Friday, October 09, 2015

Appeals-court panel blocks WOTUS rule nationwide

A federal appeals court has blocked the Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing its new definition of "waters of the United States," extending an earlier, limited WOTUS ruling to 37 other states.

Judge David McKeague of the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati wrote that the 18 states challenging the rule “have demonstrated a substantial possibility of success on the merits of their claims” and a stay will not cause undue harm to the environment. "Judge Richard Griffin joined in McKeague's opinion, providing the two-to-one majority," Agri-Pulse reports.

"The decision is a victory for many in the agricultural community who were hoping to stop the rule through the legal process after legislative efforts through either a standalone bill or an appropriations rider proved challenging," Agri-Pulse reports. "Those opposed to the rule contend it greatly expands the authority of the EPA under the Clean Water Act and would have been placed an overly expensive burden, both on authorities charged with enforcement and producers found to be in non-compliance. The rule is subject to a number of lawsuits across the country from states and stakeholder groups."

World's first-ever carbon capture project on a large coal plant nearing full capture operating capacity

Mike Marsh, president and CEO of SaskPower's Boundary Dam—the world's first-ever carbon capture project on a large coal plant—said on Thursday "that the initiative is on track to reach full operating capacity this year," Christa Marshall reports for ClimateWire. The facility—which began capturing carbon dioxide last October at a coal plant in Saskatchewan, Canada—has captured more than 400,000 metric tons of CO2 since then.

Marsh told Marshall, "We're very happy that we've been able to not only demonstrate various capture rates over the past year. As we approach full capture, we can achieve 90 percent capture at that plant, which is about four times better than a comparable natural gas combined-cycle facility today."

He said SaskPower "has not decided whether to retrofit other coal units at Boundary Dam and won't until the end of next year," Marshall writes. "The next attempt to capture CO2 at another coal plant would be about 20 to 30 percent cheaper, he said, citing feedback from engineers. The capture rates and related data will be studied carefully because no other large coal-fired power plant globally ever has achieved such a high percentage of capture."

When the Environmental Protection Agency "unveiled its proposed carbon rule on new power plants in 2013, it cited Boundary Dam as an example of CCS technology," Marshall writes. "SaskPower moved forward in retrofitting part of its existing Boundary Dam Power Station because of a unique set of circumstances, including Canadian greenhouse gas regulations and $240 million from the Canadian government." (Read more)

Another rural hospital closes in a Republican-led state that chose not to expand Medicaid

This weekend Mercy Hospital Independence in southeast Kansas will become the 58th rural hospital to close since 2010, "joining dozens of rural hospitals around the country that have not been able to withstand the financial and demographic challenges buffeting them," Mitch Smith and Abby Goodnough report for The New York Times. "The hospital and its outpatient clinics, owned by the Mercy health care system in St. Louis, was where people in this city of 9,000 turned for everything from sore throats to emergency treatment after a car crash. Now, many say they are worried about what losing Mercy will mean not just for their own health but for their community’s future." (NYT photo by Amy Stroh)

"The closings have accelerated over the last few years and have hit more midsize hospitals like Mercy, which was licensed for 75 beds, than smaller “critical access” hospitals, which are reimbursed at a higher rate by Medicare," Smith and Goodnough write. "These institutions are often mainstays of small communities, providing not just close-to-home care but also jobs and economic stability." Mercy had 8,000 visits to its emergency room last year.

"On Thursday, just a day before the main hospital building was to close, a Mercy spokeswoman said another health system had tentatively agreed to open an urgent care clinic in Independence and take over most of Mercy’s outpatient operations but not inpatient services or the emergency room," Smith and Goodnough write. "An earlier plan for another hospital to take over some of Mercy’s operations here fell through last month."

"Mercy’s problems attracted notice in Topeka, the state capital, as some lawmakers renewed calls on the state to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, a move that would have pumped an estimated $1.6 million a year into the hospital’s coffers," Smith and Goodnough write. "But Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, remained steadfastly opposed to the idea. Hospital officials said the Medicaid funds would have helped significantly but probably would not have ensured Mercy’s long-term survival."

"Two Republican state legislators from Independence, Sen. Jeff King and Rep. Jim Kelly, said they hoped some version of state-based Medicaid expansion would seriously be considered in the next legislative session to help prevent more hospital closings," Smith and Goodnough write. "King said that while he still opposed a straight expansion of Medicaid, he was open to the type of alternative model that Indiana and several other Republican-led states have pursued." (Read more)

Fracking linked to premature births, says study by researchers with ties to sustainability organization

A study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University published in the journal Epidemiology "suggests pregnant women living near [hydraulic fracturing] wells in Pennsylvania are more likely to give birth prematurely or have high risk pregnancies," Sean Cockerham reports for McClatchy Newspapers.

Researchers, who studied more than 9,000 mothers who gave birth in north and central Pennsylvania between 2009 and 2013, "found that living among the most active quartile of fracking activity was associated with a 40 percent increase in premature birth and a 30 percent increase in reported high-risk pregnancies, which can mean factors like high blood pressure or excessive weight gain," Cockerham writes.

Nicole Jacobs, Pennsylvania director for Energy In Depth, a research arm of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, criticized the study, saying it “doesn’t take any environmental samples and relies heavily on assumptions,” Cockerham writes. She also noted that lead researcher Brian Schwartz is a fellow at the Post Carbon Institute, an organization which says its "mission is to lead the transition to a more resilient, equitable and sustainable world by providing individuals and communities with the resources needed to understand and respond to the interrelated economic, energy and ecological crises of the 21st century." (Read more)

Renewable Fuel Standard uncertainty hurting farm economies, agricultural groups say

The National Farmers Union and the National Corn Growers Association released a paper on Thursday "claiming that uncertainty surrounding the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) is a major factor in projected drops in net farm income," Spencer Chase reports for Agri-Pulse. The paper "pointed to USDA's Economic Research Service's projected 26 percent drop in net cash income for farmers. The paper calls the RFS 'the most significant growth factor for agriculture since its inception' and says that the 'agricultural economic revolution spawned by the renewable fuel industry helped raise farm incomes across nearly all agricultural sectors.'”

"The Environmental Protection Agency has been under fire for its administration of the RFS for some time after delayed Renewable Volume Obligations (RVO) announcements led to a lawsuit from the American Petroleum Institute and American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers," Chase writes. "That lawsuit resulted in a timeline for announcement of 2014 and 2015 RVOs, and the EPA is voluntarily announcing the 2016 RVOs along the same schedule. An announcement is expected by the end of November."

