Friday, June 05, 2015

Denton, Texas residents stage protests to fight fracking; at least seven arrested in demonstrations

Despite a decision by Texas state lawmakers to restrict local fracking regulations, residents of Denton—which voted in November 2014 to ban the practice—are still fighting to keep fracking out of their town. Protests have been going on all week, and at least seven people have been arrested during demonstrations at a Vantage Energy fracking site that resumed operations. (Don't Frack With Denton photo by David Goodman: University of North Texas professor Adam Briggle was arrested this week for criminal trespass after he refused to move from blocking the entrance to a Vantage Energy gas well site in Denton)

Residents also flooded Tuesday's Denton City Council meeting to urge local politicians "to postpone repealing the city’s ban on hydraulic fracturing, saying the action was too drastic," Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe reports for the Denton Record-Chronicle. Pauline Raffestin, one of many volunteers who campaigned for the ban, told the council, “Please don’t rush to overturn a democratic vote in the name of a legal strategy."

One of those arrested this week was University of North Texas environmental philosophy professor Adam Briggle. Briggle and two other protestors sat in front of the Vantage site, blocking entrance, and were charged with criminal trespass, Candice Bernd reports for Truthout. Briggle told Bernd, "Maybe it's not even civil disobedience. But I also realize though, that it's something that has to be taken very seriously . . . Something has to rise to a certain level to warrant an act of defiance, and I feel like there's a lot of ingredients that go into that, but one of them is: Have you exhausted all other pathways by which to change things and accomplish justice?"

Despite previous reports, global warming is not slowing down, NOAA researchers say

Global warming trends have been higher during the 21st Century than previously reported, says a study by researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Centers for Environmental Information. The study, published this week in the journal Science, found "that the rate of global warming during the last 15 years has been as fast as or faster than that seen during the latter half of the 20th Century," reports NOAA.

"The study refutes the notion that there has been a slowdown or 'hiatus' in the rate of global warming in recent years," reports NOAA. "The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report, released in stages between September 2013 and November 2014, concluded that the upward global surface temperature trend from 1998­­-2012 was markedly lower than the trend from 1951-2012."

Improvements in studying sea surface temperature and land surface air temperature datasets, along with the fact that 2014 was the hottest year on record, contradicts the IPCC data, reports NOAA. New analyses "demonstrate that incomplete spatial coverage also led to underestimates of the true global temperature change previously reported in the 2013 IPCC report. The integration of dozens of data sets has improved spatial coverage over many areas, including the Arctic, where temperatures have been rapidly increasing in recent decades." (Read more) (NOAA graphic)

Livability ranks its Top 100 Best Small Towns in America; Lebanon, N.H., is at the top of the list

Lebanon, N.H., (right) is the best small town in America, according to Livability's inaugural list of the Top 100 Best Small Towns for towns with populations between 1,000 to 20,000. Towns were ranked based on eight categories: economy; health care; housing; social and civic capital; education; amenities; demographics and infrastructure.

Towns were judged by access to schools, hospitals, culture, recreation, transportation, arts, overall crime rate, climate and environment. Also considered were affordability, choices that make the town liveable for people of all ages and interests and whether or not residents utilized all the opportunities available.

Rounding out the top 10 are: Los Alamos, N.M.; Durango, Colo.; St. Augustine, Fla.; Bar Harbor, Maine; Louisville, Colo.; Hood River, Ore.; Spearfish, S.D.; Sebastopol, Calif.; and Port Angeles, Wash. To see the entire list, click here.

Meth-related arrests, seizures have increased 50% in rural South Dakota in last 10 years

Meth-related arrests in South Dakota are up 50 percent in the last decade, and the amount of meth seized in rural counties has also doubled in the past 10 years, Mark Walker reports for the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls. Last year the state's rural counties had 350 meth-related arrests, with eight counties recording meth arrests for the first time.

Some rural law enforcement departments not used to seeing meth are ill-equipped to fight it, Walker writes. Buffalo County sheriff Wayne Willman, who told Walker that "meth is continuing to be a greater and greater problem" in his county, "said his department doesn't have specific drug officers and the county doesn't have the resources needed for rehabbing users and sellers."

State lawmakers did pass legislation in 2014 to use the National Precursor Law Exchange, "an electronic version of the record keeping that already was required to aid real-time tracking of pseudoephedrine products," Walker writes. (Meth statistics in all of South Dakota)

White House, conservationists, gardeners launch initiative to plant 1 million pollinator gardens

First Lady Michelle Obama announced on Wednesday that the White House has joined forces with conservationists and gardening organizations to launch the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge, Juliet Eilperin reports for The Washington Post. "The initiative, which features more than a million seed kits donated by W. Atlee Burpee & Co., aims to expand the amount of habitat available for species that pollinate fruit and vegetable crops nationwide."

As part of the challenge, dozens of conservationist and gardening organizations announced the formation of the National Pollinator Garden Network, created "to provide resources for individuals, community groups, government agencies and the garden industry to create more pollinator habitat through sustainable gardening practices and conservation efforts," reports Agri-Pulse. The organization is challenging the nation to plant one million pollinator gardens by the end of 2016.

Pot farmer gets life for killing migrant worker who was unhappy with lack of pay, working conditions

A northern California marijuana farmer this week was sentenced to life in prison with an additional 35 years for murdering a Guatemalan migrant worker and attempting to kill another one because the workers threatened to quit over poor working conditions, Will Houston reports for the Eureka Times-Standard. Mikal Wilde was found guilty of premeditated first-degree murder for shooting one worker three times then tracking him down to kill him with a fourth shot. Another worker, who survived, was shot twice. The third worker escaped unharmed. (U.S. Beacon map: The murder was in Kneeland, Calif.)

Federal prosecutors said Wilde, who since 2010 has run an 800-acre, 1,500-plant operation, didn't pay his workers because he held a “belief that [the immigrant workers] were expendable, not in a position to complain," Tim Devaney reports for The Hill. Prosecutors said “The defendant preyed on their status and viewed them as free labor that could not stand up to him.” (Read more)

North Carolina lawmakers override governor's veto of ag-gag bill that punishes undercover workers

North Carolina lawmakers on Wednesday voted to override Republican Gov. Pat McCrory's veto of an ag-gag bill that targets undercover investigations of farms and workplace conditions, Colin Campbell reports for the Charlotte Observer. "The bill will create a recourse in civil court for business owners to sue employees who use their positions to secretly take photographs or shoot video in their workplace. It could also be used to sue workers who steal data, documents or merchandise; it’s aimed at small-time thieves and corporate spies."

The House voted to override the bill by a 79 to 36 count and the Senate by a 32 to 15 count, Campbell writes. Both branches are Republican-controlled. Under the bill, which goes into effect next week, employers could sue for punitive damages of $5,000 a day in addition to compensation for actual damages.

