Friday, August 15, 2014

Urbanization shrinking firefly population; species can be indicators of the health of the environment

Urbanization is destroying firefly populations in the South, Alan Blinder reports for The New York Times. "Scientists have for years been warning that the world’s estimated 2,000 species of fireflies are dwindling, partly because expanding cities are altering water flow patterns and yielding more light pollution, which researchers say can hamper the mating rituals of the insects." (Firefly Experience photo)

The Selangor Declaration, named for the Malaysian site of a 2010 symposium about fireflies, says: “Fireflies are indicators of the health of the environment and are declining across the world as a result of degradation and loss of suitable habitat, pollution of river systems, increased use of pesticides in agro-ecosystems and increased light pollution in areas of human habitation. The decline of fireflies is a cause for concern and reflects the global trend of increasing biodiversity loss.”

In response, Clemson University is conducting a unique experiment called The Vanishing Firefly Project, which asks "people to step outside, peer into the darkness and, for a single minute, count the fireflies that sweep through their field of vision," Blinder writes.

Participants in the experiment include Greenville, S.C., resident Jeremy Lyons and his 6-year-old son Ryan. Jeremy told Blinder, “Kids are naturally drawn to fireflies, so it’s a good building block to teach them lessons about the environment. It’s a good little icebreaker activity for a kid, so then their attention is gotten and you can talk to them about it and they don’t even realize that you’re teaching them something.” Separate studies are being conducted in other parts of the country. (Read more)

Whites respond more negatively to immigration news about Hispanics than about Europeans

White Americans are more likely to feel negatively about immigration if news stories portray immigrants in a negative light, but are even more inclined to respond in a negative manner if the immigrants are Hispanics, not Europeans, Scott Clement reports for The Washington Post. "What immigrants look like – and where they come from – changes how we see the issue. When immigrants are Hispanic, white Americans worry a lot more."

One of reason is that Americans often only think of Hispanics as immigrants, said Nicholas Valentino, a political scientist at the University of Michigan, who did the 2003 study about which Clement writes. Valentino told him, "Latinos trigger an anxiety in some Americans that other ethnic groups simply do not trigger. It changes both attitudes and behaviors on immigration policy.”

Valentino's study had white participants read fake stories about immigration, with half the stories showing immigration in a positive light and the other half in a negative light, Clement writes. Stories also altered the ethnicity of some subjects, telling the exact same story, except changing the name and origin of a subject from Mexican to Russian. While participants who read negative stories were more likely to say the story lessened their support of immigration, "the impact of seeing a negative story featuring a Mexican immigrant was double the size of a negative story about the Russian immigrant."

"Valentino and his colleagues investigated the differing reactions, and found that negative news featuring a Latino immigrant raised whites’ worries and anxieties about increasing immigration, but not for those about Russian immigrants," Clement writes. "Whites who read a negative story featuring an Hispanic immigrant had a strong political reaction. In addition to higher opposition to immigration, they became more supportive of an 'English-only' law, asked for more information about the issue and were more apt to send an e-mail  to their congressional representative advocating reduced immigration levels when asked in the survey. Negative news about a Russian immigrant had little impact on political motivation."

"Just 26 percent of respondents chose to e-mail a member of Congress advocating a reduction in immigration after reading a positive story featuring a Latino immigrant," Clement writes, but "45 percent sent congressional e-mails when the Latino-focused story was negative. But the negative stories had no impact when the subject of the story was Russian." Valentino said a separate study using Mexican and Dutch subjects in the fake stories had similar results. (Read more)

Midwest farmland prices drop overall, but some areas still see increases

Farmland values in the Corn Belt have hit a plateau, dropping 0.4 percent in the second quarter, the Federal Reserve Bank said Thursday, Jesse Newman reports for The Wall Street Journal. "In the Kansas City Fed district, prices for irrigated cropland and farmland without irrigation systems rose less than 1 percent over the same period, with year-over-year gains moderating in states like Kansas and Missouri. Meanwhile, the Chicago Fed district, which includes Iowa and other big farm states, reported a 2 percent increase in farmland values, far less than quarterly gains seen in recent years."

"Bankers surveyed by the St. Louis Fed said the average value of quality farmland in the district fell to $5,473 an acre in the second quarter from $5,496 an acre in the first," Newman writes. "Prices fell 3.5 percent from the same time last year and 6.7 percent from their peak in 2013. For the fourth survey in a row, a larger share of rural bankers in the district said they expect quality farmland values to decline in the next quarter relative to the same period last year.

In the Kansas City region, values increased more than 2 percent "due to strong demand for pasture from livestock producers, whose revenues have climbed this year thanks to low prices for corn, a primary ingredient in livestock feed, and record prices for cattle and pigs," Newman writes. "The Chicago Fed said a temporary jump in commodity prices last spring pushed farmland prices higher in the district in the second quarter, before corn and soybean futures resumed their descent in May. Land values in Indiana fell 1 percent, the bank said." (Read more)

Prices are expected to keep falling, Christopher Doering reports for The Des Moines Register. "The survey, compiled with input from 230 agricultural bankers, found only 2 percent of responding bankers expected farmland values to increase in the third quarter of 2014, while 30 percent anticipated a decline."

A major reason for the decline is that "corn and soybean prices have posted sharp declines as farmers are on track to produce record amounts of each crop this year," Doering writes. "Corn futures for December delivery are at $3.75 a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade, down from an average of $6.89 two years ago; while November soybeans are averaging $10.56 a bushel compared with $14.40."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture said in February that farm income will fall 27 percent to $95.8 billion in 2014 "as farmers feel the impact of lower corn and soybean prices and reduced government payments," Doering writes. "Still, the data released by the government showed the farm economy will remain historically strong, with 2014 net farm income the seventh highest since 1973 after adjusting for inflation, and $8 billion higher than the average of the previous 10 years." (Read more)

Ohio fertilizer law aimed at toxic algae blooms has a loophole exempting big manure users

A loophole in Ohio's pending law to require farmers to get fertilizer licenses "exempts many large dairy, hog, and poultry farmers who spread manure on their fields," Karen Schaefer reports for Great Lakes Echo, a service of the Center for Environmental Journalism at Michigan State University. The law was created in response to algae blooms found in Lake Erie that threatened water drinking water supplies for 11 million people and made Toledo's water toxic.

Roger Wise uses grass-covered buffer strips to help keep
phosphorous out of local watersheds.(Schaefer photo)
Fourth-generation farmer Roger Wise, former president of the Ohio Farmers Union, told Schaefer, "The original legislation was going to require that all the fields that were going to have the manure applied to, all the fields were going to be labeled, there was going to be a cropping plant and soil tests, and nutrient management – and all of that’s been done away with." 