Thursday's paper says "the uncertainty in the blending requirements under the law led to uncertainty at ethanol plants across the country, forcing many to close," Chase writes. NCGA president Chip Bowling, who said he lives by one of those closed plants in southern Maryland, told reporters, "It has changed the basis in the price that we receive for our corn; it has changed the way we are buying equipment; it has changed the way we to go out to dinner.” He said one local equipment dealer has seen a 30 to 40 percent drop in orders, mostly "due to the uncertainty in the renewable fuel standard because that's what built the farm economy up.”

"In May, EPA proposed incremental increases in every biofuel category, including corn ethanol used in E10 and higher blends at gas pumps across the country," Chase writes. "In 2015, the agency is proposing 16.3 billion gallons of renewable fuels—short of the 20.5 billion statutory target—with the potential for 13.4 billion of those gallons coming from corn ethanol. In 2016, the agency suggests further increases to 17.4 billion gallons of biofuels—a jump of about 1.5 billion gallons from actual 2014 production but below the 22.25 billion called for in statutory language—with the potential for corn ethanol to account for 11.4 billion of the total." (Read more)

Movie set in coalfield town of Big Stone Gap, Va., is mostly believable, in-state critic says

Ashley Judd and Patrick Wilson, the film's love interests
The film "Big Stone Gap" opens today in 274 theaters, reports Glenn Gannaway of The Post in the southwest Virginia coal town of 5,600 that is the locle of the romantic comedy, set in 1978 and based on the novel of the same name by local native Adriana Trigiani.

"It has an impressive cast, all of whom reportedly took minimum salaries to get it made. They include Ashley Judd, Patrick Wilson, Whoopi Goldberg, Jenna Elfman, Jane Krakowski and Anthony LaPaglia," film critic Mal Vincent writes for The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk. "In spite of the actual plot of the movie, the wake-up call comes when the local folks learn that Elizabeth Taylor is coming to town. They plan a welcome they hope will rival Cleopatra's entrance into Rome. The local drug store, owned by Ave Maria Mulligan (Judd) and run by Fleeta Mullins (Goldberg), spruces things up in case Taylor might stop by for an aspirin. Those of us who have been around long enough remember the mania."

"For all of the movie's warmth, the setting sometimes raises an eyebrow," Vincent writes. "The corn is as high as an elephant's eye even though we are in Virginia, not Oklahoma. Things also sometimes venture dangerously close to the kind of hillbilly-bashing of things like 'Ma and Pa Kettle' and 'The Beverly Hillbillies.' But, for the most part, it stays believable, although the low budget at times shows. The writer stays away from the coal mines and any drama they might suggest. This is not the kind of movie, or novel, that is going to deal with the problems of organized labor. It's the sort of story that, one critic wrote in referring to the novel, 'is as comforting as a patchwork quilt and as charming as a country cottage. 'Yeah. That's kinda it. These are good ol' country folk—the kind you don't often see in the movies. Y'all come." To read other reviews of the film, click here and here.

Best Places map
The town is planning a big celebration Saturday with the stars and "and the hundreds of people who participated in filming two years ago, either in front of the camera or behind the scenes," Gannaway reports. "Other celebrities expected are novelist Barbara Kingsolver and possibly several other writers, and the film’s composer John Leventhal and wife Rosanne Cash."

Saturday's events included a press conference with Judd, Wilson and others. For a report from Robert Sorrell of the Bristol Herald Courier, click here.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Young, poor Central Appalachian adults are some of the nation's most sleep-deprived, study says

Young people in some of the nation's most economically distressed Appalachian counties are the nation's most sleep deprived, according to county-level data from a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study was taken from a 2009 survey that asked 432,000 people how many times over the past 30 days they felt that they didn't get enough sleep or rest. Respondents were separated into two categories based on people who reported poor sleep on fewer than 15 days and those who reported poor sleep on more than 15 days, Christopher Ingraham reports for The Washington Post.

"The nation's biggest cluster of bad sleep ended up in the heart of Appalachia and in a cluster of counties in Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee," Ingraham writes. "In some of these counties, 40 to 50 percent of the sample—and even higher, in some cases— reported difficulty sleeping on at least half of the days in the previous month. By contrast, the research also identified a number of 'coldspots' when it comes to sleep deficiency—places where rates are below average. Wisconsin has a number of these counties, as does Northern Virginia. In many of these counties, rates of sleep difficulty fall below 20 percent."

"Researchers looked at a number of social and demographic factors to see whether anything correlated—obesity, income, education, drinking rates, overall physical and mental health," Ingraham writes. "They found, interestingly, that 'relatively younger individuals of lower socioeconomic status and poorer health were more likely to live in hotspot counties.' People who were generally younger, poorer and in worse health were more likely to live in places with high rates of bad sleep." (For an interactive map click here)

Researchers say whole milk reduces risk of heart disease, others say saturated fats increase risks

U.S. dietary guidelines that for years have recommended avoiding whole milk—leading to a decrease in sales—may have gotten it all wrong when it comes ingesting saturated fats, Peter Whoriskey reports for The Washington Post. Research in recent years has found that "millions might have been better off had they stuck with whole milk. Scientists who tallied diet and health records for several thousand patients over ten years found, for example, that contrary to the government advice, people who consumed more milk fat had lower incidence of heart disease."

"This year, as the 'Dietary Guidelines for Americans' undergoes one of its periodic updates, the federal bureaucrats writing them must confront what may be the most controversial and weighty question in all of nutrition: does the consumption of so-called saturated fats—the ones characteristic of meat and dairy products—contribute to heart disease?" Whoriskey writes. "After all the decades of research, it is possible that the key lesson on fats is two-fold. Cutting saturated fats from diets and replacing them with carbohydrates, as is often done, likely will not reduce heart disease risk. But cutting saturated fats and replacing them with unsaturated fats—the type of fats characteristic of fish, nuts and vegetable oils—might." (Post graphic)
"This shift in understanding has led to accusations that the Dietary Guidelines harmed those people who for years avoided fats—as instructed—and loaded up excessively on the carbohydrates in foods such as breads, cookies and cakes that were marketed as 'low fat.'" Whoriskey writes. "It also has raised questions about the scientific foundations of the government’s diet advice: To what extent did the federal government and the diet scientists they relied upon, go wrong? When the evidence is incomplete on a dietary question, should the government refrain from making recommendations?"

Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist, epidemiologist and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science & Policy at Tufts University, told Whoriskey, "There's no evidence that the reduction of saturated fats should be a priority." Others disagree. Representatives of the American Heart Association said "the evidence for the dangers of saturated fats arises from these two ideas: Consuming saturated fats raises levels of so-called 'bad' cholesterol in the blood, and higher levels of 'bad' cholesterol, in turn, raise risks of heart disease."

Heart disease, for which health officials have long blamed fatty foods ingestion, is the leading cause of death in the U.S., claiming 611,105 lives per year, Whoriskey writes. Cancer claims 584,881 lives. The next highest total is chronic lower respiratory disease, at 149,205. (Read more)

Watchdog study requested by rural lawmakers says USPS tracking system completely unreliable

The U.S. Postal Service's "tracking system for measuring on-time delivery is so unreliable that there’s no way to know how late the mail really is," said a report by the Government Accountability Office, Lisa Rein reports for The Washington Post. "Just 55 percent of the mail is even measured by postal officials, auditors found, making it unlikely that the agency is meeting its legal obligation to provide quality service to every corner of the United States."

The Postal Service was also criticized "for failing to provide the public with data on whether they are meeting delivery standards for rural addresses compared to urban or suburban ones," Rein writes. "Lawmakers representing rural states, who requested the GAO study, say spotty mail service is now the new normal across their districts, with cross-country and local delivery delayed by several days."

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the top Democrat on the Senate committee that oversees the Postal Service, was one of the lawmakers who requested the study, Rein writes. He told her, “Service across the country, particularly in rural communities, is suffering. Unfortunately, the Government Accountability Office found the delivery performance results that the Postal Service and Postal Regulatory Commission provide do not give Congress or postal customers an accurate assessment of service.”

Rein writes, "Auditors found that almost half of the mail is not included in the post office’s system of assessing delivery times because it does not have barcodes and other information that can be tracked, on when mail arrived at the local post office, for example. There is no minimum that needs to be included."

The Postal Service said in a statement that it “strongly disagrees with the conclusion that our current service performance measurement is not accurate,” Rein writes. The agency states, “The Postal Service is strongly committed to transparency and the regular publication of our service performance results, including those in rural areas through a rural service measurement initiative. We continue to work with the Congress and our regulator to develop enhanced methods for evaluating delivery performance that are already robust and accurate.” (Read more)

Alabama governor says driver-license offices in rural, black areas will open one day a month

UPDATE, Oct. 19: "In a change of course, Gov. Robert Bentley Friday evening announced that the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency would return driver’s license examiners to 31 rural counties," Brian Lyman reports for the Montgomery Advertiser. "A statement from the governor’s office said an examiner would spend at least one day each month in each of the counties slated to lose part-time examiners under budget cuts announced by ALEA at the end of last month."

Alabama's plan to close 31 part-time rural Department of Motor Vehicle offices, coupled with the state's voter ID law that went into effect last year, is making it more difficult for rural black residents who typically vote Democrat to vote, states the editorial board of The New York Times. Blacks make up more than 75 percent of residents in the 31 counties. Alabama is making it difficult for rural blacks to vote, opines New York Times editorial board.

Alabama’s voter ID law "requires voters to bring a government-issued photo ID to the polls," states the times. Anywhere from 250,000 to 500,000 of the state's registered voters lack a driver’s license or other acceptable photo ID. "The state offers a special voter-ID card for people without any other photo identification, although only 5,000 were issued before the 2014 elections . . . These laws have proliferated around the country, nearly always enacted by Republican-controlled legislatures at the expense of minorities, the poor and other groups who tend to vote Democratic."

"Alabama has a long and ugly history of racial discrimination in voting," states the Times. "From 1965 on, at least 100 voting changes were blocked or altered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which required Alabama and other states and jurisdictions with histories of discrimination to get federal approval before changing their voting practices. But in a 2013 case brought by Shelby County, Ala., the Supreme Court said that the section could not be applied to those states and jurisdictions because the data about discrimination was outdated. On the same day as that ruling, Alabama announced it would enforce its voter-ID law, which had passed in 2011 but was never submitted for approval."

"Alabama officials say the driver’s license offices set to close process less than 5 percent of Alabama licenses," states the Times. "But many are concentrated in the central part of the state known as the 'Black Belt'—a poor, rural, heavily African-American region where car ownership is below average, public transportation is virtually nonexistent and voters are strongly Democratic. On Monday, Representative Terri Sewell asked the Justice Department to investigate the planned closings."

"Making voting easier doesn’t have to be hard," states the board. "Oregon, for example, passed a law in March that automatically registers any eligible voter who gets a driver’s license—a move expected to add 300,000 voters to the rolls. Compare that to the trend in Alabama, where fewer people turned out for the 2014 midterm elections than for any election in almost three decades." (Read more)

Freeman (S.D.) Courier news editor awarded Daniel M. Phillips Leadership Award by NNA

Jeremy Waltner
Jeremy Waltner, news editor of the Freeman (S.D.) Courier, was given the Daniel M. Phillips Leadership Award on Oct. 3 during the National Newspaper Association’s 129th Annual Convention & Trade Show in St. Charles, Mo. The award honors Daniel Morris “Dan” Phillips, "an award-winning writer, photographer and assistant publisher of the Oxford (Miss.) Eagle, who passed away in 2005 at the age of 47," states NNA. "This award is presented to an individual 23-40 years old who is well respected in his or her community, of good reputation and integrity, provides active leadership in the newspaper industry and is active in his or her state press association and community and whose newspaper is a member of NNA."

Brian J. Hunhoff, contributing editor to the Yankton County Observer in Yankton, S.D., nominated Waltner. Hunhoff said, “Jeremy Waltner has continued a family tradition of leadership in the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors. In 2007, at age 30, Jeremy served as the youngest president in ISWNE’s 60-year history. He also helped his father and Mobridge Tribune Publisher Larry Atkinson, organize the 2007 ISWNE Conference in the Black Hills of South Dakota. In 2003, from a pool of 144 entries, Jeremy won ISWNE’s Golden Quill award for best editorial. He remains one of the lynchpins of ISWNE.”

The James O. Amos award and the Emma C. McKinney award "are presented to a working or retired newspaperman and woman who have provided distinguished service and leadership to the community press and their community," states NNA. They are "recognized as two of the highest and most distinguished tributes in community journalism . . . presented to a working or retired newspaperman and woman who has provided distinguished service and leadership to the community press and his/her community."

Bill Tubbs, owner of the weekly North Scott Press in Eldridge, Iowa, was named the recipient of the Amos award. Barbara “Barb” A. Walter, of Hennessey, OK, was presented with the McKinney Award. Walter, who became managing editor of the Hennessey Clipper in 1978, was later named co-publisher by her husband, Bill Walter.