The bill's sponsor Rep. John Szoka (R-Fayetteville) said McCrory’s concerns are unfounded, Campbell writes. Szoka told Campbell. “I don’t want to discourage any good employees of any industry from reporting illegal activities to the proper authorities. I think we can all agree the proper authorities are law enforcement and state and federal regulatory agencies—and not the media and not private special interest organizations.” (Read more)

Fracking poses risk to drinking water; no evidence of widespread damage, but industry shields data

While horizontal hydraulic fracturing operations have the potential to harm drinking water, no evidence exists showing that the practice causes widespread damage to drinking water supplies, says a study by the Environmental Protection Agency. The study "linked fracking to a few cases of water pollution but said the problems appeared so far to be isolated," Joby Warrick reports for The Washington Post. "It cautioned that a number of fracking-related activities carry a future risk of polluting wells and aquifers used for drinking and farming."

EPA reported that the number of documented cases is small compared to the number of fracking operations, but EPA said the oil and gas industry refused to provide researchers with key data that prevented "experts from reaching firm conclusions about whether contaminants in an individual well came from fracking or another source." The report did say that fracking operations “have the potential” to affect drinking water. "Opponents and supporters of fracking instantly seized on portions of the report that supported their view," Warrick writes.

The report "provides information about potential vulnerabilities, some of which are not unique to hydraulic fracturing, to drinking water resources but was not designed to be a list of documented impacts," Daniel Enoch reports for Agri-Pulse. Vulnerabilities are: water withdrawals in areas with low water availability; hydraulic fracturing conducted directly into formations containing drinking water resources; inadequately cased or cemented wells resulting in below ground migration of gases and liquids; inadequately treated wastewater discharged into drinking water resources; and spills of hydraulic fluids and hydraulic fracturing wastewater, including flowback and produced water.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Disability benefits restored, pending new hearings, for 900 who used lawyer implicated in fraud

Acting Social Security Commissioner Carolyn Colvin lifted payment suspensions for 900 disability benefit recipients in Eastern Kentucky and adjoining areas until they get a hearing before an administrative law judge, Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers, the region's congressman and chair of the House Appropriations Commitee, announced today.

"We are all determined to bring fraud to a rapid conclusion, and if it exists, it needs to be handled appropriately," Rogers said in a press release. "But this is the American way; you are innocent until you are proven guilty. Now our people will be able to pay bills and purchase the everyday items they need while they await the hearing they deserve."

The suspensions resulted from a federal fraud investigation of a Floyd County attorney, some area physicians and a Social Security administrative law judge who retired under fire a few years ago. The agency notified 900 people that their disability benefits had been suspended, and 600 other people were told their Supplemental Security Income would continue only until their eligibility could be examined again. Now the 10-day window to provide medical records has been extended to 30 days, Colvin said.

"Suspending benefits could have left hundreds of people in Eastern Kentucky with little or no income for a year or more," Bill Estep reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. "That had caused fears about people not being able to afford food or medicine or losing their homes. The loss of benefits might even have played a role in at three suicides." Rogers told Estep that in his meeting with Colvin, "I was rather blunt that this is a matter of life and death."

The area may be the nation's most dependent on disability payments, as indicated by this map. Click on it for a larger version.

Despite opposition to EPA's CO2 limits, most states are making plans to comply with rules

Despite strong opposition to the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed rules to cut carbon-dioxide emissions from existing power plants 30 percent by 2030, EPA says most states are making plans to comply with the rules and expects 49 states to submit plans once the rules are finalized, Naveena Sadasivam reports for InsideClimate News as part of the series Coal's Long Goodbye.

Twelve states have sued EPA, "claiming the rule is unlawful and amounts to a federal power grab," Sadasivam writes. "And at least half a dozen other states have set up legislative hurdles for the environmental agencies in charge of putting together a compliance plan. Yet, the vast majority of state agencies charged with drafting a compliance plan have sidestepped these political fights and begun work on plans that might meet the EPA’s carbon reduction targets."

Ken Colburn, a senior associate at The Regulatory Assistance Project, a nonprofit providing technical assistance on energy and the environment, told Sadasivam, "Even the reddest states have recognized that while the political leadership may want to go ahead with challenging the rule, if those challenges don't prevail, the governors will come back and say, 'We lost, now what are we going to do?' It would be irresponsible for the agencies to not have a Plan B developed." (InsideClimate News graphic)
The Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental group, "found that 31 states are well on their way to meet the EPA's interim targets," Sadasivam writes. One of the hurdles for coal states is that they have little experience cutting emissions, but getting educated is not hard, Sadasivam writes. "A host of national organizations, consulting firms and regional utility and environmental associations have been holding talks and workshops to evaluate models, discuss options and engage with groups affected by the energy transition."

"Last month the National Association of Clean Air Agencies released an encyclopedia of options that states could pursue to meet their targets," Sadasivam writes. "The report explores 25 approaches to reduce carbon emissions and discusses their regulatory impact, reduction in carbon levels and costs . . . The National Governors Association has also launched an initiative to help states study ways to comply with the carbon regulations." (Read more)

Unlikely partnerships forming in Ohio and Michigan to combat harmful algae in Great Lakes

The fight to rid the Great Lakes of phosphorus runoff blamed for harmful algae growth has created a partnership between "Ohio and Michigan farmers—the parties who’ve shouldered the blame for the algae blooms—to control the source of the contamination and prevent another water crisis from happening this summer," reports Agri-Pulse. (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration photo: Harmful algae on the shore of Catawaba Island, Ohio)

Last August toxic algae took the blame for Toledo losing its drinking water for two days. In response, Ohio officials passed a measure requiring farmers to get fertilizer licenses, but some fear the law has a loophole that benefits large manure users. The Great Lakes Commission said in September 2014 that it wants to reduce phosphorus flowing into Lake Erie by 40 percent.

Jay Martin, a faculty member at Ohio State Univeristy, "told a 'Toledo Water Crisis' forum audience last week that farmers, universities and city officials were working together to minimize the nutrient load responsible for feeding the toxic algae from reaching Lake Erie," Agri-Pulse reports.

"These public private collaborations might seem unusual because of the tendency among some stakeholders to assign blame for the conditions," Agri-Pulse says. "But Jack Fisher, executive vice president of the Ohio Farm Bureau, says farmers have long accepted part of the responsibility. He said it's no longer time to point fingers but to "figure out what needs to be done and work together."

Terry McClure, vice chair of the Ohio Soybean Council board, said farmers in Ohio "have 'started with the basics,' employing conservation practices like buffer strips and nutrient management plans, and are doing their part to understand exactly how much nutrient is escaping their fields by participating in university-led field edge studies."