Jack Shaner, deputy director of the Ohio Environmental Council, said the law, which doesn't go into effect until 2017, "requires only chemical fertilizer applicators to be certified, not those who use manure," Schaefer writes. "Shaner wants to see a watershed-specific nutrient management plan for Lake Erie’s western basin. Agricultural scientist Andrew Ward of Ohio State University agrees. But he says fixing the agricultural practices behind Lake Erie’s algae problem won’t come cheap." Ward told her, "We’re probably talking something like a hundred million dollars a year would be needed in Ohio every year, for many, many years." (Read more)

W.Va. station shuns candidate, ex-news chief who called local TV news waste of time

Ed Rabel
An ABC affiliate in Charleston, W.Va., owned by Sinclair Broadcasting, is refusing to report about a congressional candidate — who was once the news director for the station — in response to an article the candidate penned for the Charleston Gazette in which he said local television was a waste of time, Kevin Eck reports for Media Bistro. Ed Rabel, a former CBS correspondent, is running as in independent for the seat being vacated by Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, who is running for a Senate seat.

WCHS-TV News Director Matt Snyder "issued a directive that no story would be aired on the station about Rabel’s independent campaign for Congress," reports Morgan County USA, an online news source in the West Virginia county. Twice a WCHS reporter tried to interview Rabel for stories, but was told Rabel "would not be appearing on any of the station’s news programs and prohibited the reporter from interviewing Rabel," and was also told not to mention that Rabel was launching a campaign.

To read the article by Rabel, click here. Here is an excerpt:
Instead of focusing on original reporting, the local stations are focused on cosmetics. Not a country for old men and women, the local television ‘news’ landscape is populated by bubble-heads and glib, young, sometimes pretty know-nothings. The truth is, they wouldn’t know a news story if it slapped them in the face. When was the last time you saw an investigative piece about, let’s see, the Massey mine disaster? Or, how about, God forbid, an exclusive story that penetrated the precincts where politicians hide their secrets from the public?

There are reasons you don’t get the news on local TV. Station owners and managers forbid their news departments from stepping on toes and ruffling feathers, out of fear that such stories might insult local advertisers or offend politicians on whose toes reporters might stomp. And investigative or original reporting is costly, meaning real reporters must be hired to do real reporting, a job that requires lots of time and money that the stations have no time for. Instead, I remember one Huntington TV station leading its newscast last December with the astonishing news that Christmas tree sales were on the rise. Hold the presses!

Someone once said that owning a local TV station is like having a license to steal. But the real license to broadcast calls for the people to be informed. People, isn’t it time to revoke the license?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Robin Williams' death raises concern about reporting of suicides; here are some tips and ideas

On Monday, the world lost someone special. Robin Williams was found dead at age 63, and authorities said the cause of death was suicide. Williams' publicist said the actor had been dealing with severe depression and recently spent time in rehabilitation.

Every year about 30,000 Americans take their own lives, more than the number who die of homicide, and "there are twice as many deaths due to suicide than HIV/AIDS," according to Suicide Awareness Voices of Education. Of those who seek treatment, 80 percent are treated successfully, while 15 percent of people who are clinically depressed take their own lives.

"Journalists in small towns are often reluctant to report that a person died by suicide if the death occurred in private, no one else was involved and the individual was not prominent in the community, but in the age of social media, more and more see a need to be an authoritative voice that quashes rumors quickly," said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of the Rural Blog. Others say covering up suicides reinforces the stigma surrounding them, which is a tragedy in itself. As one weekly editor publisher put it, "We don't do the widow any favors when we don't do our job informing people about the important events in their community and they approach the widow and ask, 'I was sorry to hear about Fred. How did he die?'"

Social media have complicated the topic in other ways. Robin Williams was praised for his stellar performances in "Good Will Hunting," "Mrs. Doubtfire" and "Good Morning, Vietnam" and "Jumanji." He was also the voice of Genie in the animated film "Aladdin." His death generated massive coverage of his passing, including tributes to him and his quotes from movies. On social media, many have posted a picture of Genie and Aladdin with the quote, "Genie, you're free."

Such posts carry the message that suicide is "freeing" or an acceptable way to deal with depression, so some experts fear media about Williams' unfortunate choice may prompt others to commit suicide, Linda Carroll writes for NBC News. More people than usual called the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on Tuesday, and Lisa Furst of the Geriatric Mental Health Alliance of New York said Williams' death was one reason why.

Dr. Alex Crosby, a medical epidemiologist in the division of violence prevention at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that following Marilyn Monroe's 1962 suicide when she was 36, "Researchers found a statistically significant increase in suicides across the nation in white females in their 30s and early 40s in the year after she died."

This is a "contagion effect," Dr. J. Raymond DePaulo Jr., director of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told NBC. "I believe it also accounts for things like these mass shootings. Almost anything you see, there can be copycats and a contagion."

Taryn Phaneuf of the Bowling Green Daily News in Kentucky used the attention focused on Williams to do a local story in which experts and families that had suffered suicide urged more discussion of it.

Journalists should guard against coverage that could lead vulnerable people or those who identify with the dead celebrity to believe that suicide is the way to deal with their pain, said Dr. Lanny Berman, senior adviser to the American Association of Suicidology, told NBC: "When someone is suffering from a non-specific loss of hope, they may think, 'My god, if Robin Williams couldn't hack it given all his fame and fortune and adoration, what hope do I have?'"

How can writers avoid perpetuating that idea? The suicidology association has recommendations for writing about suicide. It makes three main points: More than 50 research studies have shown that particular types of news coverage can increase in suicide among some people; the risk rises when stories detail the method of suicide or use "dramatic/graphic headlines or images and repeated/extensive coverage" that "sensationalizes or glamorizes death," Al Tompkins writes for The Poynter Institute.

The experts ask that the suicide not be referred to as "successful" (or, if the attempt fails, "unsuccessful"); that pictures of grieving family and friends be avoided; and that a suicide not be described as "inexplicable" or "without warning." They urge journalists to present suicide as a social issue, ask experts for advice, provide crisis-center phone numbers and run a list of "Warning Signs" and a "What to Do" list so people can learn how to respond if they think a family member or friend is contemplating suicide. They sau nearly all people who commit suicide show warning signs, which include:
  • Expressions of suicidal thinking in words, poems, diaries, posts, etc.
  • Increased use of drugs or alcohol
  • Little sense of meaning or purpose
  • Struggle with anxiety, agitation and insomnia
  • Expression of feeling trapped, or like being between a rock and a hard place
  • Feelings of hopelessness, that things will never change for the better
  • Moving away from things that represent a reason to live: work, school, hobbies and people who matter
  • Excessive anger or rage
  • Increased recklessness and/or risk taking behavior
  • Dramatic mood changes, such as shifts between being OK to being depressed.
If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please do not hesitate to get help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255), and here is a list of crisis helpline services. Every life matters.