Rural South Dakota residents frustrated with odors coming from nearby hog farm

Rural residents in Davison County, South Dakota (Wikipedia map) vented their frustrations on Tuesday to the county commission that little has been done to reduce unpleasant odors from a neighborhood hog farm, Evan Hendershot reports for the Grand Forks Herald.

"In June 2014, four of Jackrabbit Farms' neighbors came before the commission to discuss their concerns with the facility's exhaust system that allegedly pumps out a harsh smell," Hendershot writes. "Since that meeting, Jackrabbit Farms officials say it has spent $30,000 on biofilters meant to lessen the intensity of the odor and has applied microbes meant for odor reduction. But resident Marilyn Reimnitz said the odor has not subsided since then. Her husband Lyle Reimnitz told commissioners, "We shouldn't have to live in misery down here. Nobody should have to."

Neighbors, who claim Jackrabbit Farms' biofilter is not up to the standard needed to decrease the odor, brought in experts to back up that claim, Hendershot writes. "Laura Krebsbach, renewable harvest project director with the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project, argued on behalf of Jackrabbit Farms' neighbors for the commission to force the facility located in Baker Township to improve its biofilter. Krebsbach claims Pipestone Systems does not want to invest the money needed for an improved biofilter."

"The farm, which was approved by the commission in 2012, houses 5,000 sows and produces about 3,000 piglets each week," Hendershot writes. Pipestone System, which manages the farm, "said it has done all it could to reduce the smell. But the microbe treatment Pipestone applied is expected to take a year to reduce the odor." (Read more)

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Ky. clerk not sued for withholding marriage licenses now gives them only to opposite-sex couples

One of the Kentucky county clerks who stopped issuing marriage licenses after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage but didn't get sued has resumed issuing licenses, but only to opposite-sex couples.

Casey County Clerk Casey Davis told Larry Rowell of the Casey County News that he issued a marriage license to an opposite sex couple on Sept. 30.

"A Separate Baptist preacher, Davis said publicly numerous times after the ruling that based on his religious convictions that marriage is between a man and a woman, it precluded him from issuing a license to a same sex couple," writes Rowell, himself a Baptist minister. "And Davis said he still will not issue a license to a same sex couple. As to why he changed his position, Davis said he wants to serve opposite-sex couples."

“There’s a lot of hard decisions that come with being that (an elected official) and one of them is I wasn’t doing other people right by not issuing them licenses and when the governor and attorney general both came out and said a blank license is fine, give them the paper, it’s all right,” Davis told Rowell.

However, a spokesman for the attorney general's office told Rowell that the licenses issued from Davis’s office have not been altered.

Davis is no relation to Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis, who was jailed by a federal judge for refusing in a lawsuit to issue marriage licenses. Casey Davis and the other Kentucky clerk refusing to do issue licenses, Whitley County Clerk Kay Schwarz, have not been sued.

Casey "Davis also said that since Kim Davis had been sued by opposite-sex couples seeking licenses in Rowan County, he hoped to avoid that fate by reversing his position on opposite-sex couples," Rowell reports. He said a group of county clerks are “putting together a form hoping to satisfy both sides and one that the legislature will pass a bill that accommodates for both.”

Oil and gas emissions down, greenhouse gas emissions on the rise, EPA reports says

Oil and gas industry greenhouse gas emissions are on the rise, but methane leakage continues to fall, according to an Environmental Protection Agency report released on Tuesday, Pamela King reports for EnergyWire. "Petroleum and natural gas systems emitted 236 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent into the atmosphere in 2014, up from 228 million metric tons CO2e in 2013. Methane emissions ticked down from 77 million metric tons CO2e in 2013 to 73 million metric tons CO2e last year, marking the third consecutive year that measurement has declined."

"Reductions in methane emissions appear to be the result of existing regulation, and further cuts will be made possible only by additional rulemakings, said Matt Watson, associate vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund's climate and energy program," King writes. "A table toward the bottom of EPA's energy industry profile indicates that the bulk of emissions reductions between 2011 and 2014 came from gas well completions and workovers, a regulated source, he said." (EPA graphic)

Watson said in a statement, "This data shows that regulations work and promises of voluntary action don't. The largest methane reductions come from a practice that is subject to national standards, while the biggest increases come from sources that remain largely unregulated." (Read more)

Earlier bedtimes can decrease obesity in adolescents, study says

Earlier bedtimes can decrease the rate of obesity during adolescence and during the transition to adulthood, says a study by researchers published in the journal Sleep. Researchers concluded, "Later average bedtime during the workweek, in hours, from adolescence to adulthood was associated with an increase in body mass index (BMI) over time." The 12th Annual State of Obesity report, released last month, found that the largely rural South is the most obese region in the country.

For the study "researchers followed 3,342 adolescents from 1996 to 2009 and interviewed them three times during the study period about their bedtimes, food consumption, exercise and television watching," Ariana Eunjung Cha reports for The Washington Post. "They also measured the volunteers' heights and took their weights to calculate their BMI during each of the check-ins. They found that the later the average bedtime during the schoolweek, the higher the BMI over time. More precisely, they found that for every minute of later bedtime there was an increase in BMI of 0.035 kg/m2. Or for every additional hour later a 2.1 increase in BMI."

Lauren Asarnow, a doctoral candidate at the University of California at Berkeley and co-author of the study, said in a statement, "The results are important because they highlight adolescent bedtimes, not just total sleep time, as a potential target for weight management concurrently and in the transition to adulthood." (Read more)

Most rural county clerks quietly issuing same-sex marriage licenses regardless of personal views

While Kim Davis, County Clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky, has grabbed national headlines and been ridiculed on Saturday Night Live for refusing to issue marriage licenses based on religious objections, most of the nation's 3,100 clerks have quietly followed the law with little fanfare, Tim Marema reports for the Daily Yonder. (Andy Brusseau photo: Evonne Hoback, county clerk of McMinn County, Tennessee)

Evonne Hoback, clerk of Tennessee’s McMinn County, a rural county that lies between Knoxville and Chattanooga in the southeast portion of the state, told Marema, “Within 30 minutes of the Supreme Court ruling, we had a phone call from someone in the LGBT community asking what we were going to do about same-sex marriage licenses. I assured them that all systems were go as soon as another agency was ready to roll with the computer system.”