McClure also told Agri-Pulse, “We have 32 sites across the state of Ohio that are doing true field edge testing, surface and sub-surface water concurrently, to understand 24/7/365 exactly what’s leaving that farm. From an ag perspective, it’s an all-hands-on-deck issue. So once you recognize you’re a part of the problem—and we can argue if we’re 30, 40, 50 percent [of the problem]—[but even] if you’re 30 percent of the problem, you need to be a part of the solution."

A second unlikely couple in southeast Michigan—"an agribusiness group and The Nature Conservancy—have teamed up to prevent farm-sourced nutrient and sediment pollution from ending up in Lake Huron, another of the Great Lakes," Agri-Pulse reports. They "enlsted the help of Michigan State University, which runs the Institute for Water Research that developed the Great Lakes Watershed Management System."

Conservation ambassadors will use the system to identify the fields that are particularly vulnerable to sediment and nutrient runoff based on the individual parcel’s soil composition, slope, crop rotation and other management practices," Agri-Pulse reports. "The tool also allows the user to model how the ecological benefit of different types of conservation practices—for instance cover crops, no-till or reduced till and buffer strips—will have on a specific plot of land, across a farm or even on a landscape-scale." Agri-Pulse is subscription-only but offers a four-week free trial.

Health passes manufacturing as biggest employer in largest share of counties; local data on map

Manufacturing, long a staple of many rural areas, is no longer the nation's major private employer by category, Tim Henderson reports for Stateline. Manufacturing employed the most people in about 30 percent of counties in 2008, but employed the most in only 25 percent in 2013.

At the same time, health care becoame the biggest employer in almost 33 percent of counties. One argument for expansion of Medicaid under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in states with income taxes is that the expansion can pay for itself by expanding health-care employment. Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear cites a study showing that is happening in his state.

"In every state but Hawaii, the health-care category, which includes 'social assistance' jobs such as day care and food bank workers, became the No. 1 source of employment in at least one county," Henderson writes. Stateline's story has an interactive map: here's a screen grab with data for a large Kentucky county. For your own version, click here)

Mineworkers union president urges members to lobby against natural gas plants, emission rules

Cecil Roberts
United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts told several hundred members on Wednesday in Morgantown, W.Va., "to lobby against new natural-gas power plants and rally around other political battles as the union reels from the loss of coal-mining jobs in Appalachia and threats to benefits plans for thousands of retirees," Kris Maher reports for The Wall Street Journal.

Roberts told the miners, “Our members are being laid off in numbers we haven’t seen in decades . . . If these gas-powered plants get built in West Virginia, don’t expect to have a coal-mining job in West Virginia. We’re cutting each other’s throats.”

Roberts "urged members to get more politically active to back federal legislation from coal-state lawmakers to delay the implementation of emission rules proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency and to shore up a union plan that pays out about $600 million a year in health benefits to 97,000 retirees and dependents," Maher writes.

"The union says more than 15,000 coal miners have lost their jobs in Appalachia since 2011, including what Roberts said was up to 2,000 UMWA members in the past several years alone," Maher writes. "Thousands of other jobs at companies that supply mines with fuel and supplies have also been laid off."

Roberts also said that if the bankruptcy judge handling the Patriot Coal case allows the labor contract with UMWA to be terminated, the union would strike, Maher writes. Roberts told miners, “If the judge says our contracts are terminated, we’re going to shut that company down."

Working mothers make less than working fathers in every state, women lawyers' study says

While working women make 78 cents for every dollar men earn, mothers who work full-time make only 70 cents per dollar earned by fathers who work full-time, says a study by the National Women's Law Center. The gap is even bigger in some states with large rural popuations, led by Louisiana, where working mothers make 58.2 cents for every dollar working men make.

Other such states where the gap is bigger than 30 cents per every dollar are Mississippi, Alabama, Virginia, West Virginia, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Idaho, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts. The smallest gap is in California, where working mothers make 76.4 cents for every dollar working fathers make. Arkansas is second at 74.6, followed by Oregon and Florida, at 74.5.

The largest overall wage gap was in New Jersey, where working fathers make $25,000 more annually than mothers, Danielle Paquette reports for The Washington Post. In six other states fathers made more than $20,000 a year more than women: Alaska ($21,000), Utah ($21,000), Wyoming ($22,000), Massachusetts ($23,000), Louisiana ($23,000), Connecticut ($25,000). (National Women's Law Center map: For an interactive version click here)
Researchers wrote: “Stereotypes about mothers and fathers contribute to this disparity. Mothers are recommended for significantly lower starting salaries, perceived as less competent and are less likely to be recommended for hire than non-mothers.”

"The psychological impact of receiving less pay for equal work can be devastating," Paquette writes.  "Expectant mothers, anticipating judgement amid an otherwise joyful time, sometimes hide their bellies for as long as possible—or plunge into overdrive at work to combat the stereotype, often at the expense of their health."

Four African Americans in rural Miss. charged with disturbing the peace for celebrating at graduation

Four African Americans in rural northwest Mississippi were asked to leave a high school graduation and have been charged with disturbing the peace for celebrating a family member's graduation from Senatobia Junior/Senior High School, Michael Quander reports for WREG-TV in Memphis. (City-Data map: Senatobia, Miss.)

Senatobia Municipal School District Supt. Jay Foster told audience members before the graduation to hold applause and cheers until the end of the ceremony or they would be asked to leave, Quander reports. When Lanarcia Walker received her diploma, her mother Linda said she yelled, "You did it, baby," and her aunt said she called out her name. They were two of four family members immediately asked to leave.

But it didn't end there. Foster filed the disturbing-the-peace charges and officers issued arrest warrants with a possible $500 bond. Henry Walker, one of the four people charged, told Quander, “It’s crazy. The fact that I might have to bond out of jail, pay court costs, or a $500 fine for expressing my love—it’s ridiculous, man. It’s ridiculous.” Foster called the charges far from ridiculous, saying he's determined to have order at graduation ceremonies. (Read more)

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Most Americans could be fed by food grown and raised within 50 miles, study says

Most areas of the U.S. could feed between 80 to 100 percent of the local population with food grown or raised within 50 miles, says a study by the University of California, Merced, Ana Ibarra reports for the Merced Sun-Star. The study was published Monday in the science journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

Researchers, who looked at farms near every major population center in the U.S. from 1850 to 2000, compared the potential calorie production to the city’s population to determine the percentage of regional population that could be fed, Ibarra writes. Researchers, who said they expect data from 2000 to 2015 to yield similar results, said that large agricultural areas such as Merced, Fresno and Sacramento have the farmland to feed 100 percent of their population, while a metro area like New York City could feed 5 percent of the population within 50 miles and 30 percent within 100 miles. (UC Merced graphic)
Researchers said the study’s findings "allow for longtime development of land preservation so that food production stays intact," Ibarra writes. "Policies and careful planning are needed to protect farmland suburbanization and to encourage local farming."

