Friday, November 06, 2015

Obama rejects Keystone XL pipeline, cites urgency of climate change

Citing the urgency of climate change, President Obama today "rejected the Keystone XL pipeline, capping a politically charged review of the oil project that lasted more than seven years and escalated into a broader debate on energy, climate change and the economy," Amy Harder reports for The Wall Street Journal.

"The Keystone XL pipeline would have moved as many as 830,000 barrels of oil a day, mostly from Canada’s oil sands to Steele City, Neb., where it would have connected with existing pipelines to Gulf Coast refineries," Harder writes. "Up to 100,000 barrels of that oil would have come from North Dakota’s booming oil fields. If completed, the pipeline system would have spanned 1,700 miles and would have crossed six U.S. states."

Obama met this morning with Secretary of State John Kerry then delivered remarks with Vice President Joe Biden, Manuel Quiñones reports for GreenWire. "Disagreement about the project ballooned over the years into a proxy war in the broader debate over climate change. And the Obama administration has increasingly focused on its environmental legacy. TransCanada and its supporters—even moderate Democrats—have pointed to State Department studies showing KXL wouldn't have a significant net climate impact. But environmental advocates maintained that killing the pipeline would cripple Canada's oil sands development efforts." 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement: “I wish I were surprised by the President’s decision to reject this jobs and infrastructure project. Given this project’s importance to North American energy independence, the question still remains not if but when Keystone will be built.” (Canadian Press graphic)

Taco Bell not phasing out antibiotics in chickens; customers prefer lower prices to animal welfare

While it's becoming the norm for fast-food chains to commit to switching to chickens raised free of antibiotics and eggs raised from cage-free chickens, Taco Bell has made no such announcements, mostly because it doesn't think it has to, Roberto Ferdman reports for The Washington Post. "All of the brands belonging to Yum! Brands—Taco Bell, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut—were given an F grade in a recent report by six organizations on industry sourcing practices. What's more, it has made no clear promises to fix that."

The closest the company has come to phasing out antibiotics was last year, "when Greg Creed, who used to served as Taco Bell's CEO but now is at the helm of Yum! Brands, told The Wall Street Journal that he would like for Taco Bell and its sister brands to switch to hormone and antibiotic-free meat but that it wasn't currently possible," Ferdman writes. "There hasn't been a peep about animal welfare since."

"More humane farming practices are less efficient and, therefore, more costly," Ferdman writes. While some chains can get away with raising prices, cheap food has always been the sales pitch at Taco Bell. Darren Tristano, who is the executive vice president of a restaurant market research firm called Technomic, told Ferdman, "Taco Bell is at such a low price point, even for fast food, that their value proposition makes it really hard to switch to any sourcing that will affect price."

Ferdman writes, "The simplest explanation, however, is that Taco Bell hasn't followed the industry because it doesn't have to. Its customers are young, like those of its competitors, but they are predominantly male, which, according to Technomic's 2015 food trend report, means they're less likely to care about animal welfare. They also aren't quite as affluent as those who frequent other chains, which, Tristano points out, likely means they are more price sensitive." Tristano told Ferdman, "The lower you get down the price points, the more your consumer has to prefer lower prices to better animal welfare rights. So I think it's also reflection of how Taco Bell's customers feel." (Read more)

Well owners should be reminded to test water

Now is a good time to remind well owners about testing water. The National Ground Water Association's website offers tips on what to test, how to test, how to interpret results and what to do if health risks are discovered. "Testing is important because some substances that present health risks in water are tasteless, odorless and invisible," states NGWA. "Two examples are radon, a gas byproduct of radium decay, and arsenic, a poisonous element found in certain types of rock as well as in certain manmade products. Another example of an imperceptible threat is nitrate, which is often found in fertilizer and a byproduct of animal and human waste."

NGWA's website offers contact information for every county health department in the U.S, links to state websites to find certified drinking water testing labs and information on well maintenance, groundwater protection and water treatment. (Read more)

Residents in another Oregon county complain to officials about annoying pot growers

A large crowd of Deschutes County, Oregon, (Wikipedia map) residents appeared before the planning commission on Thursday night to voice their displeasure with marijuana operations near their properties, Pedro Quintana reports for KTVZ in Bend. Residents—one said he was threatened by a marijuana grower—told the commission that pot growers create a nuisance, and they called on the county to put stricter regulations on such businesses.

