on local control of oil and gas drilling that will remove all the initiatives on the issue from the November ballot." (Post photo by Kathryn Scott Osler: Gov. John Hickenlooper, right, and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis announce the compromise)
"U.S. Rep Jared Polis (D-Boulder) agreed to drop two measures he supported aimed at requiring drilling rigs to be set back 2,000 feet from homes and bolstering local control by adding an environmental bill of rights to the state constitution," Jaffe writes. "Backers of two industry-supported measures—Initiative 121, which would have withheld state oil and gas revenue from communities banning drilling, and Initiative 137, which required a fiscal impact note for all initiatives—said they, too, would pull back." Estimates show that $10 million had already been spent on initiatives, with more than $20 million expected to be spent by the election, with most of it coming from the oil and gas 

Hickenlooper said he will create an 18-member task force, which will make recommendations to the legislature—by a two-thirds vote on ways "to minimize land-use conflicts that can occur when siting oil and gas facilities near homes, schools, businesses and recreational facilities," Jaffe writes. "Under the compromise, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will also drop its lawsuit against the city of Longmont over its oil and gas ordinance."

The compromise drew support from the state's two largest operators, Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and Noble Energy Inc., but opponents of drilling criticized the move. (Read more)

Newsletter highlights 50 farmers under 50

The Census of Agriculture found that the average age of farmers has risen from 57.1 to 58.3 from 2007 to 2012, and the number of farmers 75 or older has risen from 243,472 to 257,697. In response, Agri-Pulse, a Washington newsletter, asked its readers to "tell us about bright young people they’ve seen at work in recent years—men and women under 50 from across the nation, involved in all types of crop and livestock operations—who are stepping into leadership roles, spreading the word about what matters to rural America and promoting causes important to today’s agricultural and rural," Ann Tracy Mueller writes for the newsletter. Agri-Pulse selected 50 farmers to highlight. To see the entire list, click here. Here are some that made the list:

Ryan Bivens
Ryan Bivens, 35, Hodgenville, Ky., is a first-generation farmer, growing soybeans, corn and wheat. Bivens grew up hearing farmers couldn’t make it unless they were in a farm family or married into it, but he got his start growing corn and soybeans as an FFA project. When Bivens finished college, got married and was ready to farm full-time, he ran an ad in the paper advertising that a young, energetic farmer was looking for land to rent. The ad was answered, and he was soon farming 500 acres. Bivens made sure land he farmed looked sharp and put roadside signs in his fields touting “another quality crop” from Bivens Farms.

Ben Boyd
Ben Boyd, 37, Sylvania, Ga., whose family has farmed in Georgia for five generations on one side and six on the other, has a farming operation diversified beyond his main crop, cotton. He also raises cattle, corn, hay, oats, peanuts, rye, soybeans and wheat. Boyd says he, his wife and one-year-old son live “13 miles from a Coke or a gallon of gas.”

Tamara Choat
Tamara Choat, 36, Terry, Mont., and her husband raise cattle and horses and own a butcher shop and meat processing plant. She and her husband left corporate jobs in Indianapolis three years ago to move to Montana to raise cattle. They’re now raising young children as well and running their meat processing business.

Miguel Diaz
Miguel Diaz, 27, Alamosa, Colo., raises potatoes and barley and serves on the National Potato Council board of directors. Diaz admits that as a student he didn’t pay much attention in government class in high school, but he understands today the importance of getting his industry’s grassroots messages to lawmakers and their staffs throughout the year. He credits some of this understanding to his industry’s program to help develop young leaders, the Potato Industry Leadership Institute. Diaz says, “Leadership programs are amazing!”

Odessa Oldham
Odessa Oldham, 22, Lander, Wyo., a member of the Navajo tribe, started raising her own sheep herd when she was three years old. These days she has 200 head of cattle, attends the University of Wyoming and works to encourage and inspire the next generation of Native American farmers. While in high school, Oldham was the first Native American to run for the National FFA board.

Excessive algae growth in Lake Erie turns water toxic and causes water ban in Toledo

This weekend Toledo, Ohio, residents could not use the city's water supply because tests revealed dangerous toxins likely resulting from excessive algae growth in Lake Erie. Because they were advised not to drink the water, brush their teeth with it or prepare food with it, they had to rely on bottled water or drive miles away to friends' houses to fill containers, Emma G. Fitzsimmons reports for The New York Times.