Diet can make a difference in the results, researchers said, Ibarra writes. "For example, local food around San Diego can support 35 percent of the people based on the U.S. diet. This jumps to 51 percent of the population if people switched to plant-based diets, the study showed." (Read more)

Europe's fight against climate change damaging U.S. forests, endangering local wildlife

A growing European demand for fuel made from American trees has created jobs aplenty in the Southeast but could also "lead to more carbon pollution for decades to come, while also putting some of the East Coast’s most productive wildlife habitats at risk," Joby Warrick reports for The Washington Post. (Warrick photo: The remains of a site in northeastern North Carolina where trees were chopped down to be used for fuel)

Soaring demand for fuel made from oak and poplar trees "has led to the construction of more than two dozen pellet factories in the Southeast in the past decade, along with special port facilities in Virginia and Georgia where mountains of pellets are loaded onto Europe-bound freighters," Warrick writes. "European officials promote the trade as part of the fight against climate change. Burning 'biomass' from trees instead of coal, they say, means fewer greenhouse gases in the atmosphere."

"But that claim is increasingly coming under challenge," Warrick writes. "A number of independent experts and scientific studies—including a new analysis released Tuesday—are casting doubt on a key argument used to justify the cutting of Southern forests to make fuel." A study last month by the Natural Resources Defense Council found that the practice “can increase carbon emissions relative to fossil fuels for many decades—anywhere from 35 to 100 years.”

William H. Schlesinger, the former dean of Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences and one of nearly 100 scientists to sign a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency last year asking for stricter guidelines on using biomass to generate electric power, told Warrick, “From the point of view of what’s coming out of the smokestack, wood is worse than coal. You release a lot of carbon in a short period of time, and it takes decades to pull that carbon back out of the atmosphere.”

The pellet makers and their supporters "dismiss the criticisms, saying their industry will help lower greenhouse gas emissions over time, in part by giving landowners an incentive to plant still more trees," Warrick writes. Gretchen Schaefer, spokeswoman for the National Alliance of Forest Owners, a trade group, told him, “Healthy markets have contributed to a 50 percent increase in volume of trees since the 1950s, which help offset 15 percent of U.S. carbon emissions annually."

Exports of wood pellets doubled between 2012 and 2014, from 2 million tons to 4.4 million, "and climate policies are expected to drive even higher increases over the next decade, Warrick writes. "After surpassing Canada in 2012, the U.S. 'continues to be the largest wood pellet exporter in the world,' an April report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration stated." (Read more)

Hemp History Week continues through Sunday

It's Hemp History Week. The 6th annual weekly celebration of hemp began on Monday and runs through Sunday. The website, Hemp History Week, says the event was created to celebrate the nation's history of hemp, advocate for federal policy change and show consumers the nutritional and environmental benefits of hemp.

In 2014 the nation's first legal hemp crops since 1970 were planted at the University and Kentucky and Western Kentucky University.

"Last year saw a great deal of progress for the industry after pro-hemp provisions were included in the 2014 farm bill, Eric Steenstra, president of the advocacy group Vote Hemp, said at a briefing on Capitol Hill last week," reports Agri-Pulse. "Steenstra said sales for food and beauty products, which have the most reliable sales information, jumped about 21 percent in 2014 to nearly $200." The Hemp Industries Association "estimates all hemp-related products saw sales of over $600 million."

"Since hemp contains trace amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—the hallucinogen found in marijuana—it is still classified as an illegal drug under the Controlled Substances Act," Agri-Pulse writes. "That classification makes it difficult to get seeds for the crop even in the 20 states with some form of industrial hemp legalization."

"Gregg Baumbaugh, CEO of FlexForm, an Indiana-based company that uses hemp and other lightweight fibers to make car interiors, said at the briefing that further legalization efforts stateside would make it easier for his company to keep supplied with hemp fibers, which would speed up production and allow his company and many others that use hemp domestically to expand. Baumbaugh said, "The number is mind-boggling to think how much the growth potential could be." Agri-Pulse is subscription-only, but offers a four-week free trial.

Three $20,000 grants available for projects that address childhood agricultural disease and injury

The National Children’s Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety is accepting proposals for $20,000 grants to support small-scale projects and pilot studies that address prevention of childhood agricultural disease and injury," says a news release. Three grants will be awarded to individuals affiliated with community-based organizations, public or private institutions, units of local or state government or tribal government.

Priority will be given to grants that: "Address issues pertaining to barriers, motivators and interventions for keeping young children out of the farm worksite; address vulnerable populations; and test safety strategies with new partners. The application deadline is Aug. 17. (Read more)

American Electric Power closes 10 coal-fired power plants in five states; cites EPA rules for closings

American Electric Power on Monday announced it has closed 10 coal-fired power plants in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia, citing proposed rules to cut CO2 emissions for the closings. Before the end of 2016, AEP also plans to turn off two more plants, in Oklahoma and Texas, Casey Junkins reports for The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register. The company said it would spend as much as $3.3 billion through 2020 to comply with the new rules. (Bluefield Daily Telegraph photo: The plant in Glen Lyn, Va. was closed)

The West Virginia Public Service Commission has ordered Appalachian Power to turn over more information regarding the closure of the state's three coal-fired power plants, including the potential costs of converting the plants to natural gas or other alternative fuels," Jared Hunt reports for the Charleston Daily Mail. "The commission has also ordered the company to avoid doing anything that would prevent the plants from reopening in the future during its inquiry."

Appalachian Power spokesperson Jeri Matheney said that of the 690 employees that worked at the West Virginia plants in 2011, 305 now have jobs at other American Electric Power locations, Hunt writes. "She said 135 workers left the company between 2011 and 2015 while 250 have or are in the process of taking severance packages from the company."

Poor market conditions keeping Alliance from bringing 5 million short tons of coal online

"Poor market conditions are preventing Alliance Resource Partners from bringing online nearly 5 million (short ton) of thermal coal this year at several operations, according to Joseph Craft III, the company's president and CEO," Bob Matyi reports for Platts McGraw Hill Financial.

Craft told the National Association of Publicly Traded Partnerships in a webcast, "Production is pretty much flat because of current market conditions. We have investments at the new Gibson South mine that we haven't brought to full capacity. We have 4.7 million (short ton) we could bring online that the market has not allowed, and we had anticipated doing this year." He said the company would cut production by about 700,000 short ton for the remainder of 2015 to more closely align output with continuing weak demand.

Despite those numbers and the closure of coal-fired plants because of proposed rules to cut CO2 emissions for the closings, Craft said he felt there are "continued opportunities to invest in the coal business because it will continue to be the dominant supplier of fuel to the electric utility industry," Matyi writes.

