Friday, July 10, 2015

Democratic presidential candidates not reaching out to rural areas, rural campaign veterans say

Rural campaign veterans say Democratic presidential candidates have made little effort to reach farm and rural votes, Jim Webster reports for Agri-Pulse. In 2007, then-Sens. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards all competed "aggressively for farm and rural votes—especially in the early caucus state of Iowa."

"Fast forward eight years and there is no apparent evidence of Democratic campaigns gearing up to organize an appeal to rural voters," Webster writes. "The lack of activity concerns veterans of Obama's 2008 rural campaign effort, which was credited with helping him carry the Iowa caucuses and hold down Republican margins in 2008."

An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll from January of 599 counties classified as Rural Middle America found that 40 percent of respondents had a negative view of Hillary Clinton, compared to 53 percent for President Obama. Despite those numbers, some say Clinton has done little to campaign in rural areas, which typically vote Republican.

Marshall Matz, Washington attorney who co-chaired the Obama rural committee that grew to more than 300 by 2008, told Webster, “Making an effort does make a difference. Even in counties where Democrats are not going to win, mitigating the loss can be significant. Even though the farm vote is getting smaller, it is important for Democrats to focus on rural states and counties because it can take pressure off the urban vote. For example, in Pennsylvania, the better the Democrats do in the central part of the state, the less pressure on Philly. Mitigating the loss in rural counties is just as important as the size of the plurality in the cities. Democrats seem to forget that.”

Matt Barron, president of MLB Research Associates, a political consulting and rural strategy firm in Chesterfield, Mass., told Webster, “Republicans see rural as agriculture; Democrats see rural more holistically.” Another campaign veteran, who asked not to be identified, told Webster, “I was very hopeful about Hillary Clinton, but I'm not feeling good yet.” (Read more)

Reclaiming abandoned mines could lead to economic opportunities in Appalachia, group says

"Increased funding and important reforms could allow the federal government’s Abandoned Mine Lands cleanup program to fuel economic recovery in communities hard hit by the mining industry’s downturn, a coalition of coalfield citizen groups said in a report released Wednesday," Ken Ward reports for the Charleston Gazette.

The organization, AML Policies Priorities Group, "urged Congress to pump more money into the program, extend a coal industry tax that funds the cleanups and focus spending on Appalachian states, where the most abandoned mines are and where communities have been hard hit by mine closures and layoffs," Ward writes.

The report states: “Due to the fact that a majority of the country’s abandoned mine sites lie in Appalachia, the transition in this region is vital context for AML reform. The region is experiencing unprecedented economic decline, environmental damage and inequality. An economic transition in Appalachia is inevitable, and in that inevitability communities see an opportunity to create a new economy that is just, sustainable, and works by and for Appalachians.” (AML graphic)
The report says that the AML program "has so far cleaned up $5.7 billion worth of abandoned mine problems, including nearly 800,000 acres of damaged land and water across the country. In 2013 alone, the program had a total economic impact of $778 million and created more than 1,300 jobs, the report said," Ward writes. There is at least $9.6 billion in site reclamation left to be done, the report said.

"As part of his proposal for the 2015-16 federal budget, President Obama proposed spending another $1 billion over five years from the AML program," Ward writes. "That money would be targeted for projects based on economic factors, such as the unemployment rate of coal-mining regions and the number of remaining abandoned mines, where reclamation projects are linked to 'job-creating economic development strategies that would help revitalize impacted communities,' the White House has said. So far, congressional committees have moved forward with only a $30 million pilot project for such spending, a figure that coalfield citizen groups say isn’t nearly enough." (Read more)

Rural counties, mostly in South, have higher rates of colon cancer deaths

Rural counties in the Lower Mississippi Delta, west Central Appalachia and eastern Virginia/North Carolina have the nation's highest rates of colorectal cancer deaths, says a study published on Wednesday in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research. Researchers identified those three areas as hotspots for colon cancer.

The study, which used data from 2009-2011, found that the rates in 94 counties in the Lower Mississippi Delta were 40 percent higher than in non hotspot areas. That area consists of 27 counties in Mississippi, 17 in Arkansas, 16 in Illinois, 15 in Missouri, 10 in Tennessee, six in Louisiana and three in Kentucky. (Washington Post graphic: Hotspots for colon cancer deaths)

Rates in west Central Appalachia—60 counties in Kentucky, 22 in Ohio, 19 in West Virginia and six in Indiana—were 18 percent higher than in non hotspots. Rates in eastern Virginia/North Carolina—11 counties in northeastern North Carolina and 26 counties in southeastern Virginia—were nine percent higher than rates in non hotspot areas.

"Researchers don’t know why rates in these three primarily rural regions are so high, but they tick off several underlying factors: high poverty, unemployment and obesity rates; low education and health-literacy levels; poor access to health care; and lower cancer-screening rates," Lena Sun reports for The Washington Post. "They note that as of March, only six of the 12 states in these high-risk regions had expanded Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act to include more low-income adults."

"Most disturbing are the data for black men in the lower Mississippi Delta, said Rebecca Siegel, an epidemiologist with the American Cancer Society and one of the authors," Sun writes. "The colon-cancer death rate increased by 3.5 percent every year for black men in that region between 1970 and 1990 and has since remained unchanged."