Robin Williams' character in the 1989 film "Dead Poets Society," teacher John Keating, said, "To quote from Whitman, 'O me! O life! . . . of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless ... of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?' Answer: That you are here—that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?"

Sign up by Monday for free climate-change seminar in Chicago; travel aid may be available

Monday, Aug. 18, is the deadline to sign up for a free seminar in Chicago on Sept. 19 about covering climate change, including its effects on fisheries, forests and agriculture; public health challenges raised by climate change; and how climate change is driving policy and economic decisions in the Great Lakes states and adjoining states.

"Climate Change and the News: Impact in the Great Lakes" will also look at the physical basis for climate change science and the effects of climate change on water quality and supply in the Great Lakes region.

The seminar is sponsored by the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting, which is also offering "Climate Change and the News: Seminar for News Editors," focusing on what news audiences need to know about climate change and how communities are tackling the issue. The registration deadline for that seminar, to be held Sept. 18, is Monday, Aug. 25.

A limited number of participants who must travel a significant distance to attend the seminar will be eligible to receive a reimbursement of up to $250 to support travel and lodging expenses. Metcalf has reserved a block of double-occupancy hotel rooms near the seminar venue, the WBEZ Chicago offices at the Navy Pier, to provide a discounted lodging option for participating journalists. For more information, click here.

Some rural schools struggle to fill teaching slots

Across the country another school year has begun — or will start within the next few weeks — but a growing crisis, especially in rural areas, is teacher shortages, with some school districts struggling to fill positions in time for the first day of school.

In McDowell County, West Virginia — one of the poorest counties in a poor state — there are still about a dozen full-time teaching positions that have to be filled before the first day of school on Aug. 18, reports the Bluefield Daily Telegraph. School Supt. Nelson Spencer, who said about 40 teachers resigned over the summer, said "substitutes may be the board’s best option."

Many school districts in Nebraska started school today with positions still not filled, reports Nebraska Radio Network. Ted Hillman, superintendent for the Boyd and Lynch school district, told the network, “The Nebraska legislature and local schools have worked hard to maintain what they feel are attractive beginning salaries, especially for young people, to come to Nebraska, but it’s no secret, the folks in Iowa will pay better, the folks in Minnesota will pay better.”

Perhaps, but Willmar Public Schools in Minnestota are struggling to fill about a dozen openings with school starting in less than two weeks, Linda Vanerwerf reports for the West Central Tribune. The problem isn't just isolated to Willmar, but throughout the state. "In a letter to the Minnesota Department of Education early this year, the federal government acknowledged teacher shortages in the state in a long list of specialties, including agricultural education, mathematics, sciences, career-related training, many areas of special education, reading, English as a second language, and world languages and cultures."

Rural districts in Arizona are also facing shortages, and it's a trend that could continue for years, Steve Shadley reports for KJZZ 91.5. Katie Rogerson of Tucson Values Teachers, a group that asked more than 1,400 teachers in southern Arizona if they expect to still be teaching in five years, told Shadley, "27 percent are saying they are not likely to be teaching, and then you’ve got an additional 37 percent say they aren’t sure. So, when you combine those two you are looking at well over 60 percent and that’s really shocking.”

Enviros say diesel illegally used in 351 fracks; industry says that preceded EPA clarification

A report by the Washington, D.C.-based non-profit Environmental Integrity Project says that "several oil and gas companies have been illegally using diesel fuel in their hydraulic fracturing operations, and then doctoring records to hide violations of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act," Naveena Sadasivam reports for ProPublica. The act requires drilling companies to obtain permits when using diesel fuel in fracking, and companies have "to notify nearby landowners of their activity, report the chemical and physical characteristics of the fluids used, conduct water quality tests before and after drilling, and test the integrity of well structures to ensure they can withstand high injection pressures."

The report "found that between 2010 and July 2014 at least 351 wells were fracked by 33 different companies using diesel fuels without a permit," Sadasivam writes. "The report asserts that the industry data shows that the companies admitted using diesel without the proper permits. The Integrity Project's analysis, the report said, then showed that in some 30 percent of those cases, the companies later removed the information about their diesel use from the database." (Environmental Integrity Project graphic)

"The report asserts that the industry data shows that the companies admitted using diesel without the proper permits," Sadasivam writes. "The Integrity Project's analysis, the report said, then showed that in some 30 percent of those cases, the companies later removed the information about their diesel use from the database."

The report was based on information from FracFocus, an online registry that allows companies to list the chemicals they use during fracking, Sadasivam writes. Using information on current disclosures, compared to past ones, "The report found that six companies had changed disclosures for wells; Pioneer Natural Resources accounted for 62 of the changes." Pioneer blames the changes on coding errors. The Independent Petroleum Association of America criticized the report "for including diesel use that occurred prior to a 2014 Environmental Protection Agency rule clarifying the types of chemicals considered 'diesel fuels'," Sadasivam reports.

Low crop prices have some farmers opting to store product; prices hurting farm equipment sales

Record harvests that have led to an overabundance of crops such as corn, soybeans and wheat are causing prices to plummet and having a negative impact on other areas of agriculture, Roberto Ferdman reports for The Washington Post. With corn prices falling 35 percent, soybeans 13 percent and wheat 12 percent, overall crop revenue is expected to be down 12 percent this year, compared to a 3 percent decrease in 2013. U.S. crop sales will generate less than $190 billion this year, a $35 billion drop from 2012. (Post graphic)

That means that "U.S. farmer profits are expected to plummet by nearly 27 percent in 2014 after several years of historic highs, according to USDA estimates from earlier this year," Ferdman writes. And agriculture businesses are suffering. After years of sustained growth John Deere has reported a drop in sales in each quarter this year, with sales falling 6 percent in the third quarter and an expected drop of 8 percent in the fourth quarter. The company said it expects to sell even less equipment in 2015. Overall, industry-wide sales are down 6 percent this year.

One problem is that some farmers are either selling crops at prices that are too low to be profitable, or aren't willing to sell at the low prices, which means large portions of crops are going into storage, Ferdman writes. "Large stockpiles of corn today should give way to commensurately large cash piles of profit down the road, even if it means storing much of it until prices recover."