Craft said, "In terms of what plants that will be left, we know we have the opportunity to supply those plants for at least 15 to 20 years. The primary issue going forward now will be the economy and natural gas prices." He said proposed rules will not have much impact on coal "for at least the next decade." (Read more)

Rural North Carolina pastor delivers anti-gay message to graduating seniors

A pastor in rural North Carolina. made national news this week when he told graduating seniors at Kings Mountain High School during a baccalaureate service that if they were homosexual they would go to hell, Sarah Blake-Morgan reports for WBTV 3 in Charlotte. (Best Places map: Kings Mountain, N.C.)

Kings Mountain is a public school, and the service was optional for students. But the remarks still upset and offended parents, Blake-Morgan writes. Parent Chuck Wilson told her, "This is bullying. Bullying doesn't have to happen from the back hallway of a school or a back parking lot. It can happen from the pulpit, it can happen from the stage . . . There are children here. I think there should be some level of responsibility of the speaker coming in to not take advantage of a captive audience . . . It was just simply an inappropriate topic for a baccalaureate service.”

Pastor Scott Carpenter said he has no regrets about his comments, Blake-Morgan writes. He told Blake-Morgan, “Nobody got bashed or anything. All I did was simply speak biblical truth . . . The number one audience that I have to please is God . . . Was I trying to be mean spirited? Absolutely not. Was I trying to hurt somebody's feelings? Absolutely not. I was simply had to do what I had to do as a Christian minister." (Read more)

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Jean Ritchie, a leader of the folk revival, dies at 92; memorial Sunday at Union Church in Berea, Ky.

Jean Ritchie, who helped start a folk-music revival in the mid-20th century and remained an icon of it into the 21st, died Monday at her home in Berea, Ky., at 92.

New York Times photo of Jean Ritchie by Vic DeLucia.
As the youngest of 14 children in Viper, Ky., "Ritchie was a vital link in a chain of oral tradition that stretched back centuries," Margalit Fox reports for The New York Times. "Song was woven seamlessly into every aspect of the Ritchies' daily life." They performed and were known as "The Singing Family of the Cumberlands."

After earning a social-work degree from the University of Kentucky, Ritchie moved to New York but took with her "the Appalachian fretted dulcimer she had learned to play as a girl . . . a stringed instrument plucked with one hand," Fox writes. At the Henry Street Settlement, "She routinely calmed the urban street children in her care with songs from the Cumberlands, which, with their haunting modal melodies and tales of simple pastimes, were so alien as to stun her young charges into submission."

Ritchie drew the attention of renowned record producer Mitch Miller, who got her into commercial recording in 1952. She performed "with some of the best-known names in folk music, including Pete Seeger and Doc Watson," Fox writes. "She was closely associated with the Newport Folk Festival, performing at its inception in 1959 and many times afterward. With her flowing red hair and modest dress, Ms. Ritchie had a quietly striking stage presence. Hers was not a trained voice, but it was a splendidly traditional one: high, sweet, lyrical and plaintive." She wrote original songs, such as "Black Waters," which denounced strip mining in her native state, to which she returned after her husband, filmmaker George Pickow, died in 2010. Using coalfield footage from Appalshop and stills from Ken Murray, Pickow produced a video of Ritchie singing her "Blue Diamond Mines" in 2007.

"She was a source of incredible pride for my people," southeastern Kentucky author Silas House wrote for Appalachian Voices. "Everyone I knew loved Jean Ritchie, and they especially loved the way she represented Appalachian people: with generosity and sweetness, yes. But also with defiance and strength."

Ritchie's honors included, in 2002, a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, "considered the nation’s highest award in the traditional arts," Fox writes. "She was the subject of a 1996 documentary, Mountain Born: The Jean Ritchie Story, available on video from Kentucky Educational Television.

UPDATES, June 3-4: A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. Sunday at Union Church, 200 Prospect St., Berea, with visitation from 2 to 4 p.m. Ritchie's family asks that donations, in lieu of flowers, go to Appalachian Voices, 171 Grand Blvd., Boone NC 28607.

More than 150 companies join White House in agreeing to phase out antibiotics in animals

More than 150 food companies, retailers and human and animal health stakeholders are joining the White House in an effort to combat antibiotic resistance as part of the “White House Forum on Antibiotic Stewardship,” the White House said in a statement. The event will "bring together key human and animal health constituencies involved in antibiotic stewardship—the development, promotion and implementation of activities to ensure the responsible use of antibiotics."

President Barack Obama will sign a memorandum today directing "Federal departments and agencies to create a preference for meat and poultry produced according to responsible antibiotic-use in the meat supply chain by supporting the emerging market for meat produced according to responsible antibiotic-use policies."

The memorandum "directs a three-tiered, phased approach using Federal purchasing authorities to offer options for meats from animals raised according to responsible antibiotic-use policies within Federal agencies’ facilities."

The memorandum includes three phases:
  • Initiating a process within 120 days of issuance of the proposed memorandum to make available meats and poultry from animals raised according to responsible antibiotic-use policies in certain Federal cafeterias. The General Services Administration, which operates a significant number of Federal cafeterias, will lead this approach, although other departments and agencies may join.
  • Broadening the availability of meats and poultry produced according to responsible antibiotic-use policies for sale in all Federal cafeterias serving civilian Federal employees by 2018 for poultry and 2020 for other meats, not solely those operated by GSA.
  • Developing an acquisition strategy for applying a preference by 2020 in Federal acquisitions for meats and poultry produced according to responsible antibiotic-use policies sold or served in all Federal facilities. 
At the same time, Foster Farms "said it plans to largely eliminate from its poultry supplies all antibiotics used to treat human illnesses, adding to chicken companies’ responses to growing health concerns over antibiotic-resistant bacteria," Jacob Bunge reports for The Wall Street Journal.

"Foster Farms is at least the fourth top U.S. poultry company to unveil plans over the past year to reduce or eliminate the use of antibiotics in their chicken supplies, bowing to growing pressure from consumer groups and public-health officials who have argued that the widespread use of antibiotics in commercial livestock and poultry operations has contributed to a rise in bacteria that have become resistant to such drugs," Bunge writes. "Foster Farms is tied for 10th among U.S. chicken producers by pounds produced, according to meat industry publication Watt Poultry USA."

The top two chicken producers, Tyson Farms and Pilgrim's Pride, have previously released plans to phase out antibiotics. Other major companies that said they would make changes are: Perdue, McDonald’s, Chick-fil-A, Panera Bread, Chipotle, Whole Foods and Applegate.

Rural food desert forcing Wisconsin residents to go to Michigan, where state food stamps not valid

Losing its only grocery store last year not only cost residents of rural Hurley, Wisc., (City-Data map) about 30 jobs but also created a food desert, forcing many residents to travel long distances in state or to go across state lines to Michigan to buy food, Danielle Kaeding reports for Wisconsin Public Radio. Driving out of town to another grocery store can be difficult for low-income residents, especially  those who lack the money to pay for gas or don't own a car. Plus, those on the Wisconsin, Infants and Children Program—the state's food stamp program—can't use those dollars out of state.