Hoback said the only holdup was that "the state needed to change labels on the standardized electronic form to accommodate same-sex couples—for example, using 'surname' instead of 'maiden name,'" Marema writes. "The state and McMinn County were ready to take applications the same day as the court ruling on June 26, Hoback said." She told Marema, “We just did it without pomp and circumstance. It’s the law, and our office takes the law very seriously . . . We are here to serve people. We are here to help people. This is a public-service office . . . My responsibilities are to keep our tax dollars safe, do a good job and stay within my budget. It’s not my job to judge the world.”

While clerks other than Davis have refused to issue marriage licenses, most have complied with the law, Marema writes. "Other clerks like Wayne Nabors in Putnam County, Tennessee, have issued same-sex licenses, even though they disagree on religious grounds with the Supreme Court ruling. He told reporters, 'I have a statutory authority and a job to do.'" (Read more)

Cattle market continues historic slide; consumers should begin to see lower prices in grocery stores

The historic slide of the cattle market should continue into next year, reports Agri-Pulse. After a record-setting 2014, over the past six months "the live cattle contract has lost over $25 per hundredweight," and the feeder cattle contract has lost $33.75 per hundredweight. "Longer-term figures look even grimmer, as the live cattle contract has lost over $35 since its 12-month high in November and the feeder cattle contract is down $52.75 since reaching its peak in the last year in early December."

Duane Lenz, general manager of the beef industry research firm CattleFax, said the current downward swing ranks in the top three all time, reports Agri-Pulse. He said, “Next year will probably average lower than this year, so other than short-term price bounces . . . the next rally is probably not going to occur here for a while.” He said "there was 'no way to forecast' the current drop, which he said really caught the industry off guard." (Agri-Pulse graphic)

For consumers, the slide should lead to lower prices in grocery stores, reports Agri-Pulse. Lenz told Agri-Pulse, “It’ll take longer than you think just because retailers don’t know if this is a temporary or a long-term situation. We are starting to see retail prices drop, but it’s very small. I would say that before we see a big change in the supermarket, you’re probably looking at five, maybe six months.” He said it is unlikely that cattle prices will return to 2014 numbers. Agri-Pulse is subscription-only but offers a four-week free trial.

Midwestern farms could learn from Washington, where strict enforcement of rules is saving lives

Mandating and enforcing workplace safety rules has saved lives on Washington farms, while lives continue to be unnecessarily lost in Midwestern states where rules are less strict, Jeffrey Meitrodt reports for the Minneapolis Star Tribune as part of its series "Tragic Harvest." "Farmers in Washington have embraced the nation’s most comprehensive agricultural safety program, an initiative that contrasts sharply with the hands-off approach that prevails in much of the Midwest."

"Unlike most farm belt states, where agricultural deaths are rarely investigated, Washington regulators are usually at the scene after an agricultural worker gets killed," Meitrodt writes. "Washington is one of three states that enforce safety rules on farms with fewer than 11 workers. Washington also provides consulting services to small farms that wouldn’t qualify for such help in other states."

"The results are stunning," Meitrodt writes. "Despite having a larger farm workforce than any state in the Midwest, Washington has reported a total of 63 farm deaths since 2003. By comparison, Minnesota, Iowa and six other Midwestern states each have had more than 200 work-related farm fatalities during that time. Of the 47 states that reported at least one farm death in the past decade, Washington has the nation’s lowest fatality rate. In some years, the state has gone without a single death linked to a tractor rollover, a common cause of fatalities elsewhere."

"Last year, Washington consultants visited 294 agricultural operations, including dozens of farms in the Yakima Valley, the state’s agricultural heart. By comparison, Minnesota has provided free consulting to 10 farms since 2010," Meitrodt writes. "If all states followed the Washington model, the lives of about 1,000 farmworkers could be saved in five years, according to a study in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine. Farming remains one of the nation’s most dangerous occupations, generating an average of more than 400 work-related deaths each year." (Read more)

Undocumented workers in some rural agricultural communities have high rates of STDs

In rural agricultural towns like Mendota, Calif., (Best Places map) where there is not much to do when the work days ends, the sex industry thrives, and sexually transmitted diseases, especially among undocumented workers, are a cause for concern, Diana Aguilera reports for Valley Public Radio. Fresno County has one of the highest rates of STD’s in the state.

"Lack of access to health care, six-day work weeks and tough living conditions makes it hard for many farmworkers to visit a doctor," Aguilera writes. City councilmember Joseph Riofrio told Aguilera, “There’s a lot of unsafe sex because of people, you know, drinking, getting drunk, feeling lonely, far away from home. There’s people that come from Fresno or Merced. They’re looking for customers either at the motel across the street or the motel right here, and they’ll rent the room throughout the night.”

One problem is a lack of data on STD rates among migrant workers, Aguilera writes. George Lemp, who took part in a 2005 study by researchers from University of California-Berkeley and experts in Mexico, told Aguilera, “We found that there was a significant increase in risk behaviors after migration to the United States. Their risk of engaging in sex with sex workers went up about two and a half fold.” He said "farmworkers were also more likely to have sex while under the influence of drugs and alcohol after coming to the states. In addition, they were six times more likely to perform sex work for pay and 13 times more likely to have sex with men."

While local campaigns have sought to educate people and provide free condoms, undocumented worker Francisco told Aguilera, “If anyone has anything they don’t say it because they’re embarrassed. We’re very shy; we don’t talk about sex. I think its part of our culture, and that’s the reality.” (Read more)

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Older farmers more likely to die in accidents; average age of farmers keeps increasing

Safety risks for farmers increase as they get older, a cause for concern considering the average age of farmers keeps increasing, Jeffrey Meitrodt reports for the Minneapolis Star Tribune as part of its series "Tragic Harvest." A review of more than 200 farm death investigations in Minnesota showed that nearly half involved people 65 or older.

"Unlike the rest of the working world, where retirement at age 65 is typical and sometimes mandatory, most farmers keep working," Meitrodt writes. "Many die on the job because they gamble with their aging bodies once too often. Serious accidents are a concern for farmers of any age, but the risk only increases as they get older. Physical tasks become tougher than they used to be, and often it’s not easy—or even possible—to slow down." (Tribune graphic)

A 2009 study in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine found that "older farmers are more than twice as likely to die in an accident as younger workers, Meitrodt writes. "More than 1,800 farmers age 65 and older have died in work-related accidents in the past decade—or 38 percent of the U.S. total. And the farming community is aging with the rest of the population, suggesting that safety will become an even bigger issue. Nationally, the typical farmer was 58.3 years old in 2012, up from 50.5 in 1982. In Minnesota, where a quarter of principal farm operators are now 65 or older, the average age is 56.6."