Gregory Ibendahl, associate professor of agricultural economics at Kansas State University, told Ferdman, "If you're a farmer facing continual low prices, you might have to take some land out of production. Somewhere along the line you might even reach a point where you have to go out of production." (Read more)

Rural electric lobby opposes proposed CO2 limits, but some co-ops are turning to renewable energy

Rural electric cooperatives, which are heavily dependent on coal for generation, are leading opponents of proposed rules to cut carbon dioxide from existing power plants by 30 percent in the next 16 years. The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association "is a 47-state network of 905 cooperatives and keeps the lights on for more than 42 million consumers, roughly 13 percent of the U.S. electricity market," Benjamin Hulac reports for Environment and Energy Publishing.

"Seventy percent of the power from NRECA's generation and transmission cooperatives is fueled by coal, and 58 percent of the fuel mix sold by distribution co-ops is coal-based," Hulac writes. But not long ago, coal provided 80 percent of generation, so some co-ops have been moving toward renewable energy. Farmers Electric Cooperative in Iowa has spent nearly four years building the state's largest solar farm. "Solar is coming on strong," co-op CEO Warren McKenna told Hulac. "Our goal is to have 15 percent of our power produced locally by 2025," through renewable energy. About half the co-op's electricity comes from coal.

The small co-op, which serves only 650 members, "has an expanse of 2,900 panels spanning 4½ acres along a gravel road in southwest Johnson County," Josh O'Leary reports for the Iowa City Press Citizen. "The solar farm, which cost $2.2 million to build, will generate more than 1 million kilowatt hours each year. That's enough energy to power about 120 homes, and eliminate more than 2 million pounds of carbon pollution each year, project leaders say." (O'Leary photo)

McKenna said the array can generate up to 1,800 watts per customer, "giving the cooperative the highest per-capita solar generation rate of any utility in the nation," O'Leary writes.

Other co-ops have also turned to renewable energy, Hulac writes. "The Cloverland Electric co-op in Dafter, Mich., can produce up to 36 megawatt-hours with its hydroelectric plant, and the Peninsula Light Co. in Gig Harbor, Wash., operates a 20-megawatt wind-powered system. And the chapter with perhaps the most audacious renewable energy goals — the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative in Lihu'e, Hawaii — plans to generate half of the power it distributes from renewable sources by 2023."

"NRECA-backed cooperatives sell power to 93 percent of the country's impoverished counties  — home to approximately 4 million citizens," Hulac reports. In recent years the lobby has donated $2,336,547 to a variety of politicians from almost every state, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, with 69 percent going to Republicans. (Read more)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Audit criticizes EPA's cost analyses for regulations; Hispanic groups rally around EPA water rules

The Government Accountability Office released a report on Monday that "finds fault with the Environmental Protection Agency’s analyses of the costs and benefits of its regulations," Benjamin Goad reports for The Hill. Meanwhile, Latinos are putting their political weight behind EPA's controversial proposed rules on agricultural runoff, saying the rules would benefit the large numbers of Hispanics who live near polluted waterways along the Colorado River Basin, Goad writes in a separate story.

The GAO report "found that the agency did not always monetize the costs and benefits of proposed actions and that the EPA had estimated effects of its regulations on employment by, in part, using a study that is more than two decades old," Goad writes.

In looking at seven EPA regulations designated as "major rules," meaning that they carry an annual economic impact of $100 million or more, the report "examined the EPA’s analyses for each rule against 2003 guidance from the Office of Management and Budget that lays out best practices for how agencies should evaluate the costs and benefits of rules making their way through the federal pipeline," Goad writes. "The EPA’s rules lacked transparency, the GAO found."

The report said information EPA included in its regulatory-impact analyses "was not always clear. According to OMB guidance, RIAs should communicate information supporting regulatory decisions and enable a third party to understand how the agency arrives at its conclusions." Goad writes, "The report recommends that the EPA take steps to improve the agency’s adherence to the existing government guidance, but also that the OMB clarify the best way to apply that practice to the thorny process of estimating costs and benefits of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions." (Read more)

The proposed water rules, which have caused confusion among farmers who fear the regulations will expand EPA's jurisdiction, are being advocated by 28 Latino organizations, Goad writes. "The groups say the threat of polluted waterways disproportionately affects Latinos, both in terms of economic and public-health concerns. More than a third of the nation’s Hispanic population lives along the Colorado River basin."

The groups say politicians should support the rules, saying that polling shows that Hispanic voters are overwhelmingly in support of them, Goad writes. "More than 200 House members, primarily Republicans have voiced opposition to the rule, which has also raised concern among some congressional Democrats." But the Hispanic groups say that more than 90 percent of Latinos, "a coveted segment of the voting block, believe that the nation has a 'moral responsibility' to protect its waters." (Read more)

Study refutes rural 'brain drain' theory; high achievers are not more likely to leave home

The brightest and most ambitious rural students are not more inclined than their counterparts to leave home for urban areas, and the ones that do leave often possess a desire to return home at some point, says a study published in the American Education Research Journal, Savannah Wooten reports for the Daily Yonder.

The study "found little evidence for the assertion that teachers and school administrators contribute to brain drain by 'grooming' their best students to leave," Wooten writes. "The study showed that these interactions do not have a significant impact on the students’ decisions to stay or leave."

While local economic conditions and future employment opportunities are the main reasons students leave rural areas, the study found that the "desire to return home is linked to high-achievers’ stronger feelings of community engagement and connection," Wooten writes. "In particular, high-achieving students who have thrived in and benefited from life in a rural community are more likely to feel connected to it. Thus, these students are more likely to express a desire to return home than their nonacademic counterparts."

The study was conducted through "educational sorting," where "each student was placed in a subcategory based on academic achievement and residential aspirations, allowing the researchers to survey and analyze each 'type' of student," Wooten writes. "These groups were asked about their residential aspirations after graduation, creating the 'stayers' and the 'leavers' categories. From these two divisions, four groups were created: 'achiever stayers,' 'achiever leavers,' 'nonacademic stayers' and 'nonacademic leavers.'" (Read more)

Long drought shrinking cattle industry in Texas, Cal.; cattle are moving to states north of Texas

Drought is forcing the cattle industry to move to greener pastures. With drought conditions resulting in the closure of a Cargill slaughterhouse in Plainview, Texas, and a National Beef Packing Co. slaughterhouse in Brawley, Calif., "The industry’s geographic perimeter is narrowing around the Northern Plains (the Dakotas, Kansas and Nebraska) and north central (Iowa and Missouri) regions," Tom Johnston reports as part of a series for Meatingplace, a meat-industry magazine.