A spokesperson for a local food pantry said WIC benefits have increased since the grocery store closed, Kaeding writes. That is leading low-income residents to shop for groceries at local gas stations and dollar stores, where the food is cheap but not always nutritious.

Officials in the town of 1,524 have twice applied for and failed to receive a $500,000 Economic Development Corporation grant for "seed money to encourage a developer in Michigan to invest $3.3 million in Hurley’s grocery store," Kaeding writes. Forcing residents to shop in Michigan is also hurting the state's economy, Mayor Joe Pinardi said. He told Kaeding, "It’s $100,000 worth of sales tax revenue that’s not created in Wisconsin because of a grocery store not being there." (Read more)

Series examines coal's bleak future and the battle lines being drawn for and against it

Nearly 200 old coal power plants have closed in the last five years, and dozens more are on the brink of closure, John Cushman Jr. reports for InsideClimate News as part of an ongoing series, Coal's Long Goodbye: Dispatches From the War on Carbon. A previous story focused on how Kentucky—where state lawmakers have strongly opposed proposed rules to cut CO2 emissions—is already nearing compliance with the rules without meaning to.

"When Duke Energy announced a billion-dollar plan to shut down a 50-year-old coal power plant, switching the 376-megawatt site over to cheap natural gas and clean solar, the company proclaimed the 'end of the coal era in Asheville, N.C,'" Cushman writes. "The largest electricity plant in western North Carolina—where Duke has closed half its coal-fired plants in the past five years—burns 700,000 tons of coal each year, some 6,300 rail cars full. Anti-coal campaigners have sought its closure for years."

"Across the industry, old plants like this one are closing under the weight of a broad range of federal regulations and under competitive pressure from natural gas and renewables," Cushman writes. (InsideClimate News map)
The Asheville closure "illustrates just how many forces have been assembled on one side of the so-called war on coal," Cushman writes. "For decades, coal has been fighting for its survival on many different regulatory fronts at once, from limiting climate-warming carbon to lung-scarring pollutants to water-soiling waste. The regulations are often looked at and judged in isolation, but they work in concert, and their combined power has gathered so much force that even Duke, which had resisted ending the use of coal in Asheville, now calls it a 'win-win-win' for the company, the community and the environment."

"At the Asheville plant, Duke said, the links between various pollution targets were plain," Cushman writes. "As gas and solar replace coal there, sulfur dioxide emissions, which environmentalists had complained were hitting unhealthy levels, would go down 90 to 95 percent; nitrogen oxides down 35 percent. Mercury pollution, being regulated for the first time this year, would drop to zero. Water withdrawn from nearby Lake Julian, for cooling, would go down 97 percent, and water discharges would drop 50 percent."

Government estimates say that the carbon dioxide regulations could lead to the closure of an additional 50 gigawatts of coal fired capacity in the next decade, on top of 40 gigawatts that would be expected to close without new controls on carbon, Cushman writes.

Patriot Coal's second declaration of bankruptcy could spell bad news for Appalachia

When Patriot Coal declared bankruptcy last month—the company also declared bankruptcy in 2012—it was "perhaps the clearest signal yet that more stringent federal environmental regulations, coupled with weakened demand for coal as low-priced natural gas has stolen market share, are palpable enough to bring down even the most carefully structured Appalachian producers," Daniel Moore reports for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

"The company’s plan going forward remains unclear," Moore writes. "But news of the bankruptcy sounded an alarm through a region that the [United Mine Workers Association] estimates has lost a staggering 18,000 mining jobs since 2012." UMWA spokesman Phil Smith told Moore, “In the course of any Chapter 11 bankruptcy process, workers come last." He said when those who are owed money from the company line up to get paid, "workers come at the end of that line.”

Patriot, born in 2007, "employed about 4,000 workers who dug more than 31 million tons of coal in 2011," Moore writes. "About three-quarters of that coal was sold to power plants; the rest went to steel mills and independent coke producers that use coal in steelmaking. It attracted more than 80 customers across 15 states and 13 countries." (Patriot Coal map: Patriot Coal operations)

"When Patriot first filed for bankruptcy in 2012, Mark Schroeder, then chief financial officer, wrote in court documents that some customers had canceled or delayed shipments of coal contracted for delivery, affecting 'hundreds of thousands of tons of coal from Patriot at prices favorable to Patriot,'" Moore writes. That led to Patriot slashing 1,000 positions.

Patriot appeared to be making a comeback, in 2013 selling "21.5 million tons of coal—roughly two-thirds of what it sold prior to bankruptcy," Moore writes. "It also shifted focus overseas, with exports growing from 29 percent in 2011 to 48 percent in 2013."

"But the same factors blamed in Patriot’s first bankruptcy were starting to unravel the company again," Moore writes. "In 2013, average sales price of coal fell 7 percent from 2012, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and annual U.S. coal production dipped below 1 billion short tons for the first time in two decades."

U.S. power plants are also struggling to meet new standards on mercury emissions and other pollutants, Moore writes. A switch to cheaper, cleaner natural gas and a decrease in exports to Asia meant that coal accounted for only 33.5 percent of U.S. electricity in March of this year, down from 50 percent in 2005. At the same time, natural gas use has risen from 19 percent to 27 percent. (Read more)

In addition to oil, N.D. also producing high-end caviar; paddlefish boosts many local economies

While North Dakota has experienced a boom with the oil industry, the state is also known for its caviar, which typically sells in local markets for $100 for a four ounce jar, Ernest Scheyder reports for Reuters. (Star Tribune photo by Doug Smith: A paddlefish in Minnesota)

"A distinctly American version of the salty delicacy prized for centuries by Russian czars gets its start each May in the cool waters where the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers converge, the same spot where explorers Lewis and Clark camped two centuries ago," Scheyder writes. "As paddlefish, one of North America's largest freshwater fish, make their way north to spawn, their eggs, or roe, are processed at the water's edge to make more than 2,000 pounds of caviar prized by clients from Tokyo to Toronto to New York."

North Dakota only allows 1,000 to be caught each year, mainly because overfishing has led the population to drop by 50 percent since the 1970s to 50,000, Scheyder writes. "After the paddlefish are weighed and measured (a typical 70 pound female can be at least 20 percent roe), they are sent up a small conveyor into a structure where three sterilized rooms handle three stages in the caviar process: gutting; cleaning and salting; and canning. Only about 50 pounds is sold retail."