"Researchers say older farmers often die in accidents that younger workers can survive," Meitrodt writes. "Older farmers are more likely to crack down on safety violations by others, especially their children, than to follow those rules themselves, according to a Star Tribune review of accident reports and interviews with surviving family members. But almost nothing is being done to raise awareness of the problem. Most safety campaigns focus on accidents involving children, who account for a tiny portion of farm deaths in the U.S." (Read more)

Rural mortgage loans decreased 28% from 2013 to 2014; loans for home purchases up 7%

The number of rural mortgage loans decreased 28 percent from 2013 to 2014, from more than 1.2 million to just over 900,000, Keith Wiley, senior research associate at the Housing Assistance Council, reports for the Daily Yonder. "Refinancing accounted for 99 percent of the decline both nationally and in rural areas. There were fewer than half as many rural refinance loans in 2014 compared to 2013 levels. The drop is partly attributable to recent interest rate increases, according to a Federal Reserve Bulletin. The decline in refinance loans also represents the first time since 2006 that home purchase originations represented a majority of loans (rural and nationally)."

"The number of loans for home purchases, in contrast, increased both nationally and in rural communities," he writes. Loan applications for home purchases grew by nearly 7 percent in 2014, "higher than the national increase in home purchases at 4 percent. Rural home purchase loan volume (440,489) still remains less than half of what it was before the Great Recession in 2006 (926,156)." (Housing Assistance Council map: Every state experienced declines in rural mortgage activity in 2014. The darker the blue the higher the decline. To view an interactive version, click here)
"Approximately 15 percent of rural home purchase loans were classified as high cost in 2014, up from 11 percent for calendar year 2013," he writes. "The rate of rural high cost lending is approximately four and three percentage points higher than the rate for suburban and urban loans respectively. High cost loans are particularly prevalent in manufactured home lending, a market segment important to rural communities. In 2014, nearly two-thirds of rural manufactured home purchase loans were classified as high cost loans—six times the high cost rate for single family home loans. Approximately half of all manufactured home loans occurred in rural communities which elevates the overall high cost lending levels in rural areas." (Read more)

Death of baby attended by unlicensed midwife exposes lack of qualified midwives in rural areas

The tragedy of the death of a baby whose delivery was being assisted by an unlicensed midwife in June in Washington highlights the risk of using midwives and the region's lack of such professionals, Sheila Hagar reports for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin. Walla Walla (Wikipedia map) has no licensed midwives, despite a population of more than 31,000 and a robust medical community.

"Gabriel Marin III was delivered stillborn June 15 at 4:15 a.m. at full term at Walla Walla General Hospital after complications arose during a home labor attended" by Oregon midwife Sherry Dress, according to the death certificate, Hagar writes. Walla Walla County Coroner Richard Greenwood "said he and others believe the infant would have lived if Dress had acted differently as she guided the labor."

"The cause of baby Gabriel’s death is listed as prolonged labor with fetal hypoxia, or inadequate oxygen," Hagar writes. "Other complications included the baby’s failure to descend through the mother’s pelvis during labor, plus too much carbon dioxide in his blood. Greenwood said the end came long after the beginning. Under Dress’ direction for most of the time, Magill labored about 55 hours at home before going to Walla Walla General Hospital for an emergency cesarean section. When the couple and Dress arrived at General Hospital, the unborn infant still had heart tones. The move to the hospital came at the insistence of Magill’s family." Greenwood told Hagar, "I think a normal midwife would have sent (Magill) to the hospital." Dress has yet to be charged with any crimes but is under investigation.

One of the problems is a lack of education about midwives, Hagar writes. When Sarah Magill and Gabe Marin hired Dress they did not know she had been barred from practicing in Washington two years earlier. "Magill said she wishes she knew before hiring Dress what she knows now about midwives and what to watch for, including if a midwife is in compliance with the law and is guided by health-care standards."

"In the U.S., two types of midwives are generally recognized under most state laws," Hagar writes. "Certified nurse midwives are trained in nursing, often at advanced practice levels, and in midwifery. They typically work in a hospital setting. Licensed direct-entry midwives, sometimes called lay midwives, train through a midwifery school, apprenticeship or self-study. They work in homes or independent birth centers." (Read more)

Photography series captures the decline of rural post offices

When the U.S. Postal Service announced in 2011 plans to close 3,653 rural post offices, "photographer Rachel Boillot initially saw parallels between the closures and what was happening in her own career," Diana Budds reports for Fast Company. "Just as the larger force of digitization has all but decimated the film industry, modern technology has slowly chipped away at the post office's relevance. For most of us, communication happens by phone or email, but for others it still happens the old-fashioned way, with a physical letter that travels many miles." (Boillot photo: Closed post office in Goodman, Miss.)

Boillot set out to capture rural post offices for her series, Post Script, Budds writes. Boillot told her, "The communities I visited were by and large elderly, remote and impoverished. I quickly learned it’s much more complicated when you consider the politics behind [the closures]. For example, why close rural post offices first if that's where the people need and value them most? The post office serves as town center in rural communities, often acting as a town’s sole address. That’s why zip codes are lost when a rural P.O. closes, and that became a crucial frame for the project."

Urbanite who relocated to rural Midwest says racism has shattered his ideal of small-town life

Christoper Cross moved from Oakland, Calif., to Fond du lac, Wisc., (Wikipedia map) in search of the ideal small-town Midwestern rural life he envisioned from television shows like "Smallville." Instead, Cross, of Scottish and African American descent, has been surprised with the high levels of racism and ignorance he has encountered in the town of 43,000, of which 2.5 percent is black, Sharon Roznik reports for the Fond du lac Reporter. There are no black business owners in the county, and black residents make up 1.5 percent of the county's 101,798 residents and only 398 of 7,475 students in the school district are black.

"Statues of a jet-black man and boy sit on a bench on the front lawn of a home on South Main Street," Roznik writes. "The man wears a wide-brimmed hat, with big eyes and thick lips in white paint. A nearby sign reads 'Welcome.' While Fond du Lac may not be Ferguson, Mo., racism is showing up in subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle forms, Cross said." He told her, "For the most part, I've had a positive experience in Fond du Lac, but then some behavior happens that is so offensive . . . People may be insensitive to something like a statue or say they have grown up with it. Sometimes actions are overt, but mostly I've found the person conducting the [offensive] behavior doesn't even realize it is offensive."