On Sunday, tests showed that the water is still contaminated. People in northwestern Ohio and southwestern Michigan are still scrambling to find clean water. "Ohio Gov. John Kasich declared a state of emergency," the Associated Press reports. Hospitals had to cancel some surgeries and send surgical equipment elsewhere to be sterilized, said Bryan Biggie, disaster coordinator for ProMedica hospitals in Toledo.

The Ohio National Guard delivered 33,000 gallons of clean water to the residents, and volunteers distributed bottled water at local high schools. No one was sure when the water ban would end. "I want to make sure that I would be comfortable with my family—my daughters and my wife—drinking the water," Governor John R. Kasich said, Fitzsimmons writes.  "When I'm comfortable with that, then I think we're in a position where we can say to the people here in Toledo that we feel good at it, and we can move forward."

Residents waited in line to receive drinking water in Toledo on Sunday. (NYT photo)

Along Lake Erie, the water is green-tinted like pea soup. After a testing at city water treatment plant discovered unsafe levels of microcystin, "a toxin that can cause diarrhea, vomiting or abnormal liver function," the city issues an urgent water notice on Saturday Morning, Fitzsimmons writes.

Officials said the water probably became toxic as a result of a harmful algae bloom in Lake Erie. The lake provides water for 11 million people, and environmental groups have showed concern about potential algae blooms before. Carroll Township, which is east of Toledo, issued a water ban last year resulting from algae blooms in the water supply. "Over the past decade, the algae blooms have steadily increased," Fitzsimmons writes.

Researchers believe the algae has grown because of manure and chemical fertilizer that has washed into the lake from farms as well as leaky septic tank and stormwater drains that flush large amounts of phosphorus into the lake. "Agriculture industry groups have been asking farmers for more than a year to reduce phosphorus runoff before government regulators step in and impose their own restrictions," the AP reports. (Read more)

Oklahoma state senator, geologist call for federal earthquake task force to develop emergency plan

"A state senator and an Oklahoma petroleum geologist on Monday called for federal task force to develop a statewide emergency action plan in response to the ongoing earthquake swarm," Adam Wilmoth reports for NewsOK. "Sen. Jerry Ellis (D-Valliant) and independent geologist Bob Jackman of Tulsa suggested the panel include representatives from the U.S. and Oklahoma Geological Surveys and scientists from the state’s oil and natural gas industry."

"Under the proposal, the task force would examine and evaluate all nationally published earth science and ongoing studies related to the earthquakes that have been rattling Oklahoma," Wilmoth writes. "The group also would be responsible for releasing findings and proposed solutions."

In June hundreds of residents of Edmond demanded that the state do something to stop the state's surge in earthquakes that many have inked to injection wells. State officials said there isn't enough evidence to link fracking to earthquakes. But Oklahoma recently surpassed California in most earthquakes in the lower 48 states. From 1978 to 2008, before the oil and gas boom hit Oklahoma, the state averaged two earthquakes per year. But from October 2013 to early May of this year, Oklahoma had 189 earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or higher. (Read more)

As rural weddings increase in popularity, neighbors raise concerns about noise, safety

Rural weddings in barns are the latest fad for stylish urbanites. While landowners say the weddings are a great way to earn extra money and provide a memorable service, neighbors complain about the noise, fear for the safety of guests and question if the events are in violation of local zoning laws, Julie Bosman reports for The New York Times. (NYT photo by Jenn Ackerman: A barn wedding in Grant, Minn.)

"Grooms and brides say the barns are part of a cultural shift away from traditional weddings," Bosman writes. "At a typical barn wedding, formal china and glassware are out, in favor of carefully mismatched plates and Mason jars for sipping cocktails. Guests nibble casual fare like grilled corn on the cob and barbecued pork. If the weather cooperates, the evening often ends with people gathering around a bonfire and toasting s’mores under the stars."

"Barn owners say they are responding to a demand in the market," Bosman writes. Scott Jordan, who owns 50 acres in Grant, a quiet hamlet outside St. Paul, said he spent more than $300,000 to restore a barn on his property so that he could rent it out for weddings, charging $4,800 per event.

But residents "have protested that some barn owners flout zoning rules requiring that they operate only as agricultural enterprises," Bosman writes. "Unlike other businesses, the barns are often not inspected to ensure that they are up to code, and many lack proper sanitation, fire doors and sprinklers, accommodations for people with disabilities and licenses to serve liquor." Laurie Tulchin, who lives in a rural part of Iowa City next door to a wedding barn, told Bosman, “They blare music all night long, they have college students out there screaming and everyone’s drinking. Rural residents have quiet lifestyles. Sometimes I just think, ‘What the heck happened out here?’”

