Friday, June 19, 2015

N.C. paper lowers paywall so we can read its coverage of arrest of Charleston shooting suspect

The Shelby Star, the 12,000-circulation daily newspaper in the North Carolina town whose police caught the suspect in the Charleston, S.C., church shootings, has taken down its paywall so all can read its coverage. Here is its front page today:

TV show to invite presidential candidates to talk about rural issues; Clinton already talking rural

Rural America could be the deciding factor in the next presidential election, even though rural areas are sometimes overlooked by presidential candidates. RFD-TV and Mediacom Communications hope to change that with the launch in July of Rural Town Hall, "a series of live, one-hour primetime programs featuring presidential candidates and their respective takes on rural and agricultural issues, filmed in Iowa but offered nationally via RFD-TV," Mike Farrell reports for Multichannel News.

"Leading up to the caucuses in Iowa and the New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries, candidates will share their vision for rural America while answering questions submitted by rural associations, organizations and commodity groups," Farrell writes. 

"Questions will be solicited from grain, livestock, poultry, fruit, vegetable and fiber producers; rural educators, FFA and 4-H members; along with officials from small towns who have unique concerns about rural development, healthcare and other challenges facing America’s rural communities," Farrell writes.

Despite winning in 2008 and 2012, President Obama performed poorly in rural areas and concentrated mostly on appealing to urban voters. Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton is taking a different approach, having already made an appeal to rural areas, telling an audience this week in impoverished Santee, S.C., that if elected president she will "be an advocate for children, the middle class and poor in rural communities," Gene Zaleski reports for The Times and Democrat.

Clinton said "the work of making rural areas competitive begins with ensuring children are properly cared for," Zaleski writes. She said "she will make preschool and quality childcare available for every child and 'double the investment to early childhood Head Start programs.'" She said "she would investigate helping rural communities through the creation of an infrastructure bank."

She also "is proposing a new tax credit for businesses that hire and train apprentices in an effort to increase employment of young adults," Zaleski writes. "Under her plan, businesses would get a tax credit of $1,500 per individual. The proposal would combine on-the-job training with instruction and target skilled fields such as construction, health care and manufacturing. The program would be geared to supplement the current workforce training programs in place."

"She said as president she will fight for four things: making the economy work for everyday Americans, not just those on the top; stronger families; maintaining America's leadership for peace and prosperity in the world and reforming government in accordance with the nation's values," Zaleski writes.

UFO sightings increase around the 4th of July

Two weeks from today is the 4th of July, when fireworks fill the sky, and loud bangs send skittish dogs into a frenzy. It's also the time of year when UFO sightings are on the rise, Abby Ohlheiser reports for The Washington Post. While some of those sightings could be attributed to a neighbor shooting off a Roman candle, it might not always be the case. (Metrocosm graphic: Rate of UFO sightings)

For those wondering if anyone else saw the same strange lights they saw, or where in the U.S. the most people claim to see UFO's, Max Glaka of Metrocosm has created interactive maps that chart UFO sightings and has a detailed list of the cities and regions with the most corroborated sightings. That would be Tinley Park, Ill., where in 2004 a total of 77 reports were made of a UFO sighting. Tinley Park is also third and sixth on the list, with 72 reports of a sighting in 2005 and 45 sightings on a different day in 2004. Two of the top 10 incidents occurred on July 4.

While six of the top 10 most reported sightings were at least partially in Illinois, Washington and Vermont have the most sightings, with 37 sightings per every one million people. Montana is third, followed by Oregon, Alaska, New Hampshire, Maine, Arizona, Idaho and New Mexico. The least number of sightings are in the South, led by Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia. (Metrocosm map: For an interactive version, click here)

Rural Indiana students are less likely than urban peers to enroll in 4-year and selective colleges

Rural Indiana high school graduates are just as likely as their urban peers to attend college but are more likely than their urban counterparts to attend a two-year school and less likely to attend a very selective four-year school, says a study by the American Institutes for Research and the Midwest Rural Research Alliance. Nationally, rural students are less likely than urban counterparts to enroll in college.

The study, which looked at Indiana high school graduates from 2010, found that 62.1 percent of rural students enrolled in college, compared to 60.6 percent of non-rural students. But 30.8 percent of rural students enrolled in a two-year school, compared to 25.4 percent of non-rural students. Also, 22.6 percent of rural students enrolled in a four-year school, compared to 27.7 percent of non-rural students.

Although participation in Advanced Placement classes was similar, with 27.2 percent of rural high school students taking AP classes and 28.2 percent of non-rural high school students taking those classes, "about 28 percent of rural graduates enrolled in a college that was less selective than they were qualified for, compared to about 24 percent of nonrural students," Jackie Mader reports for Education Week. Researchers wrote, "The greater likelihood of undermatching among rural graduates may be explained partly by the information available to them and by the culture of their high schools," and rural students may be "unaware of the opportunities their aca­demic qualifications may afford them."

The study says another theory is that the "farther rural graduates’ high schools were from colleges, the more likely graduates were to enroll in a two-year college or to undermatch with a college."

LGBT group says Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage bans is not just an urban issue

With much of the national focus on the U.S. Supreme Court's impending decision regarding same-sex marriage centered on urban areas, a Tennessee marriage-equality group is taking its message to rural areas and small towns "because there are fewer support structures for LGBT residents there and because they were tired of hearing that LGBT rights is only an urban issue," Tim Marema reports for the Daily Yonder.

The Supreme Court "is expected to rule any day on whether to uphold or overturn same-sex marriage bans in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky and Tennessee," Marema writes. "Thirty-seven states now allow same-sex marriage, but the Court’s decision is likely to clarify a national position on whether banning marriage of couples who are the same sex violates the Constitution."

Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, said many members are originally from small Southern towns, Marema writes. Sanders told Marema, "Where the residents are interested, we are forming committees in the towns we visit so that they can meet monthly to address their needs. It is part of a long-term organizing approach now."