Married for seven years and employed as a nurse—he left two nursing jobs because of the way he was treated—"he said he has experienced incidents that have forced him to speak out," Roznik writes. "Once—while he was walking his dog—a driver from a car passing by shouted: 'Nigger, go back where you came from.' Another time, at a car dealership, someone commented on his 'nice tan.' And he's heard the words 'colored' and 'wetbacks,' used by people in professional settings." (Reporter photo by Doug Rafik: Statues of black caricatures in front of a home in Fond du lac)

"Blacks are more than twice as likely to be arrested in Fond du Lac than in Milwaukee or Madison, according to a USA Today database," Roznik writes. "The statistics show the arrest rate for blacks by the Fond du Lac Police Department in 2012 (per thousand residents) was 757.3 compared to 109.7 white arrests. The rate for the Madison Police Department was 593.1 blacks compared to 61.9 whites, and the Milwaukee Police Department was 312.6 blacks compared to 64.6 for whites."

"Fond du Lac County Supervisor Judy Goldsmith, a member of United for Diversity, points to another study done by 24/7 Wall Street that lists Wisconsin as the worst state for black Americans to live," Roznik writes. "Black home ownerships was at 28 percent, and the black incarceration rate was the third highest in the nation. Black children in Wisconsin had worse educational outcomes than their white classmates and their black peers in other states." (Read more)

Protesters target McDonald's for use of potatoes treated with pesticides

Minnesota-based Toxic Taters Coalition is leading a protest today at McDonald's restaurants against the use of potatoes treated with pesticides, Don Davis reports for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. The group, which will hand out organic potatoes at restaurants in seven states and Canada, planned the protest for today to coincide with the move by McDonald's to begin offering all-day breakfast. (MPR News photo by Don Gunderson: An irrigation rig watered potato plants near Park Rapids, Minn., last summer)

"Toxic Taters is made up of a group of people who live near potato fields that they feel are treated too heavily with pest-killing chemicals," Davis writes. "Also participating is the Pesticide Action Network North America. The groups will tell McDonald's customers interested in the subject that people who live near fields where potatoes are grown for McDonald's French fries and hash browns are exposed to pesticides that drift from fields. The pesticides, the organizations say, hurt people's health."

The protest is mainly focused on Fargo, N.D.-based producer R.D. Offutt Co.—the world's largest potato producer, John Enger reports for MPR News. "Offutt supplies some of McDonald's fries and hash brown patties through several processing companies." Horan said Offutt sprays too many pesticides on its crops, especially in central Minnesota where chemicals often blow over residential areas.

Offutt President Keith McGovern "said his company already tries to use the smallest amount of fertilizer, insecticide and fungicide in the most responsible ways," Enger writes. "The company uses drones, infrared cameras and a crew of scientists to improve efficiency. He said the company couldn't cut chemical use any faster, even if McDonald's executives asked. He told Enger, "We couldn't grow enough potatoes to feed a reasonable number of people without using crop protectants." (Read more)

Monday, October 05, 2015

Oil and gas industry getting hidden subsidies, study says; industry official says data misinterpreted

A study by the environmental group Friends of the Earth that focused on the oil and gas industry in North Dakota found that the "royalty-free flaring of natural gas from wells on public and tribal lands amounts to a hidden federal subsidy worth tens of millions of dollars," Phil McKenna reports for InsideClimate News. "But one of the biggest producers of oil in the state, Continental Resources, Inc., challenged the findings, suggesting that the research overstated the volumes of hydrocarbons being burned at wells." Jeff Hume, vice chairman of strategic growth initiatives, told McKenna, "They have obtained flare volume reports which are accurate, [but] what they don’t realize is the majority of gas that is reported as flared is inert gas, not hydrocarbons."

The study found that "over a six-year period, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management subsidized the burning of $524 million of natural gas by oil and gas companies operating on public and tribal lands in North Dakota," McKenna writes. "Federal regulations allow oil companies to flare gas without paying royalties if it is the only way they can economically extract oil from a well, Ross said. The companies in the North Dakota study flared 107 billion cubic feet of natural gas from 2007 to 2013, the study found. The carbon dioxide emissions from this were equal to the annual output of more than 1.3 million cars, according to the report. This royalty-free flaring resulted in a $66 million subsidy over the six years of the study for oil and gas companies in North Dakota, the report found."

Oklahoma City-based Continental Resources officials countered that "the study overstated the company’s share of flared methane or other hydrocarbons," McKenna writes. Of the 55 billion cubic feet of gas that Friends of the Earth reported as hydrocarbons flared by Continental Resources in North Dakota, Hume said "more than 53.4 of it, or more than 97 percent, was carbon dioxide or nitrogen from enhanced oil recovery operations outside the Bakken formation in Bowman and Slope counties." (Read more)

Increased farm safety precautions could save thousands of lives, Minneapolis paper finds

"More than 210 work-related deaths occurred on Minnesota farms from 2003 to 2013—an increase of more than 30 percent when compared with a decade earlier," Jeffrey Meitrodt reports for the Minneapolis Star Tribune as part of its series "Tragic Harvest."

"Farming remains one of the most dangerous occupations in America, with fatality rates above other high-risk industries such as mining and construction. Altogether, nearly 5,000 people have died in farm accidents since 2003," Meitrodt writes. "Unlike at most work sites, state and federal regulators rarely visit farms after a fatality. There is usually no penalty for running a dangerous farm and little financial incentive to improve safety. Steps to address safety problems at the federal level have stalled, most recently in 2014 when Congress forced the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration to curtail a campaign to reduce grain bin deaths. Farming remains one of the most dangerous occupations in America, with fatality rates above other high-risk industries such as mining and construction. Altogether, nearly 5,000 people have died in farm accidents since 2003." (Tribune graphic)

One problem is that farm safety rules are not enforced, Meitrodt writes. "Farmers are supposed to follow the same kind of safety rules that apply on other work sites. But Congress has routinely exempted farms from federal oversight if they do not employ at least 11 workers. Most fatal accidents happen at these smaller operations, not mega-farms or giant dairies, and receive little scrutiny. In Minnesota, state regulators have investigated just six of 210 farm deaths in recent years, records show. That’s a typical rate in the Midwest. By comparison, state and federal regulators typically review about 90 percent of construction fatalities across the U.S."

"Roughly half the accidents in Minnesota occurred when a farmer was working alone," He writes. "In many of those cases, farmers were not found for hours, delaying the arrival of medical attention and possibly turning treatable injuries into fatal ones. One of the most common mistakes involved malfunctioning equipment. In 25 accidents, farmworkers died while they were trying to fix a broken belt or make other repairs without taking proper precautions, often while the equipment was still running."