Ongoing disputes between neighbors have ended up going before local officials. "City council meetings have become stages for disputes in areas where friendly relations are the norm. Some small townships with ambiguous zoning laws have been forced to examine their regulations to figure out whether the wedding barns are legal," Bosman writes. "In some towns, judges have intervened, leaving trails of anguished soon-to-be-married couples. Last summer, a judge in St. Louis County, Mo., ruled that a historic barn on a property with a view of the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers was a potential fire hazard, leaving a bride and groom who had scheduled a wedding reception there only days to make other plans."

Neighbors also say they fear for the safety of guests, Bosman writes. Jeff Hettmann, whose next-door neighbor operates a wedding barn in Glenmore, Wis., outside Green Bay, told Bosman, “All these people want to have this rustic outdoor wedding in the country so they can get closer to nature, but that barn was built for storing hay. It’s not designed to have 200 people jumping up and down and dancing in it.”

But barn owners "say their businesses should be considered a form of agritourism, a use of farmland not unlike petting zoos, hayrides and other ventures that have become popular in an era when family farming is difficult to sustain," Bosman writes. "Some towns are scrambling to change zoning laws to allow more landowners to cash in. The planning commission in Hinesburg, Vt., voted to change its zoning—which allowed mainly farming and forestry—to a more generous definition including weddings, day camps and cafes."

And the rural wedding boom doesn't appear to be waning, Bosman writes. "Last year, there were 44 wedding barns in Wisconsin, and about eight more are expected to open this year, said Steve Peterson, the president of the Wisconsin Agricultural Tourism Association." (Read more)

Missouri voters consider 'right to farm' amendment

UPDATED, Aug. 6: The amendment appears to have narrowly passed, reports The Associated Press. The amendment had 498,751 votes for it and 496,223 against it with all precincts reporting — a margin of less than three-tenths of a percentage point. (Read more)

Missouri voters are voting today on a controversial—and often confusing—amendment to the state constitution that some say protects the rights of farmers but that others say gives corporations more power.

It's not clear how the right-to-farm amendment will impact local and state laws, Julie Bosman reports for The New York Times. Erin Morrow Hawley, an associate law professor at the University of Missouri who specializes in agricultural issues, told Bosman, “There is a lot of uncertainty with respect to how the amendment would actually work in practice. You could see a state law challenged based on this constitutional amendment. But the biggest aim is to prevent new state laws coming in from outside the state. The idea is to create another legal tool to stop that.”

Supporters say "it would end what they see as meddling by outsiders in its business practices," Bosman writes. "Opponents have protested that the amendment would be a boon for large industrial farms that would like to avoid potential laws controlling their treatment of animals or the environment, allowing them to pollute the land, extend the use of genetically modified crops and freely experiment with the use of antibiotics in livestock, a trend that has concerned scientists."

There is strong opposition to the Missouri Farm Bureau-favored amendment, reports The Missouri Times. Opponents include The Missouri Farmers Union, the Humane Society of Missouri, the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, the League of Women Voters of Missouri, the Missouri Coalition for the Environment, The Humane Society of the United States, the ASPCA, Missouri Libertarian Party and the Locke and Smith Foundation.

Many state newspapers have also come out against the amendment, with 15 newspapers, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Kansas City Star publishing editorials urging residents to vote against the amendment, The Missouri Times writes. The Post-Dispatch wrote: "Something smells in hog country … Giving massive out-of-state corporations extra protection in the state constitution doesn’t help a thing. VOTE NO.” The Star wrote: “The courts would have the final say on what this vaguely worded amendment actually means. Voters can avoid costly and lengthy legal challenges by rejecting it.”

The amendment, which was sponsored by a Republican legislator and has wide support in the Republican-controlled legislature, has plenty of supporters, Bosman writes. "A coalition of state farming groups and major agriculture corporations have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to take aim at the Humane Society, which led a successful fight in 2010 to regulate inhumane dog-breeding practices in Missouri. Backers of the amendment are wary of laws that have passed in other states, like California, where voters in 2008 approved roomier living conditions for hens, and Oregon, where a rural county’s ban on genetically modified crops was overwhelmingly passed in May."