Bumblebee populations failing to track warming trends caused by climate change, study says

A study published in Science found that unlike most species, "many North American and European bumblebees are failing to 'track' warming by colonizing new habitats north of their historic range. Simultaneously, they are disappearing from the southern portions of their range," Cally Carswell reports for Science. (The two-spotted bumblebee, found in eastern North America, is one of about 250 bumblebee species worldwide)

The study, which consisted of 423,000 observations of 67 bumblebee species in North America and Europe since 1901, "found that some bumblebees have retreated as many as 300 kilometers from the southern edge of their historic ranges since 1974," Carswell writes. "Southern species are also retreating to higher elevations, shifting upward by an average of about 300 meters over the same time period. Meanwhile, few species have expanded their northern territories. And it turned out that climate change was the only factor that had a meaningful impact on the large-scale range shifts."

While pesticides have been partially blamed for the demise of bumblebee populations, "one clue to the importance of climate: bumblebee ranges began shrinking 'even before the neonicotinoid pesticides came into play in the 1980s,' says ecologist and coauthor Alana Pindar, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Guelph in Canada," Carswell writes. "She says the retreat from southern territories is 'a huge loss for bumblebee distributions' and happened surprisingly quickly. The researchers believe the retreat—and the move to higher elevations—may reflect the fact that bumblebees evolved in cooler climates than many other insects that haven't yet lost ground and so are especially sensitive to warming temperatures." (Read more)

Free Farm Foundation Forum event July 15 to focus on water challenges for the future

The Farm Foundation Forum will host a free event from 9 to 11 a.m. (EDT) on Wednesday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., to "examine how lessons being learned in the West may help the rest of the nation prepare for water management challenges in the future," says a release from Farm Foundation. "The Forum will also examine tools public and private decision makers across the country are already using to address such issues as access to water, regulation of water use, water quality and water quantity." 

Panelists participating in the forum Richard Howitt, Ph.D. professor emeritus of agriculture and resource economics at the Center for Watershed Sciences, University of California, Davis, and a specialist in water markets Lynn Broaddus, Ph.D., of Broadview Collaborative, will discuss water sustainability and resiliency; Barry Bogseth, Managing Director of MetLife, will offer a lender's perspective; and Betsy Hickman of Field to Market: The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, will discuss perspectives from across the agriculture and food value chain. For those unable to attend, the event will be audiocast. (Read more)

BLM schedules five public listening sessions on federal coal program

The Bureau of Land Management has scheduled a series of public listening sessions on the federal coal program to seek input about how the agency can best help taxpayers receive returns on coal resources managed by the federal government on their behalf. 

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said in a statement: “I have heard many concerns about how the federal government leases coal, the amount of royalty charged and whether taxpayers are getting a fair return from public resources. These listening sessions are an opportunity to better understand how taxpayers, stakeholders and local communities perceive the federal government’s coal program today and how we can improve and strengthen it for future generations.”

Listening sessions will be held on July 29 in Washington, D.C.; Aug. 11 in Billings, Mont.; Aug. 13 in Gillette, Wyo.; Aug. 18 in Denver and Aug. 20 in Farmington, N.M. The Washington, D.C., and Denver listening sessions will be available by livestream by clicking here.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Obamacare saving $1.4 billion annually on birth control; saves birth control users $255 per year

Federal health reform is leading to estimated annual savings in birth control of $1.4 billion, says a study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania published in the July issue of Health Affairs. "The average out-of-pocket expense for a prescription for the pill fell from $32.74 in the first six months of 2012 to $20.37 in the first six months of 2013 (a decline of 38 percent), and out-of-pocket expenses for an IUD insertion fell from $262.38 to $84.30 (a decline of 68 percent)."

Unwanted pregnancies are a major concern in poor and rural areas, especially among rural girls ages 15-19, whose birth rates are one-third higher than their urban counterparts. A Colorado program that offers poor women and rural teens intrauterine devices and implants that prevent pregnancy for several years saw its teen birth rate drop 40 percent from 2009 to 2013.

Lead author Nora V. Becker said, “We estimate that the ACA is saving the average pill user $255 per year, and the average woman receiving an IUD is saving $248. Spread over an estimated 6.88 million privately insured oral contraceptive users in the United States, consumer annual contribution to spending on the pill could be reduced by almost $1.5 billion annually.”

Research also "showed decreases in other, less widely used forms of contraception including spending for emergency contraception (93 percent), diaphragms and cervical caps (84 percent), the implant (72 percent) and the injection (68 percent). Little change was seen for the ring (two percent) and the patch (three percent)." (Read more) (PENN graphic: Trend in mean adjusted per claim out-of-pocket expenses for oral contraception pill prescription fills and intrauterine device insertions from 2008-2013)
As part of Obamacare, "a woman should be able to fill a prescription without opening her wallet," Danielle Paquette reports for The Washington Post. "Not all brands, however, are required to be covered with no cost sharing. Some insurance plans have failed to comply with the law, the National Women's Law Center recently found. And some women in the study’s sample were enrolled in grandfathered plans not yet subject to the mandate or whose employers did not participate for religious reasons."