North Dakota isn't the only state harvesting paddlefish eggs. Paddlefish also are found in the Mississippi River, where researchers are fitting them with transmitters to track where they swim, reports the Star Tribune. Paddlefish are also found throughout the U.S. in places such as the Grand River in Oklahoma, in the Missouri River in Montana and in lakes throughout Missouri.

Monday, June 01, 2015

States passing laws to allow nurses more freedom to treat patients in areas with doctor shortages

Some largely rural states that lack doctors are changing laws to make it easier for residents to receive the care they need, Sabrina Tavernise reports for The New York Times. In March, Nebraska became the 20th state—last month Maryland became the 21st—"to adopt a law that makes it possible for nurses in a variety of medical fields with most advanced degrees to practice without a doctor’s oversight." (NYT photo by Brian Lehmann: Psychiatric nurse Murlene Osburn treating patients online from her home)

Previously, psychiatric nurses like Murlene Osburn, of Wood Lake, Neb., were required to have a doctor "sign off before they performed the tasks for which they were nationally certified," Tavernise writes. In Osburn's case, the only willing psychiatrist she could find was seven hours away and wanted to charge $500 a month.

But now, "nurses in Nebraska with a master’s degree or better, known as nurse practitioners, no longer have to get a signed agreement from a doctor to be able to do what their state license allows—order and interpret diagnostic tests, prescribe medications and administer treatments," Tavernise write. Eight more states are considering similar legislation, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners.

Even though the new laws are helping areas with severe doctor shortages, "groups representing doctors, including the American Medical Association, are fighting the laws," Tavernise writes. "They say nurses lack the knowledge and skills to diagnose complex illnesses by themselves."

"Nurses say their aim is not to go it alone, which is rarely feasible in the modern age of complex medical care, but to have more freedom to perform the tasks that their licenses allow without getting a permission slip from a doctor—a rule that they argue is more about competition than safety," Tavernise writes. "They say advanced-practice nurses deliver primary care that is as good as that of doctors and cite research that they say proves it." And nurses also charge less than doctors, which can be a major benefit in poverty-stricken areas. (Read more)

Series explores high rate of suicide among Native American youth; tradition of silence one problem

Native American youth are committing suicide at an alarming rate, and calls for government help for increased mental health services are going unanswered, Laura Paskus and Bryant Furlow report as part of a series for New Mexico In Depth. (In Depth photo by Mark Holm: The National Indian Youth Leadership Project leads a group ice-breaking activity at the beginning of a youth board meeting in Thoreau, N.M.)

Suicide statistics are inconsistent in New Mexico because of jurisdiction rules and medical examiners who sometimes list suicides as accidents, Paskus and Furlow write. The New Mexico Department of Health says that 201 Native Americans between the ages of 9 to 24 died by suicide between 1999 and 2013. The state’s Office of the Medical Investigator (OMI) has records of only 161 investigated deaths of Native American youth between 2000 to 2014.

Analysis by In Depth shows that both numbers are too low, mainly because Native Americans often consider suicide a taboo subject, because OMI can only investigate reservation deaths when tribal officials invite them to do so and because the Navajo Nation covers New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado, meaning a death in one state might be investigated by officials in another state, Paskus and Furlow write. Another problem is that death certificates have been known to wrongly classify Native Americans as Hispanics.

Studies have shown that Native American children are exposed to a high rate of alcohol and physical violence, and their parents are often divorced. They often have a close family member in jail and have suffered from neglect and sexual abuse, Paskus and Furlow write. A recent study of more than 1,300 Native Americans revealed that 29 percent were exposed to at least four of these experiences as children. But those numbers could be low because surveys were conducted in face-to-face interviews, instead of anonymously.

Coloradas Mangas, a Native American youth who speaks out against the silence and the stigma that surrounds youth suicide, testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs in 2010 about the need for a boost in mental health services and Medicaid approval for people who are referred to residential treatment centers, Paskus and Furlow write. He also said he "wished the tribe would build places where young people could hang out and have fun. And he called out Native people for their silence. Almost five years later, Mangas is still waiting." (Read more)

Another rural Indiana county facing a health crisis; hepatitis C epidemic hits Fayette County

Officials in a poor, rural Indiana county fear they are facing a health epidemic like the one in Austin, Ind., that has resulted in more than 150 confirmed cases of HIV and is blamed mostly on shared needle use, reports Maureen Hayden for Community Newspaper Holdings. Local leaders in Fayette County (Wikipedia map), which ranks last in the state in health rankings, fear that hepatitis C is beginning to run rampant among the 24,000 residents and are seeking to establish a needle-exchange program like the one in Scott County, home to Austin.

Fayette County hepatitis C rates are second in the state, to Scott County, Hayden writes. Last year 72 hepatitis C cases were reported in Fayette County. Through April of this year, 60 cases have been reported. In Connersville—a town of 13,232 people and the county seat—41 people overdosed on heroin in the last three months of 2014, and eight of those people died.

One problem is that no state money can be used to support a needle-exchange program, Hayden writes. "A local health department must initiate the request for an exchange and gain approval from county commissioners after a public hearing. Local officials then seek approval from the state Public Health Commissioner, who must determine that a needle exchange is warranted." 

Another problem is that in Fayette County "an estimated 20 percent of adults have no health insurance, though that could change if local officials enroll more people into the state’s expanded Medicaid program," Hayden writes.

Republican N.C. mayor, activist renew walk to Washington D.C. to protest rural hospital closings

This morning representatives from about a dozen states began a 283-mile walk from North Carolina to Washington, D.C., to protest rural hospital closings, Dale Mackey reports for the Daily Yonder. The walk comes one year after Belhaven, N.C., Republican Mayor Adam O’Neal and civil rights advocate Bob Zellner walked 272 miles 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. O'Neal and Zellner will once again lead the walk.

Even though O'Neal and Zellner walked most of the way by themselves, O'Neal said the walk was a success, Mackey writes. O'Neal told Mackey, “We went from a hopeless situation in our town to now, when in the next six months to a year we’ll have our hospital open again—I’m certain of that. And that walk is the reason.”

Zellner, who was 75 during last year's walk, said the experience was rewarding, Mackey writes. Zellner told him, "You know what was the most amazing thing? Sometimes it was just the mayor and myself walking, way back in the backwoods down the little country roads. And poor people in old pick up trucks would come by, and they would hold a ten dollar bill out the window and give it to the mayor. And the mayor said, ‘I know those people don’t have very many ten dollars to give out.’ I get emotional when I think about it. The effect on people was electric.”

From 2010 to 2014, a total of 37 rural hospitals closed or were converted to non-emergency care, according to the Cecil G. Sheps Center at the University of North Carolina, Mackey writes. "The 21 hospitals that closed completely were located farther from other hospitals and served a higher proportion on non-white patients." (This year's planned route)

"O’Neal says that one reason so many hospitals are closing is the failure of state legislatures to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act (ACA)," Mackey writes. "Twenty-two states, including North Carolina, have not expanded their Medicaid coverage for low-income residents using ACA funding."