"We wanted to focus on smaller towns because we're making progress in Tennessee's larger cities with non-discrimination and partner-benefits ordinances," Sanders told Marema. "Those cities also have more LGBT organizations to serve them, whereas most rural areas don't. Frankly, we also need [small towns and rural areas]. The state legislators from these areas often characterize LGBT issues as urban issues, and helping them see equality as a constituent issue is going to be critical in Tennessee." (Read more)

Toxic algae blooms have shut down shellfish operations on West Coast

Toxic algae bloom stretching from Central California to British Columbia, and possibly into Alaska, "have shut down recreational and commercial shellfish harvests in Washington, Oregon and California this spring," Sandi Doughton reports for The Seattle Times. Federal biologists have reported seeing multiple types of toxins in what some are considering the largest case of toxic algae bloom recorded off the West Coast.

Scientists suspect unusually high temperatures for the increased algae, "along with 'the blob'—a vast pool of unusually warm water that blossomed in the northeastern Pacific late last year," Doughton writes. "The blob has morphed since then, but offshore waters are still about two degrees warmer than normal, said University of Washington climate scientist Nick Bond, who coined the blob nickname."

Michael Milstein, spokesman with NOAA Fisheries, told Tom Hallman of The Oregonian that all coastal Washington beaches "have been closed to razor clamming, at an estimated loss of more than $9 million in revenue for coastal communities in the past month alone." Milstein said Washington also has closed the coast to Dungeness crab harvesting. (Read more)

The Oregon Department of Agriculture "has closed all recreational molluscan shellfish (razor clams, other clams and scallops) harvesting from the Columbia River south to Tillamook Head, which includes all beaches, rocks, jetties and bays," reports Dennis Anstine for the News Times in Newport, Ore.

Hundreds of thousands of red tuna crabs have also "been washing up on Southern California beaches as warm ocean currents carry them farther north and closer to shore than usual," reports Reuters. "The plankton-eating crabs, native to the waters of the Gulf of California, Baja California and the California Current, are 2.5-7.6 cm long and resemble tiny lobsters."

Michigan House bill to remove public notices from newspapers fails to garner enough votes to pass

A bill that would remove all public notices from Michigan newspapers by the year 2025 failed to garner enough votes to pass in the state House on Thursday, reports The Associated Press. "Supporters say allowing notices to be posted online would reduce costs for municipalities and give notices a better chance of being accessible to younger residents who might not read newspapers. Critics say the change would provide only small savings compared to total budgets for local governments. They also say publishing notices in newspapers provides an independent record." (Read more)

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Hate groups and crimes persist; Poynter expert offers advice for coverage of Charleston shootings

Wednesday's murders of nine African Americans at a historic church in Charleston, S.C., and the arrest of a white suspect, reflect the sad fact that hate crimes continue and hate groups remain active in communities—especially in the South, where blacks were slaves for almost 250 years, until 150 years ago. Nearly 800 known hate groups existed in the U.S. in 2014, led by Mississippi, Arkansas and Montana, the three states with the most hate groups per million residents, Christopher Ingraham reports for The Washington Post.

On Wednesday night, Dylann Roof, a 21-year-old white man, entered a historic black church in downtown Charleston, N.C., and fatally shot nine people, including the pastor, The Shelby Star reports. Roof was apprehended just west of Shelby around 11 a.m., according to Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen. Debbie Dills, a florist employee, and her boss Todd Frady made the first calls that led to Roof's arrest, Gabe Whisnant writes for the Star. Dills saw Roof on Highway 74 and called Frady, who then told Shane Davis of the Kings Mountain Police Department that the suspect was traveling West on Highway 74 in his black Hyundai. Soon after, the Shelby police caught Roof.

The FBI says blacks are the victims of most hate crimes, with more than 50 out of every 1 million African Americans having experienced a racially motivated hate crime in 2012, Ingraham writes. About 30 out of every one million Native Americans experienced a hate crime, 10 out of every million Hispanics, nine out of every Asian and less than five out of every million whites. It's widely believed that actual numbers are higher, because national numbers are reliant on local authorities, who are responsible for determining whether or not a crime is racially-motivated.

The Southern Poverty Law Center said the number of hate groups dropped from 1,018 in 2011 to 784 today, but that number is still well above the 457 groups in 1999, Ingraham writes. SPLC attributes the drop in hate groups to "an improving economy and recent law enforcement crackdowns, as well as widespread internecine squabbling and splintering within the groups themselves." (Post graphic)

Journalists writing or talking about the Charleston shooting and the apprehension of the suspect in Shelby, N.C., should be careful about the words they use, writes Al Tompkins of The Poynter Institute. Should we call it an act of terrorism? "We don't know yet," Tompkins writes, noting definitions of terrorism used by the BBC, the United Nations and the European Union.

Central Appalachia hit hardest by loss of coal jobs: Ky., W.Va. have lost 14,366 jobs since 2011

Analysis by West Virginia Public Broadcasting and SNL Energy found that Kentucky and West Virginia have lost 14,366 coal jobs since the fourth quarter of 2011. Kentucky leads the nation in lost coal jobs, having lost 7,666, while West Virginia is second with 6,700 lost jobs, Dave Mistich reports for West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Job losses are mostly blamed on cheaper natural gas and Environmental Protection Agency proposed rules to cut carbon-dioxide emissions from existing power plants 30 percent by 2030.

The effects can be felt throughout Appalachian Southwestern West Virginia, which mostly consists of impoverished counties that had been hit hard by the loss of coal jobs. West Virginia coal production
has dropped from 33,692,338 tons in the fourth quarter of 2011 down to 28,351,854 tons in the first quarter of 2015, Mistich writes. (To view a larger version and an interactive map of counties, click here)
Boone County leads the nation in coal mine losses by county, having lost 2,698 jobs, or 58 percent of employment since the fourth quarter of 2011, Mistich writes. Nicholas County has lost 76 percent of its coal mining jobs, losing a total of 558 jobs. In addition to Boone and Nicholas counties, Mingo (801 lost jobs), Fayette (609), Logan (557), McDowell (512) and Raleigh (403) counties all rank among the top 25 counties nationally for lost coal jobs. Kentucky has eight counties in the top 25; Virginia, Pennsylvania and Alabama have two; and Wyoming, Illinois, Indiana and Colorado have one.