"The growing and processing of medical marijuana has been legal in Oregon since voters passed the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act in 1998," Quintana writes. "A year ago, Oregon voters approved Measure 91, which legalized the possession and use of marijuana for adult (21+) recreational use. State law gives the county the authority to adopt reasonable regulations for marijuana-related businesses in unincorporated Deschutes County. The county is working to develop and adopt local regulations by the end of 2015, before the Oregon Liquor Control Commission starts accepting applications for marijuana-related business licenses in January."

Last month residents in Jackson County, in the southern part of the state, complained that marijuana growers are buying up land—displacing landowners—using up water sources in an area in the middle of a drought and creating an unfriendly environment that consists of increased traffic, loud noises, unpleasant smells and an impending fear of violence in once quiet, remote neighborhoods.

Farm brewery a rising success in rural Virginia

What started out as a hobby to brew beer for local farmers has turned into a burgeoning business for the owners of Rising Silo Brewery, located outside Blacksburg, Va., Robby Korth reports for The Roanoke Times. The small-batch operation, owned and operated by Greg and Jess Zielske and landowner Pat Bixler, began a few years ago when the owners gave away beer to local farmers at Glade Road Growing—which grows and sells organic products locally—in exchange for feedback on the beers. (Times photo by Matt Gentry: Brewer Greg Zielske)

A 2014 state law assisted the business by creating "a new limited license for farm breweries that make less than 15,000 gallons of beer per year," Korth writes. "The new law gave (Greg) Zielske an opportunity to sell craft beer to the public without also opening a restaurant. In the past, every establishment that sold alcohol also had to sell food. So this spring Zielske took advantage of the new law and began selling his products with little fanfare at a bar he built himself. And it’s been a success largely because of the trendiness of the business."

Rising Silo has succeeded with no advertising, relying on social media and word-of-mouth, Korth writes. And word-of-mouth has been strong. On a recent Friday night at Glade Road Growing’s farm stand, about 60 to 80 people, ranging from Virginia Tech University students to senior citizens, enjoyed the festivities. Rising Silo is right at home on the 48-acre Glade Road Growing property, where there are several other agriculture-based small businesses that use the space to farm, said Bixler. (Read more)

Rural Alabama county cuts library budget, so library eliminates rural bookmobile stops

Some residents in one rural Alabama county are losing their bookmobile. The Calhoun County Commission approved a 5 percent budget cut to the Anniston library, leading library officials to eliminate 11 stops that a re-purposed, bookshelf-lined van makes to visit mostly senior citizens and children who are unable to get to the library, Zach Tyler reports for The Anniston Star. (Star photo by Bill Wilson: The bookmobile)

The van, which only runs three days per week, had 151 books checked out in October, Tyler writes. According to part-time librarian Linda Levens, the bookmobile burns half a gallon of diesel per hour idling and gets 7 miles to the gallon driving.

"Over the next year, the library will receive $107,065 in monthly payments from the Calhoun County Commission, according to assistant county administrator Melissia Wood," Tyler writes. "The library received $112,700 in fiscal 2015, Wood said, equating to a decrease of $5,635 in funding this year—about $469 less each month." Library, director Teresa Kiser told Tyler, “When the county cuts us, it only seems appropriate that we cut county individuals." (Read more)

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Rural towns profiting from detaining immigrants in facilities with no time limits for incarceration

Some rural communities have grown to rely on private immigrant detention centers—that have no time limits on how long someone can be detained—to boost ailing economies, Sarah Tory reports for High Country News. "Undocumented immigrants end up in detention for various reasons. Some are caught by local law enforcement without proper papers, and others are caught at the border, seeking asylum (or turn themselves in). Even immigrants with legal status are susceptible if they are convicted of a crime, sentenced and then detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement after having served their time."

There are more than 1,500 facilities in the U.S., and the number of detained immigrants has doubled since 2005 to around 400,000 per year, Tory writes. "Accompanying the surge was a proportional increase in the taxpayer money going to detentions, from about $700 million in 2005 to nearly $2 billion in 2014." Most of the facilities are contracted out to private companies or to counties and house low-priority undocumented immigrants who can be detained or deported even without a criminal record.