Zellner said greed was another reason for the closures, Mackey writes. "The nonprofit corporation that owns the hospital in Belhaven had ample earnings overall and a reserve fund to support the facility, Zellner said." He told Mackey, “They’ve got plenty of money; they just wanted to make more money.” (Read more)

Clients of Eastern Kentucky disability lawyer accused of fraud could have payments suspended

Several hundred people in Eastern Kentucky who were clients of a disability attorney featured in a "60 Minutes" investigative report on fraud could have their disability payments suspended, Bill Estep reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. The loss of benefits will not only be significant for the individuals but also "will hurt the area because federal disability payments make up a considerable piece of the economy in some counties." (Herald-Leader photo)

Lawyer Eric Conn, who runs the third largest disability practice in the country in Stanville, Ky., was the focus of a 2013 Senate Committee on Government Affairs. The report found that virtually all of his 1,823 cases were approved by former disability judge David Daugherty, who has been investigated by the federal government. Conn's clients have been awarded $500 million in claims, and Conn collected more than $13 million in legal fees from the federal government over a six-year period. Conn also received $22.7 million from 2001 to 2013 from Social Security to represent claimants. The report said he also paid five doctors roughly $2 million to regularly sign off on bogus medical forms that had been manufactured and filled out ahead of time by Conn's staff.

"Attorneys familiar with the issue said some people who will have to go through the review process probably would not have qualified for benefits if not for the questionable evidence Conn submitted but that many would have," Estep writes. "Prestonsburg attorney Ned Pillersdorf said his information is that more than 800 suspension letters went out last week."

Pillersdorf told Estep, "To suspend these vulnerable people is unconscionable. This is almost an ambush by the Social Security Administration." Pillersdorf said lawyers are setting up an emergency meeting to discuss their next move. "One approach would be to file a lawsuit in federal court seeking to block the suspensions." (Read more)

Dollar tree reaches agreement with New York equity firm to sell 330 Family Dollar stores

Mostly suburban Dollar Tree announced on Friday that it has agreed to sell 330 Family Dollar stores, a staple in rural and poor areas, to New York private equity firm Sycamore Partners that will operate the stores under the name Dollar Express, Rick Rothacker reports for the Charlotte Observer. The sale "is contingent on the completion of the Family Dollar acquisition. The deal terms and the locations to be sold weren’t disclosed."

Dollar Tree purchased Family Dollar for $8.5 billion, winning a takeover battle with rival Dollar General that began last year, Rothacker writes. "The sale of the 330 stores is designed to address competition concerns raised by the Federal Trade Commission, which is still reviewing the deal. Dollar Tree said it 'continues to make progress' with the FTC and intends to close the merger with Family Dollar in early July after receiving the regulator’s approval."

"The combined Dollar Tree will have about $20 billion in revenue and more than 13,000 stores, making it the largest U.S. dollar store chain by store count. Sycamore Partners, which has $3.5 billion in capital under management, specializes in consumer and retail investments," Rothacker writes. "The firm’s portfolio includes companies such as Aeropostale, Coldwater Creek, Hot Topic, Nine West Holdings and Talbots." (Read more)

Bend, Ore. media takes unusual approach of giving famed mule deer an obit to honor local treasure

The community of Bend, Ore. is mourning the loss of one of its own—a mule deer that has not only won over the hearts of locals, but has become a famed tourist attraction that over the years has drawn numerous visitors hoping to catch a glimpse, or snap a photo of the animal. Buck Norris has become such a staple of Bend that local news media are reporting his death—he was hit by a car on Friday—in much the same way they would if he were a human by giving him a sendoff with an obituary. Buck was estimated to be 9 to 10 years old. (Twitter photo by LeAnna Hash: Buck Norris)

Locals viewed Buck Norris as one of the community, reports KTVZ in Bend. Longtime Bend resident Steve Mathers, who said he first saw Buck Norris in his backyard a few years ago, told KTVZ, "The first time I saw him—that's when I got my best pictures of him. He was just wandering. He was not afraid of people. You could get fairly close to him and get good pictures."

The deer's familiarity with people most likely led to his death, KTVZ reports. Officials from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said that "while Buck Norris’ habit of staying within Bend city limits helped protect him to an older age, it finally put him at risk." (Read more)

U.S. unveils plan to limit petroleum drilling and other activities in sage grouse habitats

The Obama administration, aiming to keep the greater sage grouse off the endangered species list, "moved on Thursday to limit petroleum drilling and other activities on some of its wide-ranging habitat in the American West," Clifford Krauss and Diane Cardwell report for The New York Times. (Denver Post photo by Joe Amon: A sage grouse in Craig. Colo.)

"The move—which includes a collection of 14 land-management plans across 10 states—stems from a determination in 2010 by the federal Fish and Wildlife Service that the bird, a potent symbol of the West known for its flamboyant courtship strut, was in need of protection," Krauss and Cardwell write. "Millions of the birds once ranged across the wild prairies, but their numbers have plunged far and fast, down to 150,000 from 400,000, environmentalists estimate."

In November 2014, Fish and Wildlife listed the grouse as "threatened" and has until September to determine if any additional protections will be added. In March, officials in Nevada and Oregon took steps to protect the sage grouse. 

The new plan "would establish buffer zones around areas where male grouses gather for breeding, many of which abut or are inside oil and gas fields," Krauss and Cardwell write. "It will affect about two million acres, mostly federal land, but would allow the exercise of existing rights for energy development, minerals, rights of way and other permitted projects."

"The vast majority of federal lands within the most important sage grouse habitats, Interior Department officials said, have little to no potential for oil, gas, solar or wind energy development," Krauss and Cardwell write. "In other priority areas, the plans would limit conventional oil and gas drilling but potentially allow for horizontal drilling that would not disturb the surface."

While environmentalists applauded the plan, oil and gas executives said the plan "would put harsh conditions on new drilling permits even on existing leases," Krauss and Cardwell write.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Schieffer's simple, humble go-outs reflect important principles and realities of journalism

By Al Cross
Director, Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

Bob Schieffer's go-outs on CBS's "Face the Nation" today reflected some realities and principles of journalism that are sometimes forgotten. To the full audience, at the half-hour break, Bob said he would "never forget the trust you placed in me. . . . That meant the world to me. Thank you."

Trust is the coin of the realm in journalism, and in an age of ideological media, those who practice real journalism must always remember that.

Bob also gave thanks in his final shot, to and with the staff of the show. That was a reminder that almost all good journalism is a product of collaboration, which should improve the product partly by keeping out unfairness and bias.

It was also a stroke of humility, which Bob has always displayed, as journalists should. These are lessons from a leader.