Not many people are optimistic of an upturn every occurring, Mistich writes. Jordan Bridges, a coal miner in Logan County, told Mistich, “I’d say that I’ll get laid off. I’d say the job will probably shut down. That’s just the way it is . . . I have friends that don’t want to leave. But what are they supposed to do. They were raised here. I was raised here. We want to raise our kids here." (Read more)

Texas study finds contaminants in groundwater around fracking operations

A study by Texas scientists published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology "found drilling-related contaminants in groundwater around the Dallas-Fort Worth area where companies have been heavily drilling the Barnett Shale for more than a decade," Mike Soraghan reports for EnergyWire. The researchers, who hail from colleges throughout the state, say their analysis of 550 groundwater samples from private and public water supply wells above the Barnett Formation "is the largest analysis of groundwater quality in aquifers in a shale drilling zone," covering an area where "more than 20,000 shale gas wells have been drilled since the early 2000s." 

Researchers "detected elevated levels of 10 types of metals and the presence of 19 chemical compounds, including benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene and xylene, commonly grouped as 'BTEX,'" Soraghan writes. Study authors wrote: "These data do not necessarily identify UOG activities as the source of contamination. However, they do provide a strong impetus for further monitoring and analysis of groundwater quality in this region as many of the compounds we detected are known to be associated with UOG techniques." (Sampled water wells (red) in relation to UOG wells (dark grey) throughout the 641 Barnett shale region (grey))

Drilling industry group Energy in Depth said the research failed to prove that the contamination came from drilling, Soraghan writes. Spokesman Dave Quast told Soraghan, "We are still reviewing the study, but what stands out is that even the authors admit that their data do not identify oil and gas activities as the source of contamination." Quast also referred to an Environmental Protection Agency report released earlier this month that found no evidence that fracking posed widespread damage to water supplies. Advocates and critics of fracking have both interpreted the report to justify their claims. (Read more)

Officials at odds over Renewable Fuel Standard rules but agree that EPA is dragging its feet

Industry officials on both sides of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) argument are at odds over Environmental Protection Agency's proposed rules and upset with continued delays that have created uncertainty in the marketplace, Spencer Chase reports for Agri-Pulse.

Oil and ethanol leaders said EPA's most recent proposal ignores "the desires of the American consumer," Chase writes. American Petroleum Institute president and CEO Jack Gerard said. “I believe consumers are becoming more and more aware of what the ethanol blend is doing, and that's why there are even more dispensaries, more gas pumps if you will, that dispense E85, [but] you're not seeing a significant uptick in the consumption of E85 . . . consumer interests should come ahead of ethanol interests.”

Renewable Fuels Association president and CEO Bob Dinneen disagreed, "saying proper implementation of the RFS would prove the 'blend wall'—a term signifying the maximum amount of ethanol American consumers will buy—is an artificial construct," Chase writes. Dinneen said, “There's nothing wrong with the RFS that can't be fixed by what is right with the RFS. EPA needs to read the statute and implement a program that Congress put in place because it was working. If EPA allows the program to work, the market will break the blend wall.”

Gerard said data from the Energy Information Administration shows an "increased demand for E0, gasoline sold without any added ethanol," Chase writes. But Dinneen says Gerard is misinterpreting the data. Dinneen said, “If, in fact, you look at how much blending has occurred over the last year, ethanol blending has continued to increase. The only ones that are calling for E0 are those folks representing the interests of the status quo that don't want to see renewable fuels increase in this country and want to scare consumers into thinking that ethanol is bad for their engines.”

Dinneen did say that "the 'story of the RFS' isn't about the success of the industry but rather 'EPA's mismanagement of a really good program that Congress had laid out for them,' making the program a constant target for legislative action," Chase writes.

"Even so, Gerard said he and many others hope that 2015 could be the year for potential legislative action causing significant RFS reform," Chase writes. Gerard said,  “Clearly the momentum [for RFS reform] is building,” Gerard said. “Quite candidly, the best approach is for all the parties to come together and resolve it, but as you can see, there's some who have no interest in resolving this who just continue to push for more and more and more, and now I think we've clearly put the American consumer at risk, and I think you're going to see more and more folks come back and say, ‘Enough is enough; we've got to fix it.'” (Read more)

S.D. weekly's news editor wins NNA award for leadership by a young newspaper executive

Jeremy Waltner
Jeremy Waltner, news editor of his family's weekly Freeman Courier in southeastern South Dakota, will be honored on Oct. 3 during the National Newspaper Association’s Annual Convention and Trade Show with the Daniel M. Phillips Leadership Award, "given to an individual 23 to 40 years old who is well respected in his or her community, of good reputation and integrity, provides active leadership in the newspaper industry and is active in his or her state press association and community and whose newspaper is a member of NNA," the organization announced.

The award was established to honor Daniel Morris “Dan” Phillips, who was an award-winning writer, photographer and assistant publisher of the Oxford Eagle in Oxford, Miss. He died in 2005 at the age of 47.

Fish and Wildlife declares eastern cougar extinct; species once lived in every eastern state

After a four-year review, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has concluded that eastern cougars, once seen in every eastern state and Canada, "are extinct and no longer warrant federal Endangered Species Act protections," Laura Zuckerman reports for Reuters. The proposal "comes nearly 80 years after the last of those mountain lions was believed to have been trapped and killed in New England," according to the federal agency. Reported sightings of eastern cougars in recent years were later determined to be Florida panthers or mountain lions that wandered from the West, although some species of smaller wild cats are still found living in the East. (Fish and Wildlife photo: Western cougar)

"Cougars, also known as panthers and pumas, were once the most widely distributed land mammal in the western hemisphere, but extermination campaigns have seen the large wild cats eliminated from roughly two-thirds of their original range, federal wildlife biologists said in a statement," Zuckerman writes. "Eastern cougars were declared endangered in 1973, even though the last known records were tied to one killed by a hunter in Maine in 1938 and another in New Brunswick, Canada, in 1932." (Read more)

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Drug overdoses are No. 1 cause of injury deaths, says state-by-state report on injury prevention

Click on chart to view a larger version
Drug overdoses are the leading cause of injury deaths in the U.S., amounting to 44,000 per year, says a joint state-by-state injury prevention policy report by Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The report, "The Facts Hurt," found that "the number of injury deaths increased significantly in 17 states, remained stable in 24 states and decreased in nine states." Injuries are the leading cause of death for Americans ages 1 to 44, resulting in 193,000 deaths per year. Rural areas, especially in the South, have some of the highest rates of addiction to painkillers and drug overdoses. (Iowa tied for the lowest score for reducing injuries and violence)

Drug overdose deaths have doubled in the past 14 years, states the report, which says prescription overdoses are responsible for half of all drug overdose deaths. "Overdose deaths now exceed motor vehicle-related deaths in 36 states and Washington, D.C. And, in the past four years, drug overdose death rates have significantly increased in 26 states and Washington, D.C., and decreased in six."  