"Since the beginning of July, advocacy groups have spent more than $1 million on the fight over Amendment 1: Missouri Farmers Care, an umbrella group of supporters, has spent more than $650,000," Bosman writes. "The Missouri Cattlemen’s Association sent an email to members on Thursday urging them to call friends, post on Facebook and Twitter in support of the amendment, and get to the polls on Tuesday." Agricultural groups representing cattle, soybean and corn farmers have also lined up in favor of the amendment. (Read more)

Rural firehouse burns down; arson not suspected

Photo by Lynette Mason, The Spencer Magnet
It's happened before, and it will happen again. But a firehouse burning down has too much irony for us to pass up. It happened early Tuesday morning in Mount Eden, Ky., a village in the hills of the Eden Shale Belt between Louisville and Lexington.

Lt. John Butler, the acting chief, told Lisa King of The Sentinel-News in Shelbyville that no one was injured, since the department is all-volunteer and no one was at the station, "but the blaze is devastating, he said." Butler told her. “It’s a major loss to the community. This is our fiftieth anniversary year, too. But no one was hurt, and this can all be replaced and rebuilt.” Arson is not suspected, but an investigator from Shelbyville is trying to figure out how the fire started, Butler said. (Read more)

Monday, August 04, 2014

Big coal states sue EPA over proposed CO2 rules

Big Sandy Plant of Kentucky Power, going to gas
Twelve states — Alabama, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming — filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration on Friday seeking to block an Environmental Protection Agency proposal to regulate coal-fired power plants in an effort to stem climate change," Coral Davenport reports for The New York Times. The states "are home to some of the largest producers of coal and consumers of coal-fired electricity."

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said, “This lawsuit represents another effort by our office to invalidate the EPA’s proposed rule that will have devastating effects on West Virginia’s jobs and its economy.” Davenport notes, "On Thursday Alpha Natural Resources notified 1,100 employees that layoffs and reduced operations were possible at 11 West Virginia mines. The company cited numerous reasons for the possible cutbacks, including the new regulation."

"The states’ lawsuit contends that the EPA lacks legal authority in the matter," Davenport writes. "The agency wants to release the final rule under the terms of the Clean Air Act, which requires the federal government to regulate all substances defined as pollutants. The EPA determined in 2009 that carbon dioxide met the definition of a pollutant, a decision that has withstood numerous legal challenges. But the states say that the EPA may not issue separate regulations on power plants using different sections of the Clean Air Act." (Read more)

Conservative GOP mayor from N.C. walks to D.C. to protest hospital closure due to Medicaid inertia

A Republican mayor in a small North Carolina town recently walked 273 miles to Washington, D.C., to protest the closure of a local hospital — partly due to the Republican-led state's refusal to expand Medicaid under federal health reform — after a local woman died from a heart attack while waiting for emergency services, reports Emery Dalesio for The Associated Press. (News-Record photo by Travis Fain: Mayor Adam O’Neal leaving a meeting at the governor's mansion in Virginia)

Mayor Adam O’Neal was protesting the closing of Vidant Pungo Hospital in Belhaven on July 1. "O’Neal took to task both hospital officials, who he said are putting profits over people’s health, and elected state officials, who refused federal funding to expand Medicaid that would pay the bills of poor people," Dalesio writes. O'Neal told him, “Profits are more important to them than lives." (Read more)

What makes the story even more compelling is that O'Neal, who is no fan of Obama, is "a white Southerner and a Republican officeholder who has conservative views on abortion, taxes, guns, — 'you name it,' he told me," Dana Milbank reports for The Washington Post.

Six days after the local hospital closed, 48-year-old Portia Gibbs had a heart attack, Milbank writes. "The medevac to take her to the next-nearest hospital (as many as 84 miles away, depending on where you live) didn’t get there in time." O'Neal told Milbank, "She spent the last hour of her life in a parking lot at a high school waiting for a helicopter."

"Republicans nationwide have abandoned any consideration of offering an alternative to the Affordable Care Act, figuring that their complaints about President Obama’s selective implementation of the law, and lingering unease about the legislation itself, will be enough to motivate conservative voters in November," Milbank writes. "But as O’Neal points out, this political calculation has a moral flaw."