"Health economists say the financial barrier to birth control drives up unintended pregnancies and, ultimately, the taxpayer burden," Paquette writes. The monthly co-pay for pills, though typically under $50, adds up. And the cost of an IUD, arguably the most effective method on the market, can reach $1,000." (Read more)

South Carolina House votes to remove Confederate flag; Gov. Haley to sign bill at 4 today

The Confederate flag is coming down in South Carolina. The state House voted 94-20 today to remove the flag from the South Carolina State House grounds, where it has flown for five decades, Jim Self reports for The State in Columbia, S.C. (State photo by Tim Dominick: Rep. Todd Rutherford and Rep. Leon Stavrinakis celebrate the passing of the bill)

Gov. Nikki Haley, who asked for the flag to be removed after nine African Americans were killed in a historic Charleston church last month and a white suspect with ties to hate crimes was arrested for the murders, will hold a bill signing at 4 p.m. today, Self writes. The flag could be taken down as early as Friday. Haley said in a Facebook post: “It is a new day in South Carolina, a day we can all be proud of, a day that truly brings us all together as we continue to heal, as one people and one state.” (Read more)

Senate Democrats pushing legislation to save six-day mail delivery, improve rural mail service

Legislation being pushed by Democratic Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Jon Tester (Mont.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Gary Peters (Mich.) aims to protect rural mail and save six-day delivery, Bernie Becker reports for The Hill. The bill "would speed up the mail delivery times that USPS has rolled back in recent years, make the current six-day delivery standards permanent and stop the Postal Service from closing any more mail processing centers for two years."

"USPS, which has lost tens of billions of dollars in recent years, has said its cost-cutting moves—which include reducing hours at rural post offices and shuttering dozens of processing centers—were needed to stay afloat," Becker writes. "Following those changes, long-distance mail now arrives within three to five days less than two-thirds of the time.

Heitkamp, who said she was skeptical that the Postal Service’s service reductions had been all that effective to the agency’s bottom line, told Becker, “It always seems like rural America takes the brunt of these decisions.” (Read more)

Texas Barnett Shale methane emissions 50% higher than EPA estimates, studies say

Emissions of methane in the Texas Barnett Shale are 50 percent higher than Environmental Protection Agency estimates, according to 11 research papers by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) published in Environmental Science & Technology. Researchers said there are simple cost-effective ways to reduce the leaks, but they are not being used by many companies. ( map: Texas Barnett Shale region)

"The majority of these emissions are from a small but widespread number of sources across the region’s oil and gas supply chain," EDF reports. "These emissions come from the sort of leaks and equipment malfunctions that are relatively easy to prevent with proper and frequent monitoring and repair practices."

Researcher said "that at any given time, roughly 75 percent of the methane emissions from production sites in the Barnett Shale tend to come from a set of elusive and dispersed sources," EDF reports. "Higher emissions from these sites are often a result of avoidable operating conditions such as equipment leaks and tank venting that are relatively easy to prevent with frequent monitoring and repair practices." (Read more)

"Nine of the 11 studies were published for the first time on Tuesday (the other two were published online several months ago but still considered part of the Barnett campaign)," Lisa Song and Zahra Hirji report for InsideClimate News. "One of the nine papers summarizes the campaign's main findings." For a link to the eight new papers, click here.

Okla. governor's administration felt linking fracking to earthquakes could be awkward for industry

Oklahoma Republican Gov. Mary Fallin, whose biggest backer has been the oil and gas industry, has been slow in acknowledging any link between earthquakes and wastewater disposal wells because the administration felt it could be too awkward to point the finger at the state's most prominent industry, Mike Soraghan reports for EnergyWire

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. The Oklahoma Geological Survey, which originally denied any link between seismic activities and fracking operations, has since said "that most of the quakes are 'very likely' triggered by oil and gas activities."

"EnergyWire reviewed thousands of pages of emails and other documents provided by Fallin's office under the Oklahoma Open Records Act," Soraghan writes. "They show a team in the governor's office that moved slowly to address the quakes even as the earth rumbled more and more frequently."

Fallin's top aide "told staffers to 'make this go away' when earthquake preparedness came up in the state Legislature after the (5.7 magnitude) November 2011 quake," Soraghan writes. "When constituents had questions, her office used talking points borrowed from an oil company. And, with Fallin at the helm, Oklahoma has done far less than other states hit by smaller and less frequent man-made quakes."

A spokesperson said Fallin's views have since "progressed along with scientific understanding of the quakes," Soraghan writes. A statement from the administration said: "As we have gathered more data and the science has evolved, the governor has said that natural causes alone cannot explain the increasing number of earthquakes. As multiple studies have suggested, wastewater disposal wells are likely a contributing factor to increased seismic activity in Oklahoma."

While the spokesperson says the administration didn't acknowledge any link sooner because it would be pure speculation, critics argue that the data was available, Soraghan writes. "In July 2011, Arkansas had imposed a moratorium on disposal in a broad swath of the state, ending a swarm of quakes there. A month after the damaging Oklahoma quake, Ohio officials moved to shut down several injection wells around Youngstown because of a series of much smaller earthquakes." (Read more)

Whistleblowers say millions intended for fish in Klamath Basin went to farmers and ranchers

The federal government's Office of Special Counsel is investigating allegations from whistleblowers that $48 million—some of which was intended to secure water for drought-stricken fish in southern Oregon and Northern California—went instead to farmers, ranchers and other parties, Lisa Rein reports for The Washington Post. Farmers and ranchers have long fought with environmentalists and Indian tribes over the scarce water supply in the Klamath Basin, one of the largest watersheds in the western U.S.