When the number of facilities soared, so did profits for contractors, who donate large sums of money to political campaigns and are heavily involved in local laws, Tory writes. "But rural towns and counties have also benefited. In most states, prisoners boost official population counts, making shrinking rural areas look like they’re growing. That increases state funding for things like the local police force, libraries and social services."

For example, the Eloy Detention Center on the Arizona-Mexico border receives two dollars per day for each inmate held at its facility, Tory writes. "As part of its agreement to operate in the county, the payments increase as more beds are filled. That money translates to $2 million out of the town’s $23 million budget." But the facility has come under fire for allegations of sexual and physical abuse, with 10 detainees dying in custody since 2003.

"The immigrant detention quota legislation was first passed in 2009, and efforts to repeal it have repeatedly failed, says Cristina Parker, the director of immigration programs for Grassroots Leadership, an advocacy group," Tory writes. "She blamed a perception among many Americans that sees undocumented immigrants as the source of societal problems like crime and job-losses. Parker also notes prison companies’ massive lobbying efforts on immigration and immigrant detention issues that affect their bottom line," including lobbying for laws that increase demand for their services. (Read more)

Potato chips one of the leading causes of obesity in children, study says

Potato chips are the main culprit in the obesity epidemic facing the world's youth, according to a study by Duke National University of Singapore that "looked at the types of food that are associated with overweight and obese children," Christopher Ingraham reports for The Washington Post. The study, which used data of 4,500 children in England in the 1990s, found that kids who eat potato chips gain the most weight. Researchers wrote: "We found potato chips to be one of the most obesity-promoting foods for youth to consume. Potato chips are very high in energy density and have a low satiety index, yet they are commonly consumed as snacks."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that 17 percent of American children ages 2 to 19—12.7 million total—are obese. The 12th Annual State of Obesity report, released in September, found that the largely rural South is the most obese region in the country, led by Arkansas with an adult obesity rate of 35.9 percent.

Researchers found that foods that make kids fat pack calories but are not filling, Ingraham writes. Foods linked to weight gain were French fries; fried chicken and fish; processed meats; fatty spreads (like butter); "just about anything with added sugar—think desserts, sweets and sugary drinks"; refined grains, "like bleached flour, which are found in most processed foods"; and "foods cooked in oil, whether fried, sautéed or even roasted."

Eric Finkelstein, who teaches at the Duke Global Health Institute at Duke University and is the study's lead author, said "that calories from liquids are particularly problematic because they're less satiating than those from solid food," Ingraham writes. "Sodas and other sugary drinks, in other words, are doubly harmful."

Nonprofit groups training veterans to be farmers

Nonprofits are popping up that use federal funds from the 2014 Farm Bill to train veterans in farming to increase employment opportunities among veterans while also filling a void in a profession where the average age keeps getting higher, John Wasik reports for The New York Times. The jobless rate among veterans doubled from 2006 to 2009 from just under 4 percent to 8 percent, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. In 2012, the average age of principal farm operators was 58.3, up 1.2 years since 2007, according to the 2014 USDA Census of Agriculture.

"In response to the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, Michael O’Gorman, a longtime California farmer, formed the Farmer Veteran Coalition, the largest of the groups," Wasik writes. O’Gorman said the coalition has worked with more than 5,000 veterans, signing up 2,000 new members this year. He said “72 percent have post-9/11 service, 20 percent are ethnic minorities, 16 percent are women and 59 percent have service-connected disabilities.”

Similar efforts are in other states, such as Growing Healthy People, an Illinois-based nonprofit that "offers internships, scholarships and education at a local community college to those leaving military service," Wasik writes. "Veterans get hands-on training in different types of agriculture, including growing both indoors and out." (Read more)

Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C., adding Washington, D.C.-based correspondent

While many newspapers are drifting away from national news, The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C., announced that next year it will add a Washington, D.C.-based reporter, Benjamin Mullin reports for Poynter. Executive editor Mitch Pugh said the newspaper, which covered the effects in Washington, D.C., of the June murders of nine African Americans at a historic church in Charleston and the arrest of a white suspect who had ties to hate groups, could have "benefited from having a seasoned hand in Washington, D.C., to hold down its Beltway coverage."