The report also includes "a report card of 10 key indicators of leading evidence-based strategies that help reduce injuries and violence." Overall, 29 states and Washington, D.C., scoring a five or lower. Florida, Iowa, Missouri and Montana each scored a two, while New York led the way with a nine. (Read more)

Social media alert pages popping up in rural areas served by weekly newspapers

Rural areas typically only served by a weekly newspaper are seeing an increase in Facebook pages that offer up-to-the-minute local media alerts, Able Allen reports for Mountain Xpress in Asheville. In the past year in rural Western North Carolina, "almost a dozen local alert pages (some with affiliated websites) have cropped up in various rural counties in the region, and some are already attracting followers in numbers comparable to the established print outlets’ circulation figures."

The local shift reflects a national trend, with a Pew Research Center study saying 30 percent of adults say they get their news from Facebook, Allen writes. The difference in rural areas is that the news is localized, mostly concerning traffic, weather, Amber alerts, arrest reports and information about public events and meetings.

Rural North Carolina's rise in localized Facebook news can be attributed to Mitchell County Alerts, created last year by information technology specialist Joe Ferguson, Allen writes. Since its creation, the site has garnered 5,597 followers. That's not bad for a site that covers a county of 15,000.
Ferguson told Allen,“When I first started [Mitchell County Alerts], I didn’t know how the community was going to take it. I did run anonymous for a while, but most people were beginning to figure out that I was doing it anyway . . . With the recession and the way jobs down here in the IT sector are and my inability to find work, I created the page to give myself something to do and keep me from going crazy. I started this as a hobby, and it’s just turned into something that I look at as becoming a job."

Based on the comments on the site, "what people like is its approachability and interactivity," Allen writes. "On June 1, for example, Ferguson posted about a pedestrian struck by a car on N.C. 226. He didn’t provide much information, but someone who claimed to have been at the scene and two self-identified extended family members of the victim left additional details in the comments section." Ferguson told Allen, “Citizens want to be able to know what’s going on in their community when it happens, and they don’t want to have to wait until next Wednesday to read it in the paper—if it shows up in the paper.”

The two local weekly newspapers, The Avery Journal-Times and the Mitchell News-Journal, have little to no online presence and don't view the web pages as a threat, citing unreliable Internet service in the area while calling the sites less credible and reliable than newspapers, Allen writes. But one editor did admit that since Mitchell County Alerts began posting, the Sheriff’s Office has stopped sending complete arrest coverage with photographs, a popular item among readers. (Read more)

Lower energy costs, increased manufacturing led most states to see economic growth in 2014

Falling oil prices are leading to lower energy costs, which has led to a surge in manufacturing in many states, and 41 states experienced economic growth in 2014 over the previous year, according to the gross domestic product (GDP) recently released by the U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), Tim Henderson reports for Stateline.

Washington, D.C., has the highest per capita GDP at $175,253, Henderson writes. Alaska led all states, at $77,477, while Mississippi was last, at $35,019. The average per capita was $54,307. (Stateline map: For an interactive version, click here)

"When not measured on a per capita basis, only Alaska and Mississippi showed declines in real economic output last year, the BEA reported," Henderson writes. "Some states with fast-growing populations, such as Nevada and Virginia, achieved real GDP growth last year but showed a decline when measured per capita. Their economic growth wasn’t sufficient to cover their increase in population."

Manufacturing of nondurable goods—such as plastics and chemicals—increased 4 percent nationally in 2014, compared to 1 percent the year before, Henderson writes. The biggest increase was in the Great Lakes region, which includes Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin, where nondurable goods manufacturing grew by 5 percent.

There has also been a move toward more chemical manufacturing, spurred by lower natural gas prices, "with 105 new plants approved in the last three years, according a January report from Yale Environment 360, a publication of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies," Henderson writes. "Natural gas is a building block for many fertilizers, chemicals and some plastic products." (Read more)

Freedom Industries agrees to $2.5 million deal to clean up site of 2014 West Virginia chemical spill

West Virginia state regulators "reached a deal with bankrupt Freedom Industries that will set aside $2.5 million for the cleanup of the site of the January 2014 chemical spill that contaminated drinking water supplies for hundreds of thousands of people in Charleston and surrounding communities," Ken Ward reports for the Charleston Gazette.

"Under the proposal, Chemstream Holdings—the company that bought Freedom about a month before the Elk River spill—would contribute an additional $1.1 million that would be specifically earmarked for the site cleanup," Ward writes. That money, along with another $1.4 million from Freedom, will be put "into an 'ERT Remediation Fund' to accomplish a cleanup under the state Department of Environmental Protection’s 'voluntary' remediation program."

"In April, Freedom had proposed putting just $150,000 in funding toward remaining cleanup work at the site, a move that drew harsh criticism from DEP officials and was rejected by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Ronald Pearson," Ward writes. "The new settlement, signed by DEP General Counsel Kristin Boggs, says that the agency agreed that Freedom would have no obligation to perform additional remediation beyond the payments into the fund as spelled out by the settlement. DEP also agrees under the plan not to sue Chemstream for anything related to the spill or the site cleanup." (Read more)

Denton, Texas officials repeal fracking ban; seeking ways to challenge state law on local regulations

The City Council in Denton, Texas, voted Tuesday night to repeal its 7-month long ban on hydraulic fracturing "in what city leaders dubbed a 'strategic repeal,'” Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe reports for the Denton Record-Chronicle. "Several City Council members said repealing the ban could help neutralize a pair of lawsuits against the city that were on the move again." The repeal passed by a 6 to 1 vote.