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a watchdog group, said two biologists for the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, which supplies farmers with irrigation water and farmland in the Klamath Project, became suspicious "a little more than a year ago of a contract between the bureau and an organization called the Klamath Water and Power Agency," Rein writes. (U.S. Department of the Interior graphic)

"PEER says at least some of the $48 million contract was supposed to pay for a feasibility study for fish and wildlife of whether farmers could use groundwater instead of pulling water from the rivers. But instead, the group says, the money was used for office space, equipment, salaries and other expenditures to defray expenses of the company, an association of Klamath Project irrigators," Rein writes. "The biologists discovered that money also was used to pump large amounts of groundwater to supply farmers during drought years until private wells went dry. All of these expenditures were made without any apparent legal authority to do so, PEER claims."

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Nearly 9,000 miles of official U.S. bike routes bringing tourism dollars to rural communities

Bike routes are an easy and cheap way to bring tourism dollars to rural communities, reports Nicholas Deshais for The Spokesman-Review. Deshais last month began a 416-trek across Idaho and Washington's U.S. Bicycle Route 10 (Spokesman-Review graphic) which is part of nearly 8,992 miles of official bike routes in 18 states—Alaska, Florida, Kentucky, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington and the District of Columbia, states Adventure Cycling Association. The proposed National Corridor Plan would create 50,000 miles of numbered bike routes in all 50 states. 

"An official bike route doesn’t require much," Deshais writes. "No bike lane, signs or even a substantial shoulder is needed, though all of these things are very desirable. The only real rule for an official bike route is that it must connect two or more states or a state and an international border or to another official route." The biggest hurdle is getting every jurisdiction along the route to approve the route. USBR 10 includes 18 cities and towns, seven counties and a handful of transportation districts.

Paula Reeves, a planner in the Washington State Department of Transportation's engineering policy and innovation division, said "that for every dollar spent on bike gear and equipment, an additional $4 is spent on trips and travel," Deshais writes. "A recent study done by Tacoma-based Earth Economics said "bicycle riding in general generated more than $3.1 billion in annual spending."

Saara Snow, travel initiative coordinator with the Missoula-based Adventure Cycling Association, told Deshais, "A lot of communities want bicycle tourism in their towns. Bicyclists tend to ride on rural roads, and because of that it brings a new type of tourism these communities don’t normally see. Cyclists spend more money than motorized tourists. That’s because they spend more time in the state, they spend more on lodging and food, and they do that in rural communities. Essentially, they have a greater impact on these smaller, rural towns.” (Proposed routes for the National Corridor Plan. For a larger version, click here)

Mountaintop removal coal output decreased 62 percent from 2008 to 2014

Coal production from mines with mountaintop removal permits declined 62 percent from 2008 to 2014, according to a report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. During that same time, total coal production declined 15 percent and surface mining production 21 percent. The majority of mountaintop removal occurs in Central Appalachia, specifically Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia.

"Lower demand for U.S. coal—primarily used to generate electric power, driven by competitive natural gas prices, increasing use of renewable generation, flat electricity demand and environmental regulations—has contributed to lower U.S. coal production," the report states. (EIA graphic)

Food industry needs to listen to consumers, support Country of Origin Labeling, researchers say

Meatpackers, one of the most vocal opponents of Country of Origin Labeling (COOL), should listen to what consumers want and support the rules, Daryll Ray and Harwood Schaffer of the Agricultural Policy Analysis Center at the University of Tennessee, opine for Policy Pennings. "There is a growing number of consumers who want to know where and how their food is being raised. All it takes is a trip through the produce aisle to see that every apple, pear, bell pepper, tomato and . . . has a little sticker on it telling consumers the variety and where it was produced—in some cases it lists the farm on which the item was produced. For those buying local that is an important bit of information."

"To the extent that major packers and processors ignore the growing consumer trend of requiring more exacting information about food products, the greater are the opportunities for a myriad of small local/regional operators willing to tell consumers where the meat they are selling was born, raised and slaughtered," Ray and Schaffer write.

"It is interesting to us that one of the (283) groups most vocal in its opposition to COOL is the meatpacking industry, given that they are in a position to sabotage the law and make sure that it has a negative impact on livestock producers in Canada and Mexico," Ray and Schaffer write. "It has been alleged that packers have limited the processing of imported animals to certain days in order to make it easier to segregate born, raised and processed in the US beef from imported animals that would require a label saying, born and raised in Canada and processed in the US."

"Given the fact that livestock owners are paid on the basis of grade and yield, it is clear that packers have the capability to track each animal through the process," Ray and Schaffer write. "So how much more difficult could it be for their computers to also record the place of birth, raising and slaughter in the same data record that they use to pay the producer?"

"Yes, different cuts of meat may go down different lines in the plant, but how hard can it be to attach a computer generated tag to each intact cut?" Ray and Schaffer write. "At the end of the line, intact cuts requiring the same COOL label could then be boxed together so there is no confusion when the meat reaches the retailer. For supermarkets that receive prepackaged meat cuts, the work would even be easier; they could be labeled by the packer using data from the computer generated tag." (Read more)

Refracking allows industry to keep tapping wells for more oil and gas

The oil and gas industry is discovering that horizontal wells used in hydraulic fracturing operations during the boom in U.S. shale fields contain more reserves than previously thought, leading to greater use of a practice called refracking, Dan Murtaugh, Lynn Doan and Bradley Olson report for Bloomberg. Analysis by Wood Mackenzie Ltd and ITG Investment Research found that "fields could actually contain enough reserves to last about 50 years."