"The cattle are moving," Johnston writes. "Packers will have to follow, as there is at least 10 percent more slaughter capacity than the industry needs. More than just a matter of geography, the prospect demands a shift in strategy for raising livestock, sourcing reliable supplies and marketing new products." (Kansas State University map: Cattle processing in the U.S. in 2014)

Precipitation is much more plentiful in the plains and north-central states, Johnston writes. West Texas normally gets 20 inches of precipitation per year, compared to 36 inches in Iowa. But conditions have been so bad in Texas this year that Lubbock had less than one inch of rain before Memorial Day, when it got 3 to 6 inches. In 2011, the hottest and driest year on record in Texas, the state's livestock industry lost $3.2 billion. 

"To put it in perspective, consider that the entire U.S. beef cow herd decreased by 5 percent, from January 2011 to 2013; 65 percent of that decrease was due to reductions in Texas alone," Johnston writes. "Moreover, while nationally, producers are holding more heifers back to replace aging beef cows — a clear signal of intent to rebuild the herd — Texas’s share dipped about 5 percent in the last year. The Great Plains has seen its share rise nearly 5 percent in the same period."

"The national herd is at its lowest count since the '50s, and it didn’t get that way in just the last four years," Johnston writes. "Since 1995, the Southern Plains’ beef-cow inventory has fallen the most dramatically, by nearly 2.2 million head, compared with the Southeast (1.7 million) and the Great Plains (549,000)." (Read more)

Texas state regulators propose stricter guidelines for injection wells, in response to earthquakes

Texas oil and gas regulators on Tuesday proposed stricter guidelines for injections wells, in response to recent earthquakes linked to drilling, Marissa Barnett reports for the Dallas Morning News. "The suggested changes would require oil and gas companies to provide more information in their permit applications for underground disposal wells used to store waste from oil and gas drilling, including data from the U.S. Geological Survey about area fault lines, past earthquake activity and geologic mapping."

Concern has grown because of a rash of earthquakes in North Texas in Azle, a town near Fort Worth that sits atop the Barnett Shale, Barnett writes. Azle has registered more than 30 earthquakes in the past nine months. (TownMapsUSA map)

But state officials in Texas and Oklahoma have shied away from linking earthquakes to the state's powerful energy industry. Three studies — one by a seismologist hired by the Railroad Commission, which regulates oil and gas; one by Southern Methodist University, and one by a state House subcommittee — said there was no "conclusive link between the earthquakes and disposal wells, and that regulatory changes should be made with caution given the state’s robust oil and gas economy."

"The proposed changes would increase the burden for oil and gas companies," Barnett writes. "Injection-well operators would be required to supply the commission with geological data and previous earthquake activity in the area where they plan to put injection wells. Also, companies would need to more frequently report fluid pressures and well data to regulators. Other changes would allow the commission to suspend or terminate a permit if the injection well is suspected as the culprit in an earthquake. Currently, 'causing seismic activity' is not on the list of reasons for which a well could lose its permit." (Read more)

Drilling, fracking occurring at shallower depths than thought, closer to drinking-water sources

Oil and gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing are occurring much closer to drinking-water sources than previously thought, Neela Banerjee reports for the Los Angeles Times. A study by Stanford University researchers found that "energy companies are fracking for oil and gas at far shallower depths than widely believed, sometimes through underground sources of drinking water." (Business Insider map: The study was conducted in Wyoming's Pavillion Gas Field in the Wind River Basin)

Oil and gas companies contend that fracking has never contaminated drinking water. The study showed no direct evidence of water-supply contamination, and the companies are not operating in violation of any laws, Banerjee notes.

Drilling through "underground drinking water sources is not prohibited by the 2005 Energy Policy Act, which exempted the practice from key provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act. But the industry has long held that it does not hydraulically fracture into underground sources of drinking water because oil and gas deposits sit far deeper than aquifers," Banerjee writes. "The study, however, found . . . companies used acid stimulation and hydraulic fracturing at depths of the deepest water wells near the Pavillion gas field, at 700 to 750 feet, far shallower than fracking was previously thought to occur in the area. The EPA documented in 2004 that fracking into drinking-water sources had occurred when companies extracted natural gas from coal seams. But industry officials have long denied that the current oil and gas boom has resulted in fracking into drinking-water sources because the hydrocarbon deposits are located in deeper geological formations." (Read more)

Feds deny wolverines special status, say climate change not likely to put them at risk of extinction

Wolverines are a rare sight, with only an estimated 300 remaining in the contiguous 48 states, mostly in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, with some in Oregon and Washington, Laura Zuckerman reports for Reuters. But despite low numbers the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Tuesday it won't put these members of the weasel family on the endangered and threatened list, saying climate change has not affected them as much as previously thought. (USFWS photo)

Last year the agency proposed applying Endangered Species Act safeguards for wolverines, "saying global warming was reducing mountain snows the animals use to dig dens and store food," Zuckerman writes. "But on Tuesday federal wildlife managers said there was 'insufficient evidence'  that climate change would harm wolverines, which resemble small bears with bushy tails and which are known for their ferocious defense of their young."

The FWS said in a press release: "While it is clear that the climate is warming, after carefully considering the best available science, the Service has determined that the effects of climate change are not likely to place the wolverine in danger of extinction now or in the foreseeable future."

While conservationists criticized the decision, it "was welcomed in states such as Montana, which will determine next year whether to reinstate a limited wolverine trapping season that was suspended in 2012 after a lawsuit by conservationists," Zuckerman writes. "Listing would have banned trapping of wolverines, which are prized for their fur, and imposed restrictions on snowmobiling and other winter recreation in areas inhabited by the solitary creatures." (Read more)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Rural libraries' Internet speed and upgrades lag

Rural libraries trail urban ones when it comes to offering high-speed Internet, Justine Brown reports for Government Technology. A report by the American Library Association found that 98 percent of libraries offer free wireless Internet, up from 89 percent in 2012, but 20 percent of rural libraries have broadband speeds of 1.5Mbps or slower. Only 10 percent of all libraries have such slow speeds.

Rural libraries are also slower in making improvements, Brown writes. "Less than half of rural libraries reported they increased bandwidth speeds in the last 24 months, compared with 64 percent of urban libraries and 56 percent of suburban libraries. The study also found that less than two-thirds of rural libraries report having access to information technology staff, far behind their counterparts. A majority of all libraries (66 percent) agree they would like to increase their broadband capacity, and that the leading barrier in doing so is cost." (Read more)

Oregon tops Medicaid expansion; even in states that didn't expand, a million people signed up

Among states that chose to expand Medicaid under federal health reform, Oregon led with a 52 percent increase in enrollment from October 2013 to May 2014, while Delaware was last with a 4 percent increase, Molly Warren reports for Enroll America.