Another problem is the use of older tractors that are not equipped with rollover protection, he writes in another story in the series. "More than 1,700 U.S. farmworkers died in tractor accidents from 2003 to 2013, and the most common thing to go wrong was a rollover. Those accidents accounted for 40 percent of all tractor fatalities—including at least 30 in Minnesota."

"There is no doubt about the effectiveness of roll bars and cabs, which create a protective zone around an operator. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the devices are 99 percent effective in preventing death or serious injury in a tractor overturn when used with a seat belt. If every tractor in the U.S. had rollover protection, the institute predicts, nearly 1,000 lives could be saved over the next 10 years." (Tribune graphic)

Rural school district finding success filling vacancies with international teachers

While many rural school districts have struggled to fill teaching vacancies, one district 43 miles from the Mexican border has found success internationally, Yoohyun Jung reports for the Arizona Daily Star. About 40 percent of teachers in the Ajo Unified School District (Best Places map) are from foreign countries, such as the Philippines, Jamaica, South Africa and India.

"Some of the international teachers have visas sponsored by the district. Others have experience working in other U.S. schools and pre-existing work visas or permanent residencies," Jung writes. School superintendent Robert Dooley said "word has spread through international teaching communities that Ajo is supportive of international teachers. That has led to more highly qualified foreign candidates' applying."

The district of 420 students from K-12—80 percent of them participate in the federal free and reduced lunch program—consists of 56 percent Latino students, 25 percent Native American and 14 percent white, states the district website. Dooley said to Jung about having international teachers, “For a smaller district like ours, it gives the kids a much broader world experience."

Filipino native Mercy Arancon, who serves as an instructional coach to help international teachers adapt to the U.S., said "there are challenges of being a teacher in a foreign country, including different instructional styles and content," Jung writes. "But there is a network of foreign teachers in Ajo who are there for each other." Personally, she said, she loves the town and the small-school settings. She told Jung, “It’s become personal for me, and I want to see the kids succeed. If I move, what will happen to my kids?” (Read more)

Bernie Sanders trying to change red back to blue, eyes rural voters who turned against Obama

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is aiming his presidential campaign at rural counties—like those in Appalachian West Virginia—that favored Democratic candidates before President Obama was elected, David Weigel reports for The Washington Post. Sanders is also looking to win over a state that overwhelmingly voted for Hillary Clinton over Obama in the 2008 primary.

"West Virginia has rejected the Obama-era Democratic Party more dramatically than any state outside the South, with Appalachian counties that voted for Mike Dukakis and Walter Mondale turning blood red over the past eight years," Weigel writes. "But if you think it’s in places like this that the insurgent Sanders campaign faces its most formidable test, here’s what he thinks: It is also one of his greatest opportunities. The Vermont socialist thinks that white, working-class voters, the sort of people Obama once self-defeatingly said 'cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them,' are just one honest argument away from coming back." (Wikipedia map: In 2012, Mitt Romney won every West Virginia county, beating President Obama statewide 62.3 percent to 35.54 percent)

When Sanders campaigned for the first time in West Virginia on Friday, miner after miner said they basically agreed with him "more than they agreed with Clinton," Weigel writes. "Several were aware that Sanders had actually walked picket lines, something that resonated as they packed a hotel ballroom to demand that Washington fully fund UMWA pensions." Coal miner Shelley Brannon told Weigel, “For one thing, he knows what union is, and he respects it. That’s all we need is respect. He’s just a likeable fella, trustworthy. I don’t think she has the same respect for the union, and she really shot herself in the foot over, you know, all that secretive stuff.” (In 1996, President Bill Clinton won most the counties, beating Bob Dole 51.51 percent to 36.76 percent)

Former Democratic state legislator Mike Manypenny, one of the many casualties of a 2014 Republican sweep, "is running for Congress on the theory that the progressive politics he shares with Sanders—a living wage, the return of Glass-Steagall’s repealed restrictions on banks—is the way to break the conservative grip on voters’ imaginations," Weigel writes. Manypenny told Weigel, “The problem last year was that everybody focused on getting the vote out from the historic Democratic voters . . . This is something new. Barring anything happening in the Democratic debate, like Bernie stumbling badly, I don’t see anything changing the momentum. I think he wins.” (Read more)

Rural residents in off-the-grid underdeveloped mountain range ordered to correct home violations

Nine residents in Old West Ranch—north of Los Angeles—living in non-permitted RVs, travel trailers and other structures that do not meet county standards have been told to "correct multiple violations of the Kern County Ordinance Code—or face the consequences," Steven Mayer reports for The Bakersfield Californian. (Best Places map: Old West Ranch is located just outside Tehachapi, Calif.)

Disabled musician Bert Bockover and his wife April, who have owned their 5-acre parcel near Tehachapi for some 20 years, say conforming to code could leave them destitute or homeless, Mayer writes. They have "no plumbing, no natural gas, and what electricity they use is generated by a modest solar array and a propane-powered refrigerator. They pay a monthly service for their plastic, portable outhouse. And they have a 2,500-gallon water tank donated by Grammy-based MusiCares, a nonprofit that provides assistance for music people in times of need."

For neighbors, who say the playing field is not level among residents who pay taxes and those who don't, the move is long overdue, Mayer writes. Robert and Donna Moran have "paid taxes to support local schools and fire protection. They paid fees to support maintenance of the roads on the ranch, which are private and not maintained by the county. And they paid the fees for permits to legally build on and develop their property." They are among at least five property owners to complain about neighbors, saying property values are being hurt and that the number of squatters and drug users has increased.

"The county’s code enforcement operates exclusively on complaint-generated cases, said Code Compliance Division Supervisor Al Rojas," Mayer writes. "First a letter goes out to the residents alleging that a violation exists on property for which they are the owner or responsible party. If the party does not respond or the violation is not corrected, the division inspects the propety and provides the resident with a 30-day notice to “abate” the violations." (Californian photo by Felix Adamo: The Bockovers)

In order to come into compliance, "the Bockovers have to either remove everything from the land and sell, an option they say would leave them homeless and eventually pennyless" or "establish a permitted structure on the property, drill a working water well and set up a sewage system," Mayer writes. So far they have broken apart and hauled off two travel trailers and removed three cars, earning them a deadline extension. Also, Self-Help Enterprises, a nonprofit housing and community development organization "is currently assessing the Bockovers’ eligibility for assistance. And if they are, in fact, deemed eligible, help could be on the way for a new manufactured home and financing for the drilling of a water well." (Read more)