"A study by Bloomberg Intelligence of about 80 wells that were originally tapped in North Dakota’s Bakken formation in 2008 or 2009 and then refracked again years later shows a clear pickup in output," Bloomberg reports. "The wells on average produced more than 30 percent more oil in the month after the refrack than they did after the original completion, according to analysts." (Bloomberg graphic: An analysis of wells blasted with hydraulic fracturing for a second time)

"While these kinds of increases are important to traditional drillers, they’re crucial in the shale industry, where output can start falling within days of a well being tapped," Bloomberg reports. R.T. Dukes, an upstream analyst at Wood Mackenzie in Houston, "estimates that there are about 100,000 horizontal wells that could be restimulated."

Some risks are involved, Bloomberg reports. "If poorly executed, the maneuver could take oil from the producing zones of other wells, or worse yet, ruin a reservoir. Then there’s the concern that some industry analysts have that a refrack only accelerates the flow without increasing the actual total output over the life of the well. EOG is among the drillers that remain reluctant to start using the procedure." (Read more)

Protest song 'Paradise' still vexes Peabody Energy 44 years after it was first released

At the heart of a federal lawsuit filed by environmental activists against Peabody Energy is a 44-year-old protest song that has bothered the company so badly for so long that it has asked the judge to strike lyrics from the song from the lawsuit, Ben Neary reports for The Associated Press.

Defendants Thomas Asprey and Leslie Glustrom of Boulder, Colo., claim they were jailed for demonstrating at a company shareholders' meeting in Wyoming, Neary writes. The lawsuit uses lyrics from the 1971 John Prine song "Paradise," which was written about Paradise, Ky., a Western Kentucky town that was once home to his parents and now a Tennessee Valley Authority power plant. (MapQuest image: Paradise, Ky., can still be found on some maps despite not existing since 1967)

"Lawyers for Peabody filed a 15-page brief with U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl in Casper last week urging him to strike the lyrics and other aspects of Asprey and Glustrom's complaint the company claims are 'irrelevant, immaterial, impertinent and/or inflammatory,'" Neary writes.

"The company stated the plaintiffs are 'attempting to shame Peabody and attack the energy industry by citing to song lyrics that tarnish Peabody's name . . . These allegations rise to the level of absurdity, as they have no bearing whatsoever on the facts in this case, and, accordingly, should be stricken."

The song says, in part:
"When I was a child my family would travel
Down to Western Kentucky where my parents were born
And there's a backwards old town that's often remembered
So many times that my memories are worn.

[Chorus:] And daddy won't you take me back to Muhlenberg County
Down by the Green River where Paradise lay
Well, I'm sorry my son, but you're too late in asking
Mister Peabody's coal train has hauled it away"

Rural, metro Nebraskans disagree on top concerns; rural residents say jobs No. 1, metro say crime

A pair of University of Nebraska polls show that rural residents ranked jobs as the biggest concern, while metro residents ranked crime highest, Henry Cordes reports for the Omaha World-Herald. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln conducted a poll of rural residents. The University of Nebraska Omaha conducted a similar poll of metro residents.  

The rural poll was mailed to 7,000 residents, asking their opinions on climate and energy, community involvement, education, well-being and community. Similar questions were asked of metro residents in the metro poll.

While 46 percent of metro residents listed crime as the No. 1 concern, crime didn't even crack the top 10 in rural areas, Cordes writes. "The top issue was the economy—including jobs, better wages and keeping local businesses—cited by 31 percent of rural respondents. Health care also was a top-three concern for 15 percent of rural residents." The only issue to make the top 10 on both lists was taxes, with rural residents ranking taxes as the second biggest concern and metro residents ranking it third. (Read more)

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Rural Ky. clerk says online system would solve objections to issuing same-sex marriage licenses

Casey County, Kentucky
A county clerk in Southern Kentucky who has refused to issue any marriage licenses, citing his objections to the Supreme Court ruling supporting same-sex marriages, said there is a simple solution to the problem—create an online system that issues marriage licenses, Jack Brammer reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Casey County Clerk Casey Davis said an online system would enable same-sex couples to get marriage licenses without forcing county clerks to go against their religious beliefs. The county clerk in Rowan County, in northeastern Kentucky, has also refused to issue licenses. (An earlier version of this item incorrectly said they had limited their refusal to same-sex couples.)

Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear said he would meet with Davis but stated, "my position is clear because I took the same oath they did, and that oath is to uphold that constitutional ruling, regardless as to what you feel about it. But I'll talk to them. I certainly encourage them to go ahead and perform their duties and move along." Beshear also rejected Davis's call for a special session of the legislature to enact online marriage licensing. Earlier, about 1,000 supporters rallied in support of Davis, Larry Rowell and Nicole Burton report for the Casey County News.

Officials in Decatur County, Tennessee, say three employees in the clerk's office "have resigned from their positions because of their opposition" to the decision and their religious beliefs, Tyler Whetstone reports for The Jackson Sun.

A same-sex couple that was turned away while applying for a marriage license last week in Hood County, Texas, is suing the county clerk, who cited religious beliefs in refusing to issue the license, reports KTVT in Dallas. The clerk did say that someone else in her office would accommodate the couple.