Among states that chose not to expand Medicaid to 138 percent of the federal poverty threshold, a million new people still signed up. Montana had the biggest increase, while North Carolina, Alaska, Mississippi and Missouri saw enrollment decrease.

In both types of states, "Many people who were always eligible for the program have finally decided to sign up," explains Margo Sanger-Katz of The New York Times. "New online marketplaces and all the public conversation around new insurance options encouraged them to apply and get benefits they were always eligible for. There are quite a lot of uninsured people in the country who fall into this category. A 2012 study in the journal Health Affairs estimated that, in some states, fewer than half of all eligible people were enrolled in their state’s programs."

Overall, 7 million people enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program between October 2013 and May 2014, an increase of 11.4 percent, Warren writes. Statistics for Connecticut, Maine and North Dakota were unavailable. (Enroll America graphic)

Fans flood FCC with letters in support for RFD-TV; cable mergers could spell end of programming

RFD-TV's "All American Cowgirl Chicks"
Rural Americans want rural television. In response to proposed mergers between Comcast Cable and Time Warner Cable and AT&T U-Verse with DirecTV that could lead to RFD-TV being canceled in many markets, the Federal Communications Commission has been flooded with letters in support of rural programming, Thomas Gryta reports for The Wall Street Journal. More than 11,000 of the 25,000 filings about the Comcast deal and more than half of the 3,3000 comments on the At&T deal have been in support of Rural TV.

Carl Savely, a 60-year-old attorney from Sparks, Nev., who wrote a letter to the FCC, told Gryta, "Quite frankly, there are no other TV stations out there that carry the programming that RFD-TV carries. If the big city boys decide to drop them, as some of them have already done, that programming is gone."

Gyrta writes, "RFD-TV's viewers are widely distributed throughout the country, based on the location of the comment writers to the FCC." Patrick Gottsch, the founder of RFD-TV's owner, Rural Media Group, told him, "Not everyone lives in Manhattan. Everything can't be directed at 18- to 34-year-old urban audiences."

Last year Comcast dropped RFD-TV in Colorado and New Mexico and "many carriers, including Time Warner Cable and DirecTV, have been open about their push to shed channels with low ratings and low viewership to help reduce programming costs, at a time when channel owners have been raising carriage fees," Gryta writes. "Cable companies also are interested in using space in their pipes for more lucrative high-speed broadband services."

"In its pitch to gain lawmakers' support for the DirecTV acquisition, AT&T has pledged to expand broadband Internet coverage to at least 13 million rural U.S. households," Gryta writes. "But its U-verse television service doesn't offer RFD-TV to its 5.7 million subscribers. AT&T cites limited demand." (Read more)

Toxic algae growth common in Wisconsin; about 175 waterbodies have high levels of phosphorus

Excessive algae growth like what was found in Lake Erie — which turned Toledo's water toxic — is a common occurrence in Wisconsin, Lee Bergquist reports for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. About one-quarter of the state's more than 700 bodies of water "that fail to meet water quality standards do so because of high levels of phosphorus, which is found in sewage, agriculture and runoff from lawns, according to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources." (DNR photo: A channel leading to Lake Winnebago. It is pale blue because it is decomposing, while “fresh” blooms that are not breaking down are usually green)

The DNR states on its website that "dozens of waters statewide experience harmful algal blooms fueled by the nutrient, posing a health threat to people, pets and livestock. Over the past 3 years, 98 people have reported health complaints related to such blooms. Recent statewide stream assessment data suggests that thousands of streams may have excess phosphorus levels. In addition to decreasing the dissolved oxygen that fish and other aquatic creatures need to survive, such excess phosphorus causes major changes in lake and stream food webs, which ultimately result in fewer fish and fish predators." 

In mid-June the Department of Natural Resources issued its first advisory of the summer, Bergquist writes. The DNR said blue-green algae containing the toxin microcystin began turning up in Lake Winnebago, which is a source of drinking water for Appleton, Neenah, Menasha and Oshkosh. "The agency's advice to adults: If you're standing knee-deep in water and can't see your feet, stay out; and keep children and pets out of the water, too. The most common reported symptoms are rashes, stomach ailments and respiratory irritation."

"Between 2009 and 2011, Dunn County in northwestern Wisconsin reported 26 cases of algae-related illnesses from a single, problem-plagued lake, Tainter Lake, according to the DNR and Department of Health Services," Bergquist writes. "In Adams County, there were 20 illnesses reported from exposure on the Petenwell Flowage; 12 illnesses in Dane County at Lakes Mendota and Kegonsa, and seven illnesses in Winnebago County on Lake Winnebago." (Read more)

Nonprofit's magazine in Michigan explores rural hardships such as poverty and homelessness

Bridge, a magazine published by The Center for Michigan, has been running a series exploring the hardships facing rural Michigan residents. "The statistics are sobering, with many rural communities struggling with moribund economies, mediocre schools and searing poverty, as well as difficulty accessing basic services like medical specialists, public transportation and broadband Internet access," writes Editor David Zeman. "Compounding these challenges is a decline in political clout in Lansing, as more people move to metropolitan areas." (Map: Poverty-rate ranges by county) 

One story takes a look at a rural charter school that closed its doors. "When fourth grader Ian Matthews heard his school would close the end of the last academic year, he said he asked his principal, 'Why do they want to break people’s hearts?'," Pat Shellenbarger writes. "For Ian and more than 150 other students, Threshold Academy, a charter in rural Ionia County, had been a refuge from the constant reminders in other schools that they were different because their families were poor. More than 90 percent of Threshold students qualified for a free or reduced-price lunch."

Another story looks at Lake County, one of the poorest regions in the state. "Robert Traviss’s house, if you can call it that, is an old camper trailer he shares with two Chihuahuas named Spaz and Boots," Shellenbarger writes. "The trailer is parked in the side yard of the home, now rotting away, where he grew up. A second camper trailer, even older, is in the front yard and is filled with the tools he used before a stroke left him disabled. From the camper’s door, Traviss, 55, can look across fields, where deer graze. If he steps outside with his walker and surveys the neighborhood, he sees poverty – rural poverty, the kind that is little noticed by much of the nation. He used to be a machinist and a tool and die maker, but now, since the stroke, his only income is from Social Security disability."

Other stories focus on a 22-year-old panhandler who has been on his own since he was 14, communities trying to craft restrictions on panhandling, being poor in the state’s most affluent county (Livingston) and homeless students in Montcalm, Ionia, Isabella and Gratiot counties – four largely rural regions in Central Michigan. (Read more) The center, a nonprofit, says its objective is "to make Michigan a better place by by encouraging greater understanding and involvement in policy issues among the state’s citizens and making sure their voices are regularly heard."