"The Texas General Land Office and the Texas Oil and Gas Association amended their lawsuits against Denton's ban late Monday," Heinkel-Wolfe writes. "They both cited House Bill 40 as the basis not only to overturn the citizens initiative overwhelmingly approved by Denton voters in November but also to end the city’s moratorium on new drilling permits."

Signed last month by newly-elected Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, HB 40 prohibits cities from regulating most oil and gas operations, Mike Lee reports for EnergyWire. After the bill was signed, a Colorado energy company told local officials it would resume fracking operations, which led to protests and arrests.

"Repealing the ordinance may render the suits moot and avoid a legal precedent that would undercut the city's authority to regulate oil and gas development, council members said," Lee writes. "That would make it easier to challenge the state's 'no-fracking-ban' law." Councilman Greg Johnson told Lee, "If we wait three weeks to make a call, we're putting our legal team in a very bad position."

Once a reliable conservative state, Democratic-led Virginia embracing EPA carbon regulations

Most coal-producing states have opposed the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed rules to cut carbon-dioxide emissions from existing power plants 30 percent by 2030 and have joined a lawsuit to fight the rules. But not Virginia. Once a state that relied heavily on coal, Virginia "has been moving away from coal-fired electricity for the past decade, and the effects of climate change—particularly along the Atlantic coast—already has its attention," reports Katherine Bagley for InsideClimate News as part of the series Coal's Long Goodbye.

"In Virginia, coal still dictates the economy in some southwestern parts of the state; one of the nation's largest energy companies, Dominion Resources, is headquartered in Richmond; and the nation's largest coal export facility is on the coast in Norfolk," Bagley writes. "Until recently, coal accounted for nearly half of the electricity generated in the state; now it's less than a quarter." While Dominion hasn't vocally opposed the rule, the company "has argued that natural gas, wind and solar are not yet reliable enough to replace coal." Officials and environmentalists say getting support from the energy sector will be key in complying with rules.

One of the reasons Virginia is moving away from coal is a political shift in the state. Once considered a conservative state, Virginia now has a Democratic governor, two Democratic senators and the state twice voted for President Obama, Bagley writes. Attempts by the state's Republicans lawmakers to block EPA rules didn't go anywhere during the last legislative session. (Dominion photo: Virginia City Hybrid Energy Center coal plant)

The state's "move away from coal has also been shaped by economic forces," Bagley writes. "With coal values plummeting and pollution regulations increasing, 11 coal-fired power plants have shuttered their doors, converted to natural gas or biomass or announced plans to close or convert since 2008, according to the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign. Nuclear energy and natural gas now dominate the state's power sector."

"Experts say Virginia is already 80 percent of the way toward its proposed target of reducing emissions 38 percent by 2030," Bagley writes. "Environmentalists argue expanding renewable energy and increasing energy efficiency should make up the remaining 20 percent. State officials said it will be more complicated than that, but possible."

Another reason is that climate change has been more apparent in Virginia than in neighboring coal-producing states Kentucky and West Virginia, Bagley writes. "Virginia Beach has experienced approximately 30 inches of sea level rise since 1880, according to the state's Department of Environmental Quality—nearly four times the global average and the second highest in the United States, behind Louisiana." (Read more)

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Western Kentucky teen shares her story of suicidal thoughts to help others feeling the same way

Teen suicide is often a taboo subject that doesn't get discussed until after someone has committed suicide or has made a suicide attempt. A 14-year-old girl in Western Kentucky, who had thoughts of suicide, has come forward to share her story with The Paducah Sun in the hope that it helps other teens who are feeling the same way, reports Kentucky Health News, a service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which also publishes The Rural Blog. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2013 data, 11 out of every 100,000 young people die by suicide.

"Sophie Henney of Paducah chose two days after her 14th birthday to tell her story of depression and thoughts of suicide. She wanted to share her story—and her name—to help others who may be in the same situation," Genevieve Postlethwait reports for The Sun.

"On the way to church on New Year's Eve night, Sophie told her mom, Peggy, 'I wouldn't hurt myself, but I don't want to go back there to that school. I'd rather be dead,'" Postlethwait writes. Sophie attended a small private school and hadn't had a pleasant fall semester: the other girls in her class were excluding her, and she had thought some of them were her friends. Peggy told Postlethwait, "We found out several months later she was actually formulating a plan to do it. As much attention as I was paying to her, I still didn't know. I beat myself up for several months, thinking that there was more I could have done."

Postlethwait writes, The stigma surrounding suicide and a lack of information about it are two main things that stand in the way of changing the way people talk about suicide, said Laurie Ballew, medical director of Lourdes Behavioral Health in Paducah.

Sophie told Postlethwait, "I was very relieved when we went to Christmas break, and by New Years Eve, I was like, I don't want to go back. I want this to be over. I don't want to see them again. The only thing I can really think of to say is, get help. That's what made me better. Tell somebody. Talk to somebody. don't just keep it quiet." The Paducah Sun is behind a paywall.

Expert on bullying says he worries about it more in rural schools, offers ideas on dealing with it

By Melissa Landon
Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

How do we recognize, deal with and prevent bullying, particularly in schools? A leading authority on bullying offered some ideas last Friday in a training session called "The Meanest Generation: Teaching Civility, Empathy, Kindness and Compassion to our Angriest Children," at Eastern State Hospital in Lexington.

Malcolm Smith, right, between sessions
Malcolm Smith, founder and director of the Courage to Care Project who serves on the faculty of Plymouth State University, said one myth about bullying is that it only occurs in large schools. "Actually, I'm more worried about children in a rural school," Smith said. In rural areas, he said, bullying can be a huge problem because there's nowhere to hide, everyone is often into everyone else's business, and an issue can escalate into a feud when families get involved.