Civil War education varies by state; new Texas textbooks downplay slavery's role in war

One-hundred-fifty years after the American Civil War ended and slavery was abolished, debate over the Confederate flag had heated up in some southern states, with some people calling the flag racist and others citing its historical significance. This brings up an interesting topic concerning how U.S. schools approach teaching students about the Civil War.

In Texas, five million public school students this fall will begin using social studies textbooks that say the Civil War "was caused by 'sectionalism, states’ rights and slavery'—written deliberately in that order to telegraph slavery’s secondary role in driving the conflict, according to some members of the state board of education," Emma Brown reports for The Washington Post. "The state’s guidelines for teaching American history also do not mention the Ku Klux Klan or Jim Crow laws."

Pat Hardy, a Republican board member when the board adopted the standards in 2010, called slavery "a side issue to the Civil War," Brown writes. Hardy told her, “There would be those who would say the reason for the Civil War was over slavery. No. It was over states’ rights.”

That attitude has caused concern, especially since the states' rights the Confederacy was trying to protect included the right to own slaves, Brown writes. Dan Quinn of the Texas Freedom Network, "a left-leaning advocacy organization that has been critical of the state’s academic standards in social studies," told Brown, “It’s the obvious question, it seems to me. Not only are we worried about the flags and statues and all that, but what the hell are kids learning?”

The problem is that different people view the Civil War differently, Brown writes. "Nowhere is the rejection of slavery’s central role more apparent than in Texas, where elected members of the state board of education revised state social studies standards in 2010 to correct for what they said was a liberal slant."

Standards include reading "the speech Jefferson Davis gave when he was inaugurated president of the Confederate States of America, an address that does not mention slavery," Brown writes. "But students are not required to read a famous speech by Alexander Stephens, Davis’s vice president, in which he explained that the South’s desire to preserve slavery was the cornerstone of its new government and 'the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.'”

Rod Paige, a Republican "who served as education secretary under President George W. Bush, was among those who criticized the Texas board for minimizing difficult parts of the nation’s past," Brown writes. Paige told her, “I’m of the view that the history of slavery and civil rights are dominant elements of our history and have shaped who we are today. We may not like our history, but it’s history.” (Read more)

Map shows high school graduation rates by district

The Hechinger Report has put together a map of the 2013 high school graduation rates in nearly every school district in the U.S. State rates range from 69 percent in Oregon to nearly 90 percent in Iowa, reports Sarah Butrymowicz for Hechinger. The national average in 2013 was 81 percent, up from 79 percent in 2011. However, the map shows more complete data for states, highlighting areas with high graduation rates and ones with lower graduation rates. (Hechinger map: For a larger version, click here)

Appalachian Power says it will increase reliance on wind and solar power to reduce carbon emissions

Appalachian Power announced a plan to reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants over the next 15 years by developing more than a fifth of its energy from solar and wind power, Matt Chittum reports for The Roanoke Times. "At the same time, it anticipates reducing its reliance on electricity from coal-fired power plants from 72 percent of the total to just more than half," while increasing its reliance on natural gas from 14 percent to 23 percent. 

"In the plan, the company acknowledges a potential energy generation capacity shortfall in 2020 due to increasing demand and the shuttering of some coal-fired facilities to reduce emissions," Chittum writes. "Exactly where Appalachian Power will find or produce wind and solar energy remains unclear. The plan describes a bump in those sources in 2016, followed by a much larger leap in 2022."

"Appalachian Voices, a North Carolina-based environmental nonprofit with an office in Charlottesville, praised the move toward renewable energy but questioned why other methods of reducing emissions got less attention," Chittum writes. "According to the plan, Appalachian Power will increase energy efficiency programs from zero to 1 percent of its energy capacity." (Read more)

Appeals court upholds EPA's authority to reduce farm pollution in Chesapeake Bay

The Chesapeake Bay drains parts of six states.
On Monday a federal appeals court upheld the Environmental Protection Agency's "authority to order pollution reductions by Maryland and all the other states that drain into the Chesapeake Bay," Timothy Wheeler reports for The Baltimore Sun. "The U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia brushed aside challenges from agricultural and home building groups to the "pollution diet" that EPA imposed for the bay in 2010."

Circuit Judge Thomas Ambro acknowledged that the decision hurts rural counties and the agricultural industry, Philip Brasher reports for Agri-Pulse. Ambro said, "The winners are environmental groups, the states that border the Bay, tourists, fishermen, municipal wastewater treatment works and urban centers. The losers are rural counties with farming operations, nonpoint source polluters, the agricultural industry and those states that would prefer a lighter touch from the EPA."

Wheeler notes that in 2011 the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Assocation of Home Builders and other groups sued "to block the bay pollution plan, claiming that EPA overstepped its legal authority in demanding that the states curb runoff from farms and new development as well as from industry and sewage plants."

Environmental groups and municipal wastewater agencies argued "that if federal regulators could not insist on across-the-board pollution reductions, urban and suburban water and sewer system customers would be left to shoulder the entire cleanup burden," Wheeler writes. "Agriculture is the leading source of nutrient and sediment pollution, according to the EPA, while storm-water runoff is the only source of pollution still growing."

Monday, July 06, 2015

Liberals prefer urban, conservatives rural, says Pew study on differences between two groups

Liberals and conservatives don't agree on much. In addition to politics, the two groups also disagree in many other areas, such as rural vs. urban, diversity, religion, family, education, recreation, arts and culture, guns and cable news, reports the Pew Research Center, with a nod to Bill Bishop of the Daily Yonder, who tipped us off to this report. 