Pugh told Mullin, “It would have been nice to have someone up there who had those sources and was able to help us out with that." Pugh said the new hire "will allow the newspaper to give readers a South Carolina take on Washington news whenever there’s a 'a gap in coverage' in the larger D.C. press corps." He told Mullin, “Our goal is to have the person focus on things that matter to South Carolinians and matter to people in the South. We’re not going to chase the story of the day; we’re not going to be writing the same thing that the AP is writing. We’re going to be looking for ways to make our coverage different, make our coverage stand out a little bit from what everyone else is doing." (Read more)

Murray Energy accused of intimidation tactics to keep employees from reporting safety concerns

The U.S. Labor Department has accused Murray Energy Corp., the largest coal mining company in the U.S., of trying to silence whistleblowers by threatening job security at Appalachian mines, Cole Stangler reports for International Business Times. In response to miners' filing anonymous complaints with federal agencies, CEO Bob Murray allegedly visited West Virginia mines and told workers they should be grateful to have jobs and told them to imagine what it would be like not to have one.

The Department of Labor "alleges that the company interfered with miners' rights under the Mine Safety and Health Act to lodge confidential safety reports with federal regulators," Stangler writes. "In a complaint, regulators say Murray Energy chided 3,500 workers for making too many confidential safety complaints to regulators and—at one of the mines—threatened to retaliate by closing down operations." (Murray Energy map: Company-owned mines. There are also mines in Utah)
Workers said the company wants employees to come to them with complaints but that nothing is ever done about those complaints, Stangler writes. "According to documents obtained by International Business Times, lawyers with the Labor Department criticized Murray in October for personally creating 'an atmosphere of intimidation' at five West Virginia mines. Regulators expounded on their accusations in a post-hearing brief that stems from a lawsuit they filed against the company in July." Murray officials deny the allegations, but "all five of the West Virginia mines included in the complaint have rates of 'significant and substantial' health and safety violations greater than the national average."

"The case now stands before an administrative law judge at the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission in Washington, the federal court system for mine safety violations," Stangler writes. "If found responsible for interfering with miners’ rights, the company could owe $120,000 in penalties sought by regulators. In addition to fines, CEO Bob Murray could be forced to personally read notices that inform workers of their whistleblowing rights. IBT obtained copies of the complaint and subsequent court filings through a Freedom of Information Act request." (Read more)

Pair of amendments intended to increase livestock weight limits on highways were shot down by House

A pair of House amendments allowing for heavier truck livestock loads on highways failed to receive congressional approval, Spencer Chase reports for Agri-Pulse. On Wednesday an amendment by Rep. Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) to allow "states to issue permits allowing 'the operation of vehicles with a gross vehicle weight of up to 95,000 pounds for the hauling of livestock" failed by a 185-240 count. On Tuesday an amendment by Reid Ribble (R-Wisc.) to allow "for truck weight limits to be increased to 91,000 pounds so long as the vehicles had a sixth axle" was defeated 187-236.

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association favored Rooney's amendment, "saying it would have been beneficial to the animals in transit," Chase writes. Philip Ellis, the organization's president, "said the current laws governing truck weight limits—which in most cases caps truck weight at 80,000 pounds—could lead to 'more partially empty livestock trailers, which results in multiple shipments of cattle and more trucks on the road.'” Ribble's amendment faced stiff opposition from railways. Edward Hamberger, president and CEO of the Association of American Railroads, "said Ribble's amendment would 'further destroy precious national infrastructure and cost taxpayers dearly.'” (Read more)

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Rural areas are struggling to find bilingual mental health professionals

While rural areas continue to suffer a shortage of mental health professionals, the problem is compounded in areas where residents struggle with English, Tim Henderson reports for Stateline. In states like Alaska—which has many Alaska Natives—and Arizona and New Mexico—where there are a high numbers of Navajo and Spanish speakers—it is even more difficult to find mental health professionals who can have a one-on-one intimate conversation with a patient.

"The importance of understanding, both linguistic and cultural, in mental health is often underrated, said Majose Carrasco of the National Latino Behavioral Health Association (NLBHA), which funds scholarships and outreach in New Mexico designed to help the