Smith defined bullying as a single incident or pattern of written, verbal, electronic or physical actions intended to harm a pupil or his or her property; cause emotional stress; interfere with that student's right to an education; or disrupt the school's operation. Smith debunked a common theory about bullying that became popular in the 1980s—that bullies lack self-esteem. "Bullies are not kids who have low-self-esteem," Smith said. "The average bully is the kid who is a narcissist." Smith believes that a person becomes narcissistic if he or she never learned to bond and love as a child.

He argued that a lack of empathy and rising narcissism—which is characterized by an overinflated view of one's talents and a high level of selfishness—are the true causes of bullying. Empathy is the tendency to react to other people's observed experiences. Research shows that 70 percent of current students score higher in narcissism and lower in empathy than they did 35 years ago. Smith believes this is related to the rise in technology, the culture of self-esteem, the decline of time spent playing—which is often when children gain social competencies—and the overexposure of children to meanness and violence through the media.

Bullies are more likely to have been involved in domestic violence and child abuse; are more likely to commit crimes, drink and smoke; and have a greater propensity toward becoming anti-social adults. Signs that a child is a victim of a bully include exclusion, fear, lack of friends, erratic attendance, depression, withdrawal or clinging to teachers and staff.

Because bullying is characterized by an imbalance of power between the perpetrator and the victim, Smith urged school counselors and teachers not to try mediating a bullying situation, especially not by talking to both the victim and the bully in the same room or worse, leaving them to "work it out." Smith said, "You have to educate the social-emotional deficit in the bully, and you have to comfort the victim." Instead of simply punishing the bully, an authority must discipline him or her, which involves teaching.

To properly discipline a bully, he or she must be required to take responsibility for the behavior and explain to the authority why the behavior was wrong. Then the student must discuss alternative actions that could have been employed. Finally, the student must not only apologize but also perform an act of kindness toward the student he or she bullied.

Smith urged teachers and counselors to recognize and address bullying, explaining that it is not ever a good thing or a positive part of a growing experience, as some people think. He pointed out that adults in the workplace are protected by harassment laws and don't have to face bullying alone, so children shouldn't have to, either. He said to combat bullying, "model good social skills yourself, advocate for safer schools and better laws, work with your school parent-teacher organization, engage parents and students in prevention and work on culture and climate."

More than 48% of adult cancer deaths can be linked to smoking, American Cancer Society study finds

More than 48 percent of U.S. cancer deaths in 2011 among adults 35 and older can be linked to smoking, says a study by the American Cancer Society published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine. Researchers examined 12 cancer sites, finding that of the 345,962 deaths among adults 35 and older, 167,805 were caused by cigarette smoking. Smoking rates are particularly high in rural areas, with a 2014 study finding that 26.9 percent of adults in non-metro areas were smokers in 2010.

Researchers found that "the largest proportions of smoking-attributable deaths were for cancers of the lung, bronchus and trachea (80.2 percent) and larynx (76.6 percent). Approximately half of the deaths from cancers of the oral cavity, esophagus and urinary bladder were due to smoking." (American Cancer Society graphic)

The study comes on the heels of an Australian study released in February that found that more than two-thirds of adult smokers die from smoking-related deaths. Another study from February, funded by the American Cancer Society, linked more diseases than previously thought to smoking.

The findings of the latest study "are in a stark contrast to a 2014 U.S. Surgeon General's Report which characterizes the toll of death and disease from tobacco as falling over the years thanks to interventions," Ariana Eunjung Cha reports for The Washington Post. "That's because the report looks only at the smoking-attributable deaths from lung cancer specifically but not the others that are also caused by smoking."

Researchers note "that smoking prevalence decreased from 23.2 percent to 18.1 percent from 2000 to 2012," Cha writes. "But they wrote, 'Cigarette smoking continues to cause numerous deaths from multiple cancers despite half a century of decreasing prevalence.'” (Read more)

Legalization of pot increasing drug trafficking of heroin and meth, says Oregon report

Laws to legalize marijuana in the U.S. are inadvertently increasing production in Mexico of opium—which can be processed chemically to create heroin and other synthetic drugs—and leading to an increase of drug traffic through states like Oregon, says a report by the Oregon High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDT) program, Claire Withycombe reports for The Bulletin in Bend. Ore. Recreational marijuana will become legal in Oregon on July 1. ( map: U.S. Highway 97 and  Interstate 5 are Oregon's two biggest drug trafficking routes)

The report credits statewide restrictions on access to pseudoephedrine—an over-the-counter ingredient used to make meth—for having decreased the state's number of meth labs by 95 percent since 2005, Withycombe writes. "While the amount of methamphetamine manufactured in Oregon has dropped, the amount passing through the state is considerable."

From 2008 to 2013, Interstate 5 was responsible for 47 percent of all drug traffic seizures in the state and U.S. Highway 97 for 20 percent, the report states. Both routes travel from California to Canada. The amount of heroin seized on Oregon highways increased from six pounds in 2009 to 41 pounds in 2013.

Between 2008 and 2014, authorities on U.S. Highway 97—which runs through Bend—made 304 seizures "recovering 1,600 pounds of marijuana, 158 pounds of meth and more than $1 million in cash, Withycombe writes.

Rural drone deliveries will be fairly common in five years, says former FAA leader on drones

Rural drone deliveries will be common occurrences within the next five years, said Jim Williams, who retired last week from the Federal Aviation Administration, where he managed the agency's office to integrate drones into the U.S. airspace, Matt McFarland reports for The Washington Post.

Williams, who spoke Thursday at McKenna Long & Aldrige’s unmanned aircraft systems symposium in Washington, D.C., said his biggest disappointment concerning drones was the time it took to release the proposed rules for drones weighing under 55 pounds, McFarland writes.

He also said dealing with the White House was a hassle, McFarland writes. Williams told McFarland, “Everybody who thinks having the White House interested in your program is a great thing, no. Just a lot of scrutiny from them and everything is questioned about how it is going to fit in the bigger scheme of things. It’s very much a blessing and a curse to have that level of attention.” (Read more)

Logistics executive tells industry leaders that moving oil by train is better than using pipelines

Despite a recent rash of oil train derailments and a myriad of safety concerns about train cars, moving oil by train is a more flexible and better means of transportation than using pipelines, Eric Slifka, CEO of the oil logistics firm Global Partners LP., told industry leaders and analysts Monday.

Slifka said at the Energy Information Administration’s annual summit, “Rail as a method of transport provides optionality and can be just as effective if not more effective than pipelines. If I were an owner of a refinery I would want to make sure . . . I had the utmost flexibility to purchase that product from the cheapest sources in the country.”

He said that "pipelines, whether newly proposed or built decades ago, may be a simple solution to moving product, but they can’t keep pace with the rapid change in U.S. energy markets today," Dlouhy writes.

While lawmakers continue to debate the proposed Keystone XL pipeline to transport oil sands crude from Alberta to Cushing, Okla., Slifka downplayed concerns about the safety of flammable oil rumbling across U.S. train tracks, saying "spills from oil-by-rail-car accidents can involve just a few tankers—potentially releasing less crude than could be emptied from a single stretch of damaged pipeline," Dlouhy writes.

House subcommittee to look at Appalachian poaching sting in North Carolina, Georgia

House lawmakers will be in Waynesville, N.C., on Friday to look into the controversial Appalachian program, "Operation Something Bruin," a partnership between state and federal agencies to conduct undercover investigations into illegal activities involving bears and other wildlife in North Carolina and Georgia. (Operation Something Bruin photo: Illegal bear trap)

"In 2013, state and federal officials trumpeted the four-year-long operation after it found 900 violations of wildlife law and led to prison time for seven men," Kevin Bogardus reports for EnergyWire. "Since then, local media and state legislators have found discrepancies in what was reported at the time."

Members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Government Operations "will look into those recent findings that agents allegedly had entrapped hunters, invaded their privacy and confiscated property unrelated to the operation," Bogardus writes.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Newspaper localizes rural brain drain; examines career options for four recent high school grads

An excellent example of localizing coverage of the rural "brain drain" is seen in the first part of a series in The Southern Illinoisian that focuses on four graduating seniors in a state that ranks second nationally only to New Jersey in out-migration, losing 16,563 students in 2012, Sarah Halasz Graham reports for The Southern. Southern Illinois has seen its share of out-migration, with the median age increasing from 39.5 in 1980 to 41.7 in 2010, more than four years higher than the national average of 37.2. (Southern photo by Richard Sitler: Kaelyn Watson will have to leave Galatia, Ill., if she wants to be a pediatric nurse practitioner)

Kaelyn Watson loves her small town of Galatia, but she wants to be a pediatric nurse practitioner, and there are not many options for the profession in the town of 935, Graham writes. Galatia not only lacks a hospital, but the small town is also without a pediatrician’s office. Watson, who will attend Southern Illinois University in the fall, told Graham, “It sounds bad, but I don’t want to be held back by this community. I know it’s a good community, but at the same time, I’m not going to get the opportunities to do what I want."

Tenika Carter, also from Galatia, has found the opportunities she wants close to home, Graham writes. Carter will attend nearby Southeastern Illinois College, where she will study to be an occupational therapy assistant, a profession available in the region. Carter told Graham, “It’s always been here. That’s all I’ve ever known. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, growing up in a small town.”

Another profession available in Galatia is coal mining, with two American Coal mines within two miles of the town, Graham writes. That's a career move that suits Caleb Miner just fine, especially since starting pay ranges from $12/hour to $18/hour "with the potential for frequent raises and promotions to management-level positions." The key is getting hired on at the coal mines. If not, then Miner will look for a career as a truck driver or working barges, "which means month-long stints on the Ohio River pushing and tying up barges, far away from the town he’s called home for 18 years."

Like Watson, Kylee Brown is moving away for college, where she will attend the University of Missouri, Graham writes. But not without reservations. Brown, who is considering studying radiology, has been having second thoughts about trading small-town life for the big campus life in Columbia, Mo. She told Graham, "I never really thought of anything else but going away to college. Staying around here was never really an option. I’m kind of regretting it now."

The series will continue in the fall, looking at industry and economic factors behind the brain drain. The series concludes in the winter by exploring how communities can reverse the trend of rural brain drain. (Read more)

American Medical Association calls for full disclosure of chemicals used in fracking

"The American Medical Association, citing growing concerns about monitoring and tracking long-term human health impacts caused by shale gas development, is calling for the public disclosure of all chemicals" used in hydraulic fracturing, Don Hopey reports for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. In addition to disclosing chemicals, the organization said monitoring “should focus on human exposure in well water and surface water and government agencies should share this information with physicians and the public.”

Physician Todd Sack, who authored AMA's policy, told Hopey, “Keeping the names of the chemicals secret is preposterous. It places an unreasonable burden on physicians . . . If we don’t know what chemicals are being used at specific well sites, physicians and public health officials can’t do their jobs.”

The industry, which says it meets all state laws, is opposed to making public all chemicals used, "citing commercial proprietary interests for keeping secret the chemicals used in fracking as biocides, friction inhibitors, anti-corrosives and acids to dissolve minerals," Hopey writes. "Most of the 25 states in the U.S. where shale gas drilling and development is occurring either don’t know or don’t publicly disclose all the chemicals used in fracking." (Read more)

Rural counties have 232,000 more jobs in April 2015 than in April 2014; unemployment at 5.4%

County-level data shows that rural jobs appear to be making a comeback, with 232,000 more rural jobs in April 2015 than April 2014, says the Bureau of Labor statistics. Those same counties had 330,000 fewer jobs in January 2015, compared to January 2014, Bill Bishop reports for the Daily Yonder.

The unemployment rate in rural counties also dropped to 5.4 percent in April 2015, compared to 6.2 percent in April 2014, Bishop writes. "The rate of job gain in rural America was only slightly slower than the rate of job gains in urban counties. Rural job growth was about 1.2 percent per year; the urban rate was 1.8 percent."

The unemployment rate in metro areas dropped from 5.8 percent in April 2015 to 5 percent in April 2014, Bishop writes. "Urban counties gained 2.33 million jobs between April 2014 and April 2015." (Yonder map)

Interactive map monitors avian influenza cases in North American birds

Since December 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has confirmed more than 43 million birds have been infected with avian influenza, reports WATTAgNet, which has created an interactive map monitoring avian flu outbreaks in North America. Avian flu has been especially deadly in Minnesota and Iowa but has also been reported in others states in the Midwest and South. (Read more)

Michigan, Ohio, Ontario reach agreement to reduce phosphorous in Lake Erie by 40% by 2025

Leaders from Michigan, Ohio and Ontario agreed this weekend to work "to reduce phosphorus in the western Lake Erie basin by 40 percent by 2025," Keith Matheny reports for the Detroit Free Press. "The nutrient is a key ingredient of widespread algae blooms in that portion of the lake—including a toxic strain that disrupted water supplies to 400,000 people in southeast Michigan and the Toledo area last August." Ohio and Michigan farmers last month also agreed to work together to control contamination. (Associated Press photo by D'Arcy Egan)

The interim goal is to reduce phosphorus by 20 percent by 2020, Robert Higgs reports for Northeast Ohio Media Group. "The phosphorus can come from any of several sources—fertilizer and manure runoff from farms or overflows from some waste water treatment plants. With the agreement, each state commits to developing a plan of attack toward reaching the targets." Indiana was also invited to participate but declined, said Ohio Gov. John Kasich's administration.

"Farmers in northwestern Ohio are under a new state ban on spreading manure on frozen or rain-soaked fields," John Seewer reports for AP. "The new law also requires training before farmers can use commercial fertilizers. The state also is increasing monitoring of wastewater plants. Michigan has a voluntary program to help farmers reduce pollution that goes into waterways. The two states and Indiana will begin sharing $17.5 million from the federal government to reduce farm-field runoff by planting strips of grass or cover crops that help soil absorb and filter phosphorus."

Drought-plagued California orders some of state's oldest water rights holders to stop pumping water

The California drought has gotten so bad that "for the first time in nearly 40 years, state regulators are telling more than 100 growers and irrigation districts with some of the oldest water rights in California that they have to stop drawing supplies from drought-starved rivers and streams in the Central Valley," Bettina Boxall reports for the Los Angeles Times.

"The curtailment order, issued Friday by the State Water Resources Control Board, has been expected for weeks," Boxall writes. "Earlier this spring, the board halted diversions under some 8,700 junior rights. With snowmelt reduced to a trickle this year, there simply isn't enough water flowing in rivers to meet the demand of all those with even older rights predating 1914."

Many growers "have water in storage that they can continue to use," Boxall writes. "Utilities can keep using flows for hydropower production as long as the water is returned to the rivers. Some growers and ranchers also have groundwater supplies that are unaffected by the order." (Read more)

Sunday, June 14, 2015

John Carroll, one of America's great editors, made us all better, and will continue to be an inspiration

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

The best tributes to the late John Carroll, one of America's greatest newspaper editors, will probably be written by people who worked with him—those whose journalism and careers he profoundly influenced and whose work benefited from what Wendell Rawls, who co-wrote their first Pulitzer Prize winner, called his "velvet touch, soft ear, careful tongue and steel spine."

Los Angeles Times photo by Wally Skalij
But many who weren't on the same payroll as John, including those of us who competed against him and his staffs, can feel after his tragic death that we really did work with him—in that great, collective cause that all journalists should feel: public service that improves communities, states, our nation and our world.

"Kentucky is a better place because of him," community-journalism specialist Liz Hansen, recently retired from Eastern Kentucky University, said of our friend on Facebook. That's one of the finest compliments that can be paid to a journalist, and John deserved it—for what he did for the Lexington Herald-Leader, for the newspaper's service area, for Eastern Kentucky and for the state's educational system, including the University of Kentucky, where I work.

If there was a sacred cow in the Lexington news media, it was UK basketball, but John directed an investigation of payoffs in the program, and it won the newspaper its first Pulitzer Prize in 1986. That also cost the paper advertising and circulation, and a gunshot through the pressroom windows amid protest rallies and a bomb threat, but the university changed its ways.

John's reaction to all that summed up the difference in journalism and other trades: “In marketing, the idea is to manage the number of complaints down to zero. That’s fine if you’re making toasters, but a newspaper that gets no complaints is a dead newspaper.”

Earlier, when John arrived to take the editorship of the Lexington Herald in 1979, I was a bureau reporter for The Courier-Journal, which covered all of Kentucky from its Louisville base and enjoyed strong circulation in much of Eastern Kentucky, where the Herald and its afternoon sister, The Lexington Leader, were punching below their weight. But the Knight-Ridder chain, which had brought John in from The Philadelphia Inquirer, put new emphasis on covering the rural region at a time when we started sending it an early edition without late sports—even UK ballgames.

Under John and Publisher Creed Black, a native of Harlan in southeastern Kentucky, the merged Herald-Leader became a real force in Eastern Kentucky, and that was especially important in 1989, when the state Supreme Court ruled the state school system unconstitutional—in a case brought by poor, rural districts. The Herald-Leader's response was an investigative package called "Cheating Our Children," which turned over some long-stuck rocks in the region, as John might have said, and had as much or more impact on the education-reform legislation as The Courier-Journal did. Rick Edmonds recalls John's five rules for investigative projects.

When John left to edit The Baltimore Sun in 1991, I was The Courier-Journal's political writer, and I can admit now that it was a bit of a relief to see him go. He knew how to recruit good people and manage them in ways that produced a newspaper that was in many ways fully competitive with the larger Courier-Journal. It certainly was with me. In those days, the front line of Kentucky's journalism wars was on Shelby Street Frankfort, in the shadow of the state Capitol, where our bureau's address was 614-B and the Herald-Leader's was 612-A. John's successors maintained that competitive spirit, and both papers benefited from it; Kentuckians also benefited from it, especially those in the far reaches of the state, far from the major cities.

The last decade's financial pressures on newspapers mean that rural coverage and circulation have greatly declined, at papers in Kentucky and elsewhere. Now my job is helping the smaller, rural news outlets pick up the slack. John Carroll will continue to inspire us.