While both groups said living near family is important, liberals were more likely to say they prefer living in an urban area, while conservatives picked rural areas. Of consistently conservative respondents, 76 percent said they prefer a rural area or small town, compared to only 31 percent of consistently liberal responders who said they prefer a rural area or small town. Also, 50 percent of conservatives and 35 percent of liberals said it's important to live in an area where people share their political views. (Pew Research Center graphic)

"Despite their differing community preferences, liberals and conservatives generally share a desire to be close to family, good schools and the outdoors," reports Pew. "However, when it comes to the ethnic, religious or political makeup of a community, there are clear ideological divides."

Overall, 76 percent of consistently liberal respondents said living in a place with people from different ethnic and racial backgrounds is important, while only 20 percent of consistently conservative respondents felt that way. Also, 57 percent of consistently conservative people said living near those who share the same religious beliefs is important, while only 17 percent of consistently liberal placed the same importance on the issue. When it comes to politics, 30 percent of conservatives said they would be unhappy to welcome a Democrat into the family, while 23 percent of liberals said the same about a Republican. (Read more)

California vaccination law signed; some rural counties have low vaccination rates

Last week California Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown signed a vaccination law, barring parents from abstaining from having their children vaccinated because of religious or personal beliefs, a move that largely affects the state's rural areas. Mississippi and West Virginia are the only other states to ban vaccination waivers based on religious beliefs.

"Beginning with the 2016 school year, the new law could affect more than 80,000 California students who annually claim personal belief exemptions," Phil Willon and Melanie Mason report for the Los Angeles Times. "Only medical exceptions will be allowed for those entering day care and kindergarten. Children with physician-certified allergies and immune-system deficiencies, for example, will be exempted. Parents can still decline to vaccinate children who attend private home-based schools or independent studies off campus." (California Vaccination Rates: Top 15 counties with highest personal belief exemption rates. For an interactive version, click here)

During the 2014-15 school year, 89.4 percent of of the 434,922 children 2 years to 4 years and 11 months of age enrolled in reporting child care facilities received all required immunizations, reports the California Department of Public Health.

Numbers were much lower in some rural counties. In Nevada County, 21.4 percent of students have not been vaccinated because of personal beliefs, reports California Vaccination Rates. In Nevada City, which has a population of about 3,000, 44.3 percent of students—117 out of 264 children—have not been vaccinated because of personal beliefs.

"According to health standards, coverage rates must remain in the 92-94 percent range to ensure herd-immunity against measles, which involves maintaining a threshold level of vaccination across a community that protects even the unvaccinated," reports California Vaccination Rates.

Colorado has found a way to reduce unwanted pregnancies among teens, poor women

Rural girls between the ages of 15-19 have birth rates one-third higher than the rest of the country, according to a report by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy using data from 2010, the most recent year it was available. 

Colorado officials have found a way to reverse the trend, with the overall rate of teen births dropping 40 percent from 2009 to 2013 and the rate of abortions dropping 42 percent, Sabrina Tavernise reports for The New York Times. "There was a similar decline in births for another group particularly vulnerable to unplanned pregnancies: unmarried women under 25 who have not finished high school." (NYT photo by Benjamin Rasmussen: An intrauterine device, which prevents pregnancy for several years)

The state's solution was to offer teenagers and poor women "free intrauterine devices and implants that prevent pregnancy for year,"  Tavernise writes. "About one-fifth of women ages 18 to 44 in Colorado now use a long-acting method, a substantial increase driven largely by teenagers and poor women," compared to about 7 percent nationally. But funds for the program are running out, and not all plans covered by federal health reform provide free contraception.

"In 2009, half of all first births to women in the poorest areas of the state happened before they turned 21," Tavernise writes. "By 2014, half of first births did not occur until they had turned 24, a difference that advocates say gives young women time to finish their educations and to gain a foothold in an increasingly competitive job market."

Isabel Sawhill, an economist at the Brookings Institution, told Tavernise, “If we want to reduce poverty, one of the simplest, fastest and cheapest things we could do would be to make sure that as few people as possible become parents before they actually want to.”

That's especially true in places like rural Huerfano County, which ranks second to last in the state in life expectancy, Tavernise writes. Debbie Channel, the manager of the Spanish Peaks Regional Health Center’s Outreach and Women’s Clinic, told Tavernise, “If you get pregnant here, you are stuck." (Read more)

During drought California's rural poor living with tainted water or lack of running water

While much of California has dealt with brutal conditions from the drought, some poor rural areas are faced with even more dire circumstances—high levels of arsenic in the water and a lack of running water, Darryl Fears reports for The Washington Post.
"Tulare County, in southern San Joaquin Valley (Valley CAN map) is a land without water, a real-life example of a future many Californians fear as scientists warn of a possible decades-long megadrought," Fears writes. "State politicians, county officials and community activists have scrambled to place water tanks at about 1,200 homes, but that is only slightly more than half of the households that do not have water. Every day, the county puts 3,000 gallons of non-potable water in two tanks at different locations in Porterville so some of those residents can fill drums and buckets for basic uses such as flushing toilets."

In an area where temperatures can climb above 100 degrees, "trailers with 16 portable showers operate from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week, costing the county about $30,000 per month," said local pastor Roman Hernandez. He told Fears, "We get people here all day long."