Midwest, South battling Roundup-resistant weeds; more genetically designed crops coming

Genetically mutated, seemingly indestructible weeds that are the direct result of overuse of a herbicide are causing headaches for Midwestern and Southern farmers, who are constantly fighting the destructive intruders, which are immune to drought and heat and grow up to six inches in diameter, "thick enough to damage farm equipment," Mike Wines reports for The New York Times. "Botanists call the weed palmer amaranth. But perhaps the most fitting, if less known, name is carelessweed. In barely a decade, it has devastated Southern cotton farms and is poised to wreak havoc in the Midwest — all because farmers got careless." (NYT photo by Daniel Acker: Uprooting a carelessweed)

"Palmer, as farmers nicknamed it, is the most notorious of a growing number of weeds that are immune to the gold standard of herbicides, glyphosate," Wines writes. "Cheap, comparatively safe and deadly to many weeds, glyphosate has been a favorite ever since the Monsanto Co. introduced it under the name Roundup in the mid-1970s. After Monsanto began selling crops genetically engineered to resist glyphosate in the 1990s, the herbicide’s use soared," Wines writes. But overuse of glyphosate opened the door to 16 different glyphosate-resisting genetic mutations.

“There’s no substantive argument about whether the problem’s gotten far worse in this era of genetically resistant crops,” Charles Benbrook, a professor and pesticide expert at Washington State University, told Wines. “The advent of herbicide-tolerant crops made it possible for farmers to load up so much herbicide on one crop that it was inevitable that it would develop resistance.”

"Palmer amaranths seem as if they were designed by nature to outwit herbicides and farmers," Wines writes. "Unlike many weeds, it has male and female versions, increasing genetic diversity — and the chances of a herbicide-resistant mutation — in each new seed. And each plant is astonishingly prolific, producing up to 200,000 seeds in an average field, said Dave Mortensen, a professor of weed and plant ecology at Pennsylvania State University." Mortensen told Wines, “If one out of millions or billions of seeds contains a unique trait that confers resistance to herbicide, it doesn’t take long when a plant is that fecund for it to become the dominant gene.”

"The industry has readied a new barrage of genetically engineered crops that tolerate other weed killers," Wines writes. The Environmental Protection Agency is set to approve plans by Dow AgroSciences to sell soybean seeds that tolerate not only glyphosate, but a much older herbicide, 2,4-D, and a third widely used herbicide, glufosinate. Monsanto hopes to market soybeans and cotton next year that resist dicamba." Experts say the companies are just repeating the history that made palmers resistant to glyphosate, but farmers say it's worth it if it buys them time before they face another wrath of weed infestation. (Read more)

Pilot program in Bhutan could foreshadow future of using drones to improve rural medical care

Could drones be used to improve rural health care? Matternet, "a Silicon Valley startup, is piloting a low-cost,  drone-based delivery project in the remote Himalayan nation of Bhutan that could save lives in far-flung rural communities—and perhaps pioneer the system globally," Devjyot Ghoshal and Daniel A. Medina report for Quartz, part of Atlantic Media. (Matternet photo: a drone in Bhutan)

Bhutan, which has only 3 physicians for every 10,000 people, has 31 hospitals. Its 178 basic clinics and 654 outreach clinics serve a population of more than 700,000, Ghoshal and Medina write. "The challenge is to reach remote mountain communities on time and affordably. ... If pilot projects such as these work out, they could potentially lead to a massive new market for drone-based applications."

Phil Finnegan, an analyst at the Teal Group, a U.S.-based firm that analyzes the aerospace industry, told Quartz, “Essentially, we see a market of civil government and commercial in terms $5.4 billion over the next decade. It’s quite promising, in a lot of areas, not only in humanitarian areas but also in things like agriculture.” (Read more)

If the program works, drones could be used in the U.S. to "deliver needed prescriptions to consumers in rural areas," Katie Williams reports for Healthcare Dive. "And theoretically, home and remote care through drone use could benefit from the increased push for regulations easing the path for telemedicine."

Monday, August 11, 2014

Study of teens' concussions shows a wide range of symptoms, some of them with cause and effect

University of Kentucky researchers have discovered surprising differences in symptoms student athletes experience following a concussion, a particular concern as high-school football season nears.

Lisa Koehl, a doctoral candidate in the university's Department of Psychology, and Dan Han, director of the Multidisciplinary Concussion Program at UK HealthCare, drew from a UK database of patients with brain injury and drew a sample of 37 athletes aged 12 to 17.

Koehl said in a press release that 22 of the 37 participants had emotional symptoms after suffering concussions. Among those with such symptoms, 23 percent also had sensitivity to light, while 14 percent had sensitivity to noise. Of the teens who did not have emotional symptoms, 13 percent had light sensitivity, but none of them had noise sensitivity.

Han said said participants who reported anxiety were 55 percent more inclined to have attention difficulties than those who didn't report anxiety. Teens who were irritable or aggressive were 35 percent more likely to report issues with attention those those who were not irritable.

The two groups did not show differences in how many experienced "loss of consciousness, amnesia, nausea and/or headaches, indicating that the groups were likely comparable in the level of the severity of concussion," the press release says.

Koehl said the research helped them understand how physical and emotional symptoms in concussion patients interact, with each causing the other in different cases. "Identifying factors that affect a teen's experience after concussion may help in planning for the appropriate treatment and in making decisions about when to return to play and what accommodations are needed at school during recovery," Han said. (Read more)

Despite threat from toxic algae blooms to public water supplies, no national testing standards exist

Last week excessive algae growth from phosphorus runoff turned Lake Erie water toxic and led officials to advise 500,000 Toledo residents to steer clear of drinking water. Ohio officials responded with a measure that requires farmers to get fertilizer licenses, in an attempt to control farm run-off in water supplies. Officials in Des Moines also expressed concern that their water supplies could easily develop cyanotoxin. (Associated Press photo by Haraz N. Ghanbari: Lake Erie water with algae)

Despite the growing concern, "There are no national standards for algal cyanotoxin in drinking water," Todd Frankel reports for The Washington Post. "U.S. utilities don’t need to test for it. How widespread the toxin is in drinking water is a mystery. Monitoring is voluntary. And even when water companies do look for the toxins, how and when the testing is done varies, opening the door to inconsistent results. The Environmental Protection Agency for years has discussed drafting rules to cover cyanotoxins but hasn’t acted."