O'Neal told Milbank, "If the governor and the legislature don’t want to accept Medicaid expansion, they need to come up with another program to assure that rural hospitals don’t close They’re allowing people to die to prove a point. That is wrong, and I’m not going to be a party to that.” (Read more)

For impoverished rural families, back-to-school shopping is not an option

Anyone who dared go anywhere near malls or retail stores this weekend may have run into mobs of families participating in the annual ritual of back-to-school shopping. "According to the National Retail Federation, back-to-school spending this year is expected to average $634.78 per family," with $231.30 spent on clothes, $124.46 on shoes and between $212.35 to $229.88 on electronics. (Second Judicial Circuit Guardian and Litem Program photo)

But for impoverished families in rural areas, back-to-school shopping is an experience that either depletes them of much-needed funds, or is something they're forced to skip, Jenni Frankenberg Veal reports for in Chattanooga.

"Within an hour’s drive from Chattanooga, Southeast Tennessee is home to three counties that rank in the top 10 percent of the nation’s most economically distressed counties, according to the Appalachian Regional Commission: Grundy, Meigs and Bledsoe counties. In Bledsoe County 84 percent of students are listed as economically disadvantaged, Veal writes. As a result, many students rely on donations to get their school supplies. Amanda Prichett, elementary school supervisor for Meigs County schools, told Veal, "If a child has school supplies when he or she begins school, it is one less thing the family and the child has to worry about. The earlier we can intervene, the better." (Read more)

Agricultural tourism is growing in Appalachia

Advocates say agricultural tourism can help revive struggling rural economies, especially in Appalachia, reports The Associated Press. Ag tourism — which "refers to working farm enterprises geared to visitors, encompassing farm stands, pumpkin patches, barn dances, zip-line rides, pick-your-own berries, corn mazes and even weddings," generated about $700 million in 2012, a 24 percent increase since 2007, and has become one of agriculture’s fasting growing sectors, said Kelly Smith, marketing and commodities director at the Missouri Farm Bureau.

Appalachian areas, many of which are trying to find economic alternatives after the loss of coal dollars, are pushing ag tourism as a way to improve local economies, AP reports. "Last month, the Appalachian Regional Commission, a federal agency charged with promoting economic development in that area, launched a map and guide of nearly 300 farmers markets, vineyards, farm-to-fork restaurants and other destinations in an effort to boost the industry. The map and guide were published in Food Traveler Magazine and online."

Bloomery Plantation Distillery
"Linda Losey, who had never owned a farm before, started Bloomery Plantation Distillery in 2011 after deciding to try her hand at making limoncello, an Italian lemon liqueur," AP writes. The distillery, located in Charles Town, W.Va., "uses many of its home-grown products in its drinks — 'Moonshine Milkshake' and hard lemonade among them — plucking fresh raspberries, pumpkin, lemons and ginger. Now, the business generates nearly $1 million in annual sales and employs 14 people." The business has also found success on the Internet, with offsite sales rising from 3 percent a year ago to 20 percent today.

Katy Orr-Dove, whose family farm opened a retail market in 1995 in Martinsburg, W.Va., said retail sales generate about 15 percent of business, up from 5 percent seven years ago, AP writes. She told AP, "People started having a greater interest in finding locally grown fruits and vegetables and they started looking for us. At about the same time, we decided we wanted to reach out more and increased our advertising, our website, our e-newsletter.”

In 2012, the state's 174 ag-tourism farms "generated about $1.2 million in ag tourism — up from 112 farms and $970,000 in 2007," AP writes. Orr-Dove told AP, “The possibilities are endless. West Virginia is known for being mountainous farmlands. And there are a lot of people who have small farms already.” (Read more)

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Fancy Farm Picnic includes fun, games, attacks; UMW endorses Democrat in Ky. Senate race

The annual fund-raising picnic at St. Jerome Catholic Church in Fancy Farm, Ky., population 500, is generally known as the Fancy Farm Picnic -- and sometimes incorrectly called a "political picnic" because most of the media attention goes to its political speaking, a command performance by statewide politicians of both parties before a divided crowd of partisans who cheer, boo and chant. Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear, left, kicked off the speaking with a selfie that included his old rival, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (in yellow shirt), explaining, "I just had to get one last photo of the senator before Kentucky voters retire him in November."

Saturday's picnic drew a record crowd because of the hot race between McConnell and Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes. There was loads of news coverage, to which you can link here, and here is a story by University of Kentucky students covering the race. Meanwhile, Grimes announced that the United Mine Workers endorsed her despite McConnell's efforts to tie her to the anti-coal policies of President Obama and Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, whom McConnell wants to replace as majority leader if Republicans take control of the Senate. The union pointedly did not endorse Obama for re-election in 2012.