At St. Anthony Trailer Park, 40 miles south of Palm Springs, arsenic in the well water is twice the concentration considered safe, Fears writes. That has left a constant foul smell in the air and has caused skin damage, such as bumps on the head that formed on one resident who used the water to bathe.

"Arsenic, natural or not, can be frightening. It has been linked to various cancers of the bladder, lungs and skin when consumed in high doses," Fears writes. "It is also known to cause birth defects and attack the nervous system. Near agricultural fields, its levels can be increased by fertilizers and animal waste that run off farms. Mineral mining operations in the area contribute to the problem."

"Three years ago, officials in Riverside County helped a community nonprofit group, Pueblo Unido, take ownership of St. Anthony Trailer Park and its toxic well after a business that owned it went bankrupt," Fears writes. "The county also provided funds for Pueblo Unido to build a ­reverse-osmosis water-treatment facility that filters water through a membrane to remove arsenic for the park’s 850 residents. Pueblo Unido took the additional step of providing filters that remove arsenic from water directly at the faucets of some trailers." (Read more)

Rates of rape, sexual assault in Pennsyltucky are much higher than official statistics

Official rates of rape and child sexual assault in Pennsyltucky —western and central sections of Pennsylvania, which are geographically and/or culturally part of Appalachia—are significantly higher than the rest of the state, Emma Eisenberg reports for Salon. But actual numbers are estimated to be even higher because of the high number of incidents that go unreported. (Wikipedia map: Pennsyltucky)

"Nationwide, experts believe the available numbers on rural sexual assault underestimate the problem," Eisenberg writes. "A 2003 report from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center found that in rural areas, the numbers of those who seek crisis services far exceed the number of reported rapes. The NSVRC hypothesizes that underreporting, a major factor in all states, is especially pronounced in rural areas because of the low population density, which means victims probably know or have significant relationships with their attackers."

Studies show "that the closer the relationship between the victim and the offender, the less likely a victim is to report," Eisenberg writes. Other factors include not wanting to report rape to a police officer victims know on a personal level, lack of cell phone service and public transportation, poor roads and long distances to travel to reach law enforcement and crisis centers.

Susan Lewis, who wrote the National Sexual Violence Resource Center report, wrote, “Sexual assaults in rural areas are mostly hidden crimes, hidden both intentionally and unintentionally by characteristics of a close-knit culture or an isolated lifestyle.” A program director in a rural Pennsylvania, identified in the report only as Tanya, said, “Rural people don’t report unless they have to." (Read more)

Coyotes help protect birds and small mammals from cats, study says

Coyotes are helping protect bird and small mammal populations by keeping cats away, says a study by North Carolina State University researchers published in the Journal of Mammalogy. The study, which analyzed 2,100 sites, found that cats were 300 times more likely to to be detected in residential areas than in parks where coyotes are more likely to roam. The more likely coyotes were in the area, the less likely cats were to stray into those areas. (News & Observer photo by Chuck Liddy: Coyote on a North Carolina farm)

The importance of the study is that cats are estimated to kill up to 4 billion birds and 22 billion small mammals a year in the U.S., Rose Rimler reports for The News & Observer. "Cats often prey on common introduced species, such as Norwegian rats. But they are thought to be devastating to native, at-risk species, especially on islands, where feral cats have been linked to extinctions." Coyotes are more likely to eat larger animals and fruit, rather than birds, lead author Roland Kays said.

Jonathan Cawley, editor-in-chief of the North Carolina Predator Hunters Association, disagreed with the study's conclusion that coyotes are good for the ecosystem, Rimler writes. Cawley told her, “Yeah, coyotes can help with the feral cat population, I would definitely agree with that. But I think coyotes are a much bigger problem than cats . . . I’ve never seen a cat tear a calf out of a mother cow when they’re giving birth." He also said coyotes "compete for deer, kill pets and prey on the native fox population."

Missouri denies 'Grain Belt Express' idea for wind power

On Wednesday, the Missouri Public Service Commission rejected a Texas company's plan for a 780-mile transmission line designed to bring wind power from the Kansas high plains to Missouri eastern power grids, Donald Bradley reports for The Kansas City Star.

Backers, including environmentalists, had supported the project in the battle for renewable energy against coal-fired power plants. The idea was also supposed to create jobs and give low-cost electricity to consumers, including 200,000 Missouri homes. However, even though "U.S. energy policy calls for increased wind power, it doesn't include a federal right of way to get those power lines past Missouri farmers who didn't want it coming across their land," Bradley writes.

The Public Service Commission's order said that "actual benefits to the general public from the project are outweighed by the burdens on affected landowners." Clean Line Energy officials said the power line would not only bring low-cost renewable energy to the state but also generate $6.4 million in property taxes that could be used for schools, roads, hospitals and emergency services. The company could take the conflict to court or ask for federal intervention with the U.S. Department of Energy.

"The fact that the proposed route avoided cities and towns and made farmers feel like they were viewed as easy pickings," Bradley writes. Farmers are concerned about what 150-foot towers with high voltage cables would look like stringing across fields and pastures.

"We will always have opposition," Mark Lawlor, the project's development director, said. "But people opposed to this now turned on their lights this morning, and that power came across somebody's land." Opponents say the wind farm should be built off the Atlantic coast—which would be very expensive—or underground—which wouldn't be safe for such high voltage.