"The lack of national standards didn’t cause Toledo’s water crisis," Frankel writes. "But it made the problem  more complicated. It made it harder for people to know whether the water was truly safe for cooking, bathing and drinking. And with these algal blooms predicted to worsen in Lake Erie and other lakes and reservoirs — thanks to a mix of global warming, invasive species and pollution — the issue is expected to pop up more often. Some believe Toledo could be a tipping point."

Algal toxins target the liver, where it can accumulate and clog, causing diarrhea and nausea, Frankel writes. "Dogs have died after ingesting blooms in tainted lakes. So have cows and horses. Human deaths are rare. In 1996, 130 dialysis patients in Brazil were sickened by microcystin-tainted water, and at least 50 died." (Read more)

Publisher in Wash. details how weekly reported news during wildfire-caused power outage

As wildfires continue to burn in central and eastern Washington, the weekly Methow Valley News in Twisp, Wash., found itself right in the heart of the story. Don Nelson, editor and publisher of the newspaper, details how it continued to publish during the crisis. Here are some excerpts from his column.

Don Nelson
"Rural weekly newspapers remain vital to their communities, and as a publisher-editor, it’s my job to keep readers informed and connected around the things that are important to them. So how do you respond when nearly every means of doing that job is wiped out in one superheated burst of flame?

"A couple of weeks ago, what would become the biggest wildfire in Washington state history roared through our remote mountain community and then vaulted beyond it, rampaging with such speed and ferocity that it stunned even the most seasoned firefighters. The only prudent thing to do was get out of the way.

"But more than 300 homes could not. Nor could the major electricity transmission line into the Methow Valley, in northwestern Washington. We all knew the fire was advancing on the power line. But preparing for the expected isn’t necessarily any easier than reacting to the unexpected. Only when the lights went out on a broiling Thursday afternoon did we begin to fully appreciate the implications, chief among them that everyone in the Methow Valley was without power for as long as it would take -- eight days, it turns out -- to reach and repair the downed line. Every home and business in our tourism-dependent valley went dark unless they were among those that had a generator or acquired one. But it went well beyond that.

"So I did the only thing I could. I left town, headed away from one of the biggest news stories in the valley’s history and in my 40-year journalism career. The paper’s designer/social media manager and I both decamped to the west side of the Cascades. With power and Internet access, we were able to use our laptops and cellphones the way Steve Jobs intended us to, and we kept our coverage alive remotely, with Facebook postings.

"We both returned Sunday night, me with a loaned generator and a brand-new LG phone with a Verizon account. On Monday, I fired up the generator. We plugged in several computers, charged our cellphones and went to work. We kept up a steady stream of Facebook posts filed from our cellphones using every scrap of dependable information we could obtain from official and on-the-scene sources. Within days, our informal community weekly had thousands of followers.

"While the generator allowed us to use some of our computers, we were not able to network them, and we still didn’t have Internet access, email or regular phone service. We moved stories, photos and page files around on flash drives -- what journalists used to call a “sneaker net.” I called it a low-tech/high-tech mash-up.

"When we finished Tuesday night, one of our sales associates drove about 100 miles -- much of it through the fire zone -- to the Wenatchee World printing plant with the page files on a flash drive. I held my breath until I knew he had arrived safely. It was just an eight-page paper, but I think it meant a lot to the community to have it show up in mailboxes and at the newsstands. We printed extra copies and sold nearly every one. (Read more) To visit the Methow Valley News, click here.

Russian ban on U.S. poultry hits a $307 million industry; Tyson, cock of the walk, says it can adjust

The conflict between the U.S. and Russia could have major implications on a food export business that accounts for more than $1 billion annually, Roberto Ferdman reports for The Washington Post. Last week Russia said it was suspending food imports from several countries, including the U.S. "in retaliation for sanctions imposed on it by those nations over the past few weeks. The measure, which targets meat, fish, fruit, vegetable and milk products, and will last a year, is expected to hit food supplies and drive up Russian food prices."

Last year U.S. poultry exports to Russia totaled $307 million, or about 7 percent of all U.S. poultry exports, Ferdman notes. Nuts accounted for more than $173 million; the U.S. is the world's largest exporter of pistachio nuts and Russia is the seventh biggest importer of U.S. pistachios. Peanuts don't appear to be included in the ban. (Washington Post graphic)

"American food makers, however, are confident that most of the adjustments they will have to make in the aftermath of Russia's suspension of food imports from the United States will be a matter of redistribution, not downsizing," Ferdman writes. Tyson Foods public relations manager Worth Sparkman told Ferdman, "We're disappointed about the loss of the Russian market, but don't expect the pact to be significant since the volume we ship there can be absorbed by other global markets." (Read more)

Study says Keystone XL would raise greenhouse-gas emissions four times more than top federal estimate

A study published in the journal Nature Climate Change says the controversial Keystone XL pipeline could increase greenhouse-gas by as much as 110 million metric tons every year, about four times more than the maximum estimate of the State Department, Neela Banerjee reports for the Los Angeles Times. (Washington Post graphic)

In February the department estimated that the pipeline, "which would ultimately carry 830,000 barrels of oil daily, could increase emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases by 1.3 million to 27.4 million metric tons annually," Banerjee writes. Authors of the study say their numbers are higher are because "We account for the changes in global oil consumption resulting from increasing oil-sands production levels, whereas the State Department does not.” 

"The study’s authors based their calculation on the premise that increased supplies of petroleum through the pipeline would push down global oil prices marginally, and that would lead to an increase in consumption and thus pollution," Banerjee writes. The study said, "We find that for every barrel of increased production, global oil consumption would increase 0.6 barrels owing to the incremental decrease in global oil prices." (Read more)

In April the department said it was delaying its final decision on the pipeline until it could get a better idea on how legal challenges to the route in Nebraska will be settled. A judge said in February that when legislators allowed Gov. Dave Heineman to decide the route, rather than the Nebraska Public Service Commission, they violated the state constitution.

N.M. horse slaughterhouse project is officially dead

The owner of a proposed horse slaughterhouse in New Mexico said his four-year battle to open the packing plant for export horsemeat is over, Emily Younger reports for KRQE in Albuquerque. On Thursday the lawyer for Valley Meat "submitted a letter to the New Mexico Environmental Department withdrawing the plant’s application for a ground water discharge permit. The permit, which would allow the plant to discharge animal waste, is a must for the plant to operate."

A New Mexico judge repeatedly extended a restraining order against the business, in response to a lawsuit filed by Attorney General Gary King. The Senate Appropriations Committee's agriculture appropriations bill includes an amendment prohibiting the U.S. Department of Agriculture from inspecting horse slaughterhouses, which would block production and exports. (Read more)