Thursday, July 02, 2015

Confederate flag flap does what Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane couldn't: stop the 'Dukes of Hazzard'

Warner Bros. has ended the long run of "The Dukes of Hazzard" on TV Land, apparently because the souped-up 1969 Dodge Charger that is the best symbol of the show is named the General Lee and has a Confederate battle flag on its roof. The move is drawing much criticism, even from normally liberal quarters.

Warner Bros. earlier stopped licensing
this reproduction of the General Lee.
"The decision to remove the flag is right; the decision to strike the TV show seems extreme and wrongheaded but entirely in keeping with our times," Tim Teeman writes for the Daily Beast, comparing the move to an activist's removal of the flag from the South Carolina state Capitol grounds. "TV Land banning The Dukes of Hazzard is a banal gesture of how little we are prepared to confront the horror of Charleston, the continuing gritty day-to-day horror of all kinds of hatred aimed at all kinds of minorities."

Former U.S. Rep. Ben Jones, a Democrat who played Cooter Davenport on the show, is the principal objector. "That flag on top of the General Lee made a statement that the values of the rural south were the values of courage and family and good times," he wrote on Facebook. The co-star of the show, John Schneider, told The Hollywood Reporter, "I take exception to those who say that the flag on the General Lee should always be considered a symbol of racism. Is the flag used as such in other applications? Yes, but certainly not on the Dukes."

Appalachian field hospital to be testing ground for federally approved drone deliveries of medicine

A rural field hospital in southwest Virginia will be the testing ground to see how effective drones are for delivering medicine, Jenna Portnoy reports for The Washington Post. "Organizers expect the July 17 flights to the Remote Area Medical clinic to make history as the first federally approved package deliveries in the U.S."

"Pairing the technology with the feel-good RAM clinic—where residents of central Appalachia starved for health care often camp out for days for the chance to see a dentist or doctor—could cast drones in a new light," Portnoy writes. "In addition to demystifying commercial drones and opening the door to economic development, supporters say the technology makes good sense in Wise County," which has many remote areas.

Teresa Owens Gardner, executive director of the Health Wagon, which runs two stationary health-care clinics and a mobile unit that travels to remote locations, said that once "the clinics are in place, if she runs out of supplies, there’s no way to retrieve more from stockpiles that lie hours away," Portnoy writes. Gardner told her, “They’ve got the medication. We’ve got the patients. I’ve got patients dying without medication. [Drones] could really be game-changing and increase access and save lives.”

For the event, dubbed "Lets Fly Wisely," a NASA aircraft "will carry prescriptions for 20 people from the Tazewell County Airport to Lonesome Pine Airport in Wise County," Portnoy writes. "A pilot will be on board in case the plan goes haywire, but otherwise it will be controlled by remote stations on the ground." Drugs will then be loaded on a drone "and flown about a mile to the fairgrounds where the cargo will be lowered to the ground." (Read more)

Number of farmers market vendors accepting SNAP benefits has increased 700% since 2008, USDA says

The number of farmers, roadside farm stands and farmers markets that are authorized to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits increased from 753 to more than 6,400 from 2008 to 2015 and during that span "SNAP redemptions at those outlets in FY14 totaled $18.8 million, a nearly six-fold increase since 2008," reports the U.S. Department of Agriculture

Agriculture Under Secretary Kevin Concannon said in a statement: "All Americans, including those participating in our nutrition assistance programs, need to include more fresh fruits and vegetables in their diet. America's farmers have an important role to play in addressing that need in communities across the country. Accepting SNAP benefits also increases the customer base for local producers, adding an extra economic boost to the community."

Concannon will talk about the SNAP redemption's success today in Pennsylvania, where 181 markets participate in the program, Madeline Conway reports for The Philadelphia Inquirer. "SNAP redemptions in the state totaled $414,624 in fiscal year 2014, up from $9,358 in 2008."

News-gathering submarines are on the way; editor asks readers how they would use such a device

"If you had a mini-sub with a camera, how would you use it in the pursuit of environmental news?" asks David Poulson, senior associate director of Michigan State University’s Knight Center for Environmental Journalism and editor of Great Lakes Echo. Poulson says he's sold on the idea but is still trying to find a reason to justify the expenses.

It's not a futuristic concept, Poulson writes. "TT Robotix has indicated it will come out with a remotely controlled submersible capable of taking a Go-Pro camera more than 30 feet under water. It can remotely take still and video images and even stream what the camera sees as it sees it."

The sub is superior to a drone, mainly because there is little risk of attracting attention from humans or crashing into a person or vehicle, Paulson writes. Also no federal regulations currently exist against such devices, which is something that has been delaying use of drones. (Read more)

Food supplies for 4th of July cookouts are down 3% from last year, says American Farm Bureau

The average cost of supplies for a 4th of July cookout is 3 percent cheaper this year, now an average of about $5.58 per person when accounting for a party of 10 featuring barbecue favorites, reports the American Farm Bureau. to comply the data, 88 AFB members compared average prices in 30 states.

Ground round is up 2.1 percent, and ketchup and lemonade have also increased in price, but most other barbecue favorites are down, AFB reports. Pork spare ribs are down 3.4 percent, hot dogs 1.8 percent, potato salad 2.5 percent, baked beans 6.6 percent, corn chips 3.3 percent, chocolate milk 6 percent, watermelon 7.1 percent, hot dogs buns 3.7 percent, hamburger buns 10.7 percent, mustard 8.8 percent and American cheese 8.3 percent. (Read more)

Lock closed to prevent spread of invasive carp in Great Lakes; $60M plan announced to fight carp

Last month federal officials "closed the Mississippi River shipping lock at Upper St. Anthony Falls in Minneapolis in hopes of stopping the spread of invasive carp," reports the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "A shipping lock can allow the fish to reach waters above a dam, so closing the lock is seen as one of the most effective barriers to halt the carp's march upstream. The fish has yet to establish itself in Mississippi River waters in Minnesota, but it has been advancing." (Press photo by John Autey: Kayakers on June 9 move through the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam in Minneapolis one last time before it was closed)

The move was "the first time a navigable waterway has been closed to stem the tide of an invasive species," William Lager reports for Minnesota Public Radio. "It's unclear still if the plan—unique, so far, in the fight against invasives—will work. But the future of the river itself hangs in the balance."

"St. Anthony Falls is the only waterfall on the Mississippi River's 2,300-plus miles from Lake Itasca to the Gulf of Mexico. Invasive carp have been creeping north up the river since the 1970s—and this unique natural barrier has the potential to finally stop its spread," Lager reports. "Closing the upper lock to navigation takes away the possibility of carp hitching a ride above the falls alongside river traffic in the lock. Scientists are most concerned about the bighead carp, one of three types of the invasive fish threatening U.S. water systems. Once they enter a water system, these carp endanger nearly every level of the food chain, displace native species and alter the balance of the waterway's ecosystem."

The Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee on Tuesday released a nearly $60 million plan to prevent invasive carp from reaching the Great Lakes, where they could threaten the region's $7 billion recreational fishing and $16 billion recreational boating industries. "Key initiatives in the 2015 Framework include advancing a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study on new controls at Brandon Road Lock and Dam (Joliet, Ill.) refining detection and control technologies, and continuing efforts to suppress fish populations through netting," according to a release from ACRCC.

Fish and Wildlife refuses to reclassify gray wolves under the Endangered Species Act

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced on Tuesday that it will not reclassify the gray wolf from endangered to threatened, a move that conservationists hoped would discourage Congress from removing protections altogether, Devin Henry reports for The Hill. Some Congressional members have pushed for legislation to declassify the wolves, saying they threaten ranching operations. (Getty Images: Gray wolf)

The wolf is currently classified as endangered "throughout its habitat in the lower 48 states, except for Minnesota, where it’s listed as threatened, and in Montana, Idaho, Washington and parts of Oregon, where there are no Endangered Species Act protections, according to the Humane Society," Henry writes.

Conservationists petitioned in January to have the wolves classified as threatened, Henry writes. Fish and Wildlife said in a statement that the petition “does not present substantial information indicating that reclassification may be warranted” and that it “failed to provide substantial information indicating these wolves may meet the definition of a threatened species, specifically are likely to be in danger of extinction within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of their ranges." (Read more)

Activist who for years has claimed to be Cherokee has no Native American ancestry

Outspoken Native American activist and scholar Andrea Smith, who since at least 1991 has claimed to be a Cherokee, and who has criticized "white feminists" for trying to disassociate themselves from their race by pretending to be Indians, is not of Native American descent, Samantha Allen reports for The Daily Beast. (YouTube photo: Andrea Smith) 

Smith, an associate professor at the University of California, Riverside and the founder of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence, cannot link her heritage to Native Americans, said research analyst David Cornsilk, who Smith twice hired to research her genealogy, Allen writes. Cornsilk specializes in researching genealogy for the Cherokee Nation.

Cornsilk told Allen, "Her ancestry through her mother was first and showed no connection to the Cherokee tribe. Her second effort came in 1998 or around then with ‘new claims’ on her father’s lineage, which also did not pan out.”

Cornsilk, who said Smith told him her job depended on her being Native American, allegedly continued to portray herself as Cherokee, with her bio often referring to her as Cherokee and her speeches peppered with the word "we" when referring to Native Americans, Allen writes. Smith was also at the center of a controversy when she was denied tenure at the University of Michigan and "students and faculty rallied around her, suggesting discrimination on the basis of her Native American descent."

"Like Rachel Dolezal and her work with the NAACP, Smith has a long history of advocating for and speaking on behalf of Native American women," Allen writes. "But like Dolezal, her refusal to clarify her own background raises important and troubling questions about her role in that very work."

"Andrea Smith could not be reached for comment," Allen writes. "When asked for comment on Smith, INCITE! told The Daily Beast: 'We support Andy Smith and the self-determination of all First Nations People. INCITE would rather place our collective resources into abolishing settler colonialism than in perpetuating this ideology by policing her racial and tribal identity.'” (Read more)

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Nanomaterials used in farming operations pose risks to environment, study says

Nanomaterials, a common component in many industrial and consumer products, "may be more toxic to plants and microorganisms than other forms of metals," says a study by University of Kentucky scientists published in the academic journal Environmental Science and Technology, reports UK College of Agriculture News. (Cranfield University photo by Ben Martin: The pilot wastewater treatment plant that researchers constructed and used for this study)

Researchers studied biosolids—treated sewage sludge used on farms—"from a simulated wastewater treatment system containing the nanomaterials silver, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide and examined their effects on plants and microorganisms," UK Ag News reports. "Nanomaterials from common consumer products like sunscreens, cosmetics and textiles end up in wastewater treatment facilities where they are removed from drinking water and reside with sewage sludge. Further processing at the plant turns this sludge into biosolids. Until recently, these nanomaterials have not been present in biosolids.

Researchers "found that the biosolids with nanomaterials prevented the colonization of plants by nitrogen-fixing bacteria and changed the composition of microorganisms in the soil," reports UK Ag News. "As a result, the plants had stunted growth and took up far more zinc compared to biosolids containing typical forms of the meta." (Read more)

Yahoo Travel picks top 10 small town 4th of July celebrations

Bristol, R.I., is the best small town in America to celebrate the 4th of July, reports Sophie Forbes for Yahoo Travel, which has assembled a list of the top 10 small town 4th of July celebrations. Bristol, referred to as "the most patriotic town in the country," is believed to have the nation's oldest 4th of July celebration, dating back to 1785. (Flickr photo by H.C. Williams: Kentish Guards marching in the Bristol 4th of July parade)

Following Bristol are: Cooperstown, N.Y.; Sonoma, Calif.; Bisbee, Ariz.; Southport, N.C.; New Hope, Penn.; Boulder, Colo.; Seguin, Texas; Capitan, N.M.; and Brunswick, Ga. (Read more)

Longtime Nebraska weekly editor/publisher Shirley Brown Bogue dies at 96

Shirley Brown Bogue
Shirley Brown Bogue, who worked in Nebraska weekly newspapers for more than 30 years as a writer, editor and publisher died on June 24 at the age of 96, reports the Oakland Independent in the northeastern part of the state. Shirley and her husband Bob bought the Independent in 1952 and became joint editor-publishers.

"Together they pioneered community journalism, developing and introducing a lively, human interest orientation that increased photo coverage, an expanded editorial page and weekly columns, resulting in numerous awards and honors over the years including the NPA General Excellence awards and AK-SAR-BEN Community Service awards," reports the Independent. The Bogues also published the Madison Star, the West Point Republican, the Lyons Mirror Sun and the Craig News, before retiring in 1983, where Shirley continued to write, publishing several books.

Oklahoma Supreme Court says woman can sue energy companies for 2011 earthquake injuries

The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a Prague, Okla., (Best Places map) woman can file a lawsuit in district court against two energy companies for injuries she sustained during a 2011 earthquake, opening the door for more plaintiffs to file similar suits, Daniel Gilbert reports for The Wall Street Journal. In 2014 Oklahoma led the lower 48 states in earthquakes with 585 of magnitude 3 or higher, more than the state had in the previous 35 years combined. Scientists have linked disposal wells used in hydraulic fracturing operations to the rise in the state's earthquakes.

Sandra Ladra "sued New Dominion LLC and Spess Oil Co. last summer for injuries she sustained during a 5.6-magnitude quake that toppled her stone chimney," Gilbert writes. "The lawsuit in Lincoln County District Court contends that the companies caused the quake by injecting wastewater into nearby wells."

"The companies argued that they lawfully operated their injection wells under permits from the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, the state’s oil-and-gas regulator," Gilbert writes. "A judge dismissed the lawsuit, finding that the commission had exclusive jurisdiction over the dispute. The state Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s opinion in a unanimous ruling, concluding that a dispute between private parties should be tried in court rather than be heard by the commission." (Read more)

USDA releases updated state-by-state 'Made in Rural America' report

Alabama, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin are the top 10 states with federally funded local food projects, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's state-by-state "Made in Rural America" report released on Tuesday. (USDA graphic: Alabama report. Reports are available for every state)

USDA has invested more than $800 million in 29,100 local and regional food business and infrastructure projects in rural America over the past six years, with local food sales topping $11.7 billion in 2014, according to industry estimates, reports USDA. (Read more)

Author of Saving Community Journalism and UNC colleague to give workshop in S.F. Aug. 5

Penelope Muse Abernathy
After 30 years as a reporter, editor and newspaper executive, and now as the Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Penny Abernathy specializes in preserving quality journalism by helping the news business succeed in the digital environment. She and her colleague, Knight Chair in Digital Advertising and Marketing JoAnn Sciarrino, will share their knowledge in San Francisco on the morning of Wednesday, Aug. 5, before the convention of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications.

The four-hour workshop is aimed at journalism educators but is all about developing leadership in local news organizations, and the main title is the same as that of her book, Saving Community Journalism, so industry professionals are welcome. Topics include “How is the news business different from a decade ago, and what is the key to creating a sustainable business model?” and “What are some simple tools that will help news organizations get reliable real-time information so they can make better decisions?”  

The workshop will run from 8 a.m. to noon at the Marriott Marquis, 780 Mission St., and is limited to 40 participants. The fee is only $30. To sign up, go to Choose the workshop sponsored by the Community Journalism Interest Group of AEJMC. For further information, contact Penny Abernathy at

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

South reluctantly falling in line with ruling on same-sex marriage; some county clerks hold out

Southern states that had delayed issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples are now reluctantly falling in line with the Supreme Court ruling, though some county clerks are still refusing to comply, Erik Eckholm and Manny Fernandez report for The New York Times. (NYT photo by Edmund Fountain: Louisiana residents Michael Robinson and Earl Benjamin display their marriage certificate)

Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is running for president, said over the weekend that his state would comply when instructed to by a federal appellate court, Eckholm and Fernandez write. Louisiana is the only state not in compliance with the ruling.

Despite Jindal's defiance, many of the state's parishes began issuing marriage licenses on Monday to same-sex couples, "according to Forum for Equality, a marriage-rights group that had sent a letter to parish clerks on Sunday warning that they could be liable for violating couples’ civil rights if they refused to provide licenses," the Times reports.

"Marriages in Mississippi, which had been temporarily halted on Friday by an order from Attorney General Jim Hood, resumed in some cities on Monday after Hood clarified his statement and gave county clerks the right to make their own decisions," the reporters write. Hood said, “If a clerk has issued or decides to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple, there will be no adverse action taken by the attorney general. Hood, who is seeking re-election this year for a fourth term, said “a clerk who refuses to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple could be sued by the denied couple and may face liability.”

Campaign for Southern Equality, a gay-rights group, said that by late Monday afternoon, "at least 45 counties in Mississippi were providing marriage licenses to same sex-couples," the Times reports. "In Alabama, despite the clear hostility toward the Supreme Court ruling expressed by some top officials and previous rulings by the State Supreme Court, marriage licenses were being issued in most of the major population centers, although a few county probate judges stopped issuing any kind of marriage licenses, saying they did not want to violate their religious beliefs."

"The Association of County Commissions of Alabama, which advises the county governments, issued a statement on Monday in which it recommended that 'probate judges in Alabama follow the ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court beginning at 10 a.m. today,'" Eckholm and Fernandez report.

Some county clerks, mostly citing religious beliefs, have refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses. Seven counties in Tennessee have not yet begun issuing same-sex marriage licenses, Stacey Barchenger reports for The Tennessean. A few county clerks in Kentucky have said they won't issue licenses, John Cheves reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. For a story on one, from Larry Rowell of the Casey County News, click here.

The county clerk in Cleburne County, Arkansas, resigned rather than issue same-sex marriage licenses, reports The Associated Press. Clerks in other states also have refused to grant same-sex marriage licenses, while Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said county clerks can refuse to license gay couples on religious grounds, Daniel Wallis reports for Reuters.

Rural areas receive small percentage of grants from major foundations, USDA study finds

County-level data shows that rural-based organizations receive a small percentage of foundation grants and are awarded less than urban-based organizations, says a report by the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The study, which used 2005-2010 data from the nation's largest foundations, found that rural-based organizations accounted for 5.5 percent of grants. Adding urban organizations that support rural areas increased the amount to between 6.2 and 7.5 percent. Rural areas had 19 percent of the U.S. population in 2000, 16 percent in 2010.

The study also found that the "average real value of grants from large foundations to organizations based in non-metro counties from 2005 to 2010 was about $88 per capita (in 2010 dollars), less than half the average given to organizations in metro counties." Researchers "found that differences in educational attainment and in the capacity of local nonprofit organizations account for a substantial share of the variation across counties in grants per capita."

The report found that "rural grants are more likely to go to education, environmental protection and recreation than urban grants," Tim Marema reports for the Daily Yonder. "Conversely, rural organizations are less likely than urban ones to receive grants to support arts and cultural activities; philanthropy and volunteerism; and medical research."

Researchers said that "part of the difference in both the size and type of grants awarded to rural projects has to do with local capacity," Marema writes. Researchers "found that counties that had organizations like universities with higher fundraising ability tended to raise more money from private foundations. And counties with more nonprofit infrastructure tended to receive more philanthropic dollars." (USDA map)

Half the states are suing EPA over its new Clean Water Act rule defining 'waters of the U.S.'

On Monday 16 states filed lawsuits against the Environmental Protection Agency over its Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rules, Pam Maclean reports for Reuters. Nine more said today they were also going to court.

"The actions are a coordinated challenge to an EPA rule issued on May 27 that defines the jurisdiction of the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over rivers, streams, lakes or marshes. It was meant to clarify which waters are protected by the anti-pollution provisions of the 1972 Clean Water Act," Maclean reports.

In one lawsuit, Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana asked a federal court in Houston to declare the rule unconstitutional, calling it an "impermissible expansion of federal power over the states," Maclean writes. Thirteen other states—Nevada, North Dakota, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming—filed in federal court in North Dakota.

West Virginia, Kentucky, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Kansas, South Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin sued today in the Southern District of Georgia. The nine states joining said in a joint statement: "This case involves an attempt by two agencies of the federal government to usurp the States’ primary responsibility for the management, protection, and care of intrastate waters and lands. The federal agencies’ assertion of authority should be vacated and enjoined because it violates the Clean Water Act, the Administrative Procedure Act, and the Constitution."

The rule "would extend federal jurisdiction over tributaries that may be natural, man-altered or man-made, including canals and ditches, said the complaint filed in Texas," Maclean writes. "The rule fails to account for duration of water flow, suggesting federal agencies can assert jurisdiction over 'dry ponds, ephemeral streams, intermittent channels and even ditches,' the Texas lawsuit claims.

One-third of Kansas counties lack federally funded summer meal program sites

One-third of Kansas counties lack federal funding to provide low-income children with summer meals, Celia Llopis-Jepsen reports for The Topeka Capital-Journal. Low-income children who receive free or reduced-price meals during the school year can continue to receive meals at designated spots during the summer. But the Kansas Appleseed Center for Law and Justice says that 35 counties don't have summer meal location sites.

The main problems are transportation concerns in sparsely populated areas and finding community locations and partners willing to help with the logistics, Llopis-Jepsen writes. According to a 2015 report from the Food and Research Action Center in Washington, D.C., Kansas ranks 50th in terms of its summer meal outreach. "The organization calculates ratios of children served over the summer compared to those who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches during the school year."

In April, the U.S. Department of Agriculture "rejected Kansas’ proposal for hybrid rural sites that feed children on-site and send meals home with them, saying its attorneys had determined the department isn’t authorized to spend money in this manner," Llopis-Jepsen writes. "At the same time, the department suggested it might be allowed to do so in the future." (Read more) (Kansas counties in red lack federal funded summer meal sites)

Supreme Court tells EPA to redo coal-mercury rule with eye to costs; impact is likely limited

Industry officials and Republican leaders in two of the nation's largest coal-producing states—Kentucky and West Virginia—applauded the Supreme Court's ruling on Monday that the Environmental Protection Agency erred on its rule on toxic emissions from coal-fired power plants. The Supreme Court said that "U.S. officials failed to properly consider economic costs when they imposed expensive pollution controls on coal-burning power plants," Joby Warrick and Robert Barnes report for The Washington Post.

By a 5-4 ruling the Supreme Court "halted further implementation of the 2011 Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule, EPA’s landmark regulation that required electric utilities to reduce mercury pollution, linked in multiple studies to respiratory illnesses as well as birth defects and developmental problems in children," Warrick and Barnes write. "The decision’s ultimate impact on pollution controls was uncertain."

MATS was "one of the most ambitious environmental policies of President Obama's first term," ex-Post writer Brad Plumer writes for Vox. "The mercury rule will remain in effect for now, but the EPA will likely need to review and revise it in the months ahead," considering industry costs. But whatever happens, the practical effect could be limited, because utilities have already been shutting or converting coal-fired plants to comply with the rule, Plumer writes. "While a handful of slated-to-retire plants might get a reprieve if the regulation gets nixed, most of the investments in pollution control have already occurred."

The decision could have the most impact on 22 plants that received six-week extensions for complying with the rule because they had contractual obligations to provide power from them. Eric Wolff of SNL Financial has a detailed analysis of that, along with this map showing locations of plants that received various types of extensions.
Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, "said Monday's decision could mean a longer lifespan for some coal-fired power plants," Bill Estep reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. West Virginia officials also praised the decision. Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, "said in a statement that the decision 'is an important first step in reigning in a clearly out-of-control, bureaucratic agency,'" Ken Ward reports for the Charleston Gazette.

Early summer means more coyote sightings in rural areas; animals are a threat to pets

Rural residents should be reminded that this time of year is when coyote sightings and attacks are on the rise, Eyragon Eidam reports for the Auburn Journal in northern California. Spring and early summer are considered prime rearing season for pups, meaning coyotes often spend as much as 20 hours a day hunting, said Janice Mackey, of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. (Heidi Babcock took this photo of her dog Piper after she was attacked by coyotes in Auburn)

"This drive to find food can and does bring coyotes toward human-inhabited areas," Eidam writes. This means that human-coyote encounters are on the rise, as well as pet-coyote encounters. And if coyotes, which usually hunt in pairs, have food and pups in the area they tend to get more aggressive, leading them to attack pets they see as threats, Mackey said. (Read more)

Ky. seismologists measuring ground movement in area that has drawn interest of oil and gas industry

Seismologists with the Kentucky Geological Survey at the University of Kentucky are preparing for the possibility of hydraulic fracturing operations in the northeastern part of the state by "installing a network of highly sensitive seismic monitoring stations" to gauge the effect of fracking on earthquakes, Bill Estep reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. A significant rise in earthquakes in Oklahoma has been linked to oil and drilling. Kentucky has not had any major earthquakes linked to oil and gas operations. (Herald-Leader photo: UK seismologists Seth Carpenter, left, and Zhenming Wang preparing a monitoring station)

Seismologists are installing "at least 15 stations in the region to measure ground movement," Estep writes. "The goal is to collect baseline data on earthquake activity in the region before any significant increase in oil production there. Then, if that development comes, researchers will have better information to measure its impact, if any, on the number and strength of earthquakes."

While the state currently has monitoring stations, the new ones are more sensitive, are being placed closer together and are able to detect smaller earthquakes, Estep writes. "The new stations also will help provide information to better assess the earthquake hazard in the area."

The area being considered for drilling—the Rogersville shale layer—lies 9,000 feet or more below the surface, Estep writes. Companies are believed to have drilled—or gotten permits to drill—at least half a dozen deep wells in the area since 2013 "to figure out whether there is sufficient oil in the Rogersville shale to justify commercial development, according to people familiar with the issue."

"Companies are allowed to keep much information about test wells secret, but it's clear there is a good deal of interest, said David C. Harris, who heads the Energy & Minerals Section of the Kentucky Geological Survey," Estep writes.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Decisions about Obamacare, same-sex marriage, trade highlight the rural-urban divide

Three major decisions last week—the Supreme Court's ruling on federal health reform and same-sex marriage and Congressional renewal of fast track trade authority—are perfect examples to highlight the rural-urban divide, Shawna Thomas reports for NBC News.

Rural Americans have been the most critical of the Affordable Care Act, with 63 percent saying it should be overhauled or eliminated and 34 percent saying it should be eliminated, according to a poll done for NBC and The Wall Street Journal poll. Nationally, 25 percent of people say the ACA should be eliminated, while 50 percent say it should overhauled or eliminated. (NBC /WSJ graphic)

Similar results are seen regarding the ruling about same-sex marriage, Thomas writes. Only 46 percent of rural Americans wanted the court to legalize gay marriage, compared to 57 percent overall, while 47 percent of rural Americans opposed the ruling, compared to 37 percent nationally.

When it comes to trade deals, 34 percent of Americans say free trade between the U.S. and foreign countries has hurt the U.S., while 29 percent say it has helped, Thomas writes. In rural areas, 50 percent say it has hurt, while only 18 percent say it has helped. The bill from the Republican-controlled Congress "not only gave President Barack Obama a legislative victory (rural Americans are regularly the least supportive of the president), it also paves the way for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal."

"Whoever wins the Republican nomination in 2016 is going to have to find a way to inspire the GOP's rural base while still trying to appeal to crucial, suburban swing voters," Thomas writes. "Weeks like this past one show how hard that may be." (Read more)

States not getting enough support, funding to help rural hidden homeless

States are struggling to provide care for the rural hidden homeless—people who go unseen because they're living in the woods, tents, campers, sheds, barns or occasionally on a friend's couch when it's available—and who lack the transportation to find shelters, medical care for mental illness, counseling or food vouchers, Teresa Wiltz reports for Stateline

"Often, they don’t come forward for help because they are ashamed, advocates say," Wiltz writes. "And because they’re not easily spotted, or they’re not showing up for help at agencies, some advocates for the homeless argue that the rural homeless are being undercounted."

Wendy Kinnear, regional coordinator for the state of Pennsylvania’s Education for Children and Youth Experiencing Homelessness program, told Wiltz, “My frustration is that this isn’t something that people talk about. We don’t get the same funding and support. People are being undercounted—which means they’re not getting the services and funding that they can be tapping into.” (Geography of Homelessness graphic)
Some states are trying to address the needs of the rural homeless, Wiltz writes. "In Colorado, the Coalition for the Homeless runs a rural initiatives program, collaborating with 14 rural agencies to provide transitional housing, counseling, support, permanent housing and rental assistance."  In July, Virginia, "which has a large rural population of nearly 2 million, will launch its Housing Trust Fund to encourage affordable housing."

But in some state efforts haven't worked, Wiltz writes. "In North Dakota, where homelessness has skyrocketed after the oil boom created a housing shortage, legislators created a Housing Incentive Fund, allocating $35 million in 2013 to encourage the development of affordable housing. But that fund was depleted within five months."

The problem is that more money goes to fight urban homelessness, which is more visible than rural homelessness, Wiltz writes. Population determines where U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funding goes. "In rural areas, there are fewer continuums of care (CoC), local, community-based organizations that are responsible for coordinating aid for the homeless, usually with federal funding distributed by the states. Fewer CoCs means fewer homeless people are being served, Kinnear said."

"HUD set aside $30 million for a competitive grant to tackle rural homelessness. But the agency didn’t get enough applicants to send money to rural areas, according to Ann Oliva, director of HUD’s Office of Special Needs Assistance Programs," Wiltz writes.

Rural teen sex, birth rates higher than in metro areas, report finds; Iowa daily localizes report

Rural teenage girls are having sex at higher rates than their urban and suburban counterparts and are less likely to use birth control, leading to higher rates of rural teen pregnancies, says a report by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. The report, which used data from 2010, the most recent year it was available, found that for girls between the ages of 15-19, the teen birth rate among rural girls was one-third higher than it was for the rest of the country.

More than 45 out of every 1,000 rural girls ages 15-19 have a baby, compared to the national average of 34.2 per every 1,000 girls. While birth rates are declining nationally, the decline is slower in rural areas, where birth rates declined 31 percent from 1990 to 2010, compared to a 50 percent decline in metro areas. (National Campaign graphic)
Overall, 55 percent of rural girls ages 15-19 said they have had sex, compared to 40 percent from metro areas, and 41 percent of rural girls said they have had sex in the past three months, compared to 29 percent of metro girls. Of those girls, 71 percent of rural girls said they used birth control the first time, compared to 81 percent of metro girls, and 82 percent of rural girls who had sex in the past three months used birth control, compared to 86 percent of metro ones.

Researchers say the main reasons for higher rural teen birth rates are lower college enrollment, poverty, lack of access to health services and declining populations. Other factors are lack of health insurance, transportation barriers, fewer recreational facilities and higher rates of binge drinking.

The Gazette, in Eastern Iowa, localized the report by taking a look at state figures, finding the results held true in the state's rural counties. Iowa Department of Public Health statistics "showing teen birthrates by county between 2008 to 2012 found that 20 of Iowa’s 66 counties with populations of fewer than 20,000 had teen birthrates that ranked in the top third over all, and 39 of those counties had teen birthrates higher than the state average," Chelsea Keenan reports for The Gazette.

"Additionally, out of the 15 counties with the highest birthrates, seven had populations of fewer than 20,000," Keenan writes. "Clarke County—with a population of 9,325 in south-central Iowa—had the highest teen birthrate in the state—with a rate of 54.3 per 1,000 girls aged 15 to 19 years old."

Kristin Fairholm, executive director of Eyes Open Iowa, a Des Moines-based group that advocates for teen sexual education, told Keenan, “Teens in rural communities engage in risky behaviors at higher rates because, a lot of times, there aren’t things to do in small-town Iowa—they have more downtime." (Read more)

Backed by the telecommunications industry N.C., Tenn. fighting attempts at city-run broadband

The cable and telecommunications industry has been fighting a Federal Communications Commission ruling paving the way for cities to become Internet service providers, "arguing that taxpayer money should not fund potential competitors to private companies," Leticia Miranda reports for ProPublica. "The FCC’s decision came after two towns—City of Wilson in North Carolina and Chattanooga in Tennessee—appealed to the agency to be able to expand their networks."
"The telecom companies have what may seem like an unlikely ally: states. Roughly 20 states have restrictions against municipal broadband," Miranda writes. "And the attorneys general in North Carolina and Tennessee have recently filed lawsuits in an attempt to overrule the FCC and block towns in these states from expanding publicly funded Internet service."

It comes as now surprise that North Carolina and Tennessee have received backing from the telecommunications industry, Miranda writes. "Tennessee has hired one of the country’s largest telecom lobbying and law firms, Wiley Rein, to represent the state in its suit" while North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper "received roughly $35,000 from the telecommunications industry in his 2012 run for office. Only the state’s retail industry gave more."

During the 2014 North Carolina election, the telecommunications industry gave a combined $870,000 to candidates in both parties, while in Tennessee candidates "received nearly $921,000 from AT&T and other industry players in 2014," Miranda writes. "If the court upholds the FCC’s authority to preempt restrictions in North Carolina and Tennessee, it may embolden other cities to file petitions with the agency, according to lawyer Jim Baller, who represents Wilson and the Chattanooga Electric Power Board. He told Miranda, “A victory by the FCC would be a very welcome result for many communities across America." (Read more)

Rural Constable, N.Y., residents react to capture of escaped murderer in their small town

Some of the 1,400 residents of Constable, N.Y., (City-Data map) say the rural town near the Canadian border is so quiet and safe that they don't even bother to lock their doors. But over the weekend, Constable residents were at the center of one of the nation's greatest man hunts, when escaped murderer David P. Sweat was captured in their midst, Charity Vogel and T.J. Pignataro report for The Buffalo News.

Verba Bontrager, who has lived for nine years on a dairy farm near where Sweat was shot and taken into custody on Sunday, told the News, “I never dreamed it would be this close. It wasn’t on our property, but it was right on the edge. . . . It’s kind of a shock to me . . . We heard a couple of shots; then the police cars started coming. We didn’t know exactly what was happening. After the shots, people were here, I couldn’t believe how fast. Thirty or 40 cars.”

Retired middle school teacher James L. Fleury called Constable a "very quiet town." He told the News, "Everybody knows everybody . . . This is the biggest event—that I know, in my lifetime. I’m very grateful that it’s over.”

D. Billy Jones, the county’s legislative chairman, "described the area as less mountainous than the southern part of Franklin County with wooded areas, fields and farmland," Vogel and Pignataro write. Jones told her, "People were obviously on edge. We had a long night last night [Saturday], hoping they closed in on him. It’s been a little surreal round here. Our residents have put up with a lot. It’s been very tense, very emotional. Think there will be a lot of people tonight [Sunday] that will get a good night’s rest.” (Getty Images: Seth Lockwood, 10 and his sister Riley,12, give thanks to law enforcement officials following the capture of convicted murderer David Sweat on Sunday)

Kentucky senators McConnell, Paul twisting facts to muddy Clean Water Act rules, FactCheck says

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul, Republicans from Kentucky, have been twisting the facts of court cases to make the Environmental Protection Agency's Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rules appear to be more damning than they are, Dave Levitan reports for FactCheck. (Associated Press photo: From left, Sen. Rand Paul and Sen. Mitch McConnell)

Paul recently said at a dinner: "Over 40 years, we now define pollutants as dirt and your backyard as a navigable stream. It would be funny if we weren’t putting people in jail for it. Guy named Robert Lucas, down at the southern part of Mississippi, 10 years ago was 70 years old. He was put in prison for 10 years. He just got out. Ten years without parole. Ten years without early release. He was convicted of a RICO conspiracy [under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act]. RICO’s supposed to be something you go after gangsters for. You know what his conspiracy was? Conspiracy to put dirt on his own land. We’ve gone crazy."

In truth Lucas and his associates were charged with 41 counts—convicted of 40—of violating the Clean Water Act, conspiracy and fraud, Levitan writes. Lucas, who is actually 75 now and served seven years in prison before going to a halfway house, had been warned as far back as 1996 by the Justice Department that the 2,620-acre plot he was developing for low-cost housing contained wetlands and could not be used for housing. He received a long list of warnings "of the public health threat he and his partners were creating by installing septic systems in saturated soil," before finally being charged in 2004.

McConnell and Paul also co-wrote an op-ed piece in the Lexington Herald-Leader on June 16 that twisted facts, Levitan writes. They wrote: "A cautionary tale can be found in the story of Andy Johnson, a farmer who built a stock pond on his eight-acre Wyoming farm. He spent hours building it and filling it with fish, ducks and geese. Now the EPA is claiming that he violated the Clean Water Act by building the pond without a permit and is threatening to fine him $75,000—a day."

Levitan writes, "This description sounds as though Johnson simply dug a hole and added water. In fact, the Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA found that in order to create the pond, he constructed a dam on Six Mile Creek, a waterway deemed by the EPA to be a tributary of the Blacks Fork River, which in turn is a tributary of the Green River, which is a 'navigable, interstate water of the United States.'"

"Building the dam constituted a 'discharge of pollutants' into 'waters of the United States,' according to the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, and thus required a permit that Johnson did not have, or seek," Levitan writes. "As with the Lucas case, EPA officials say that Johnson received multiple warnings before any enforcement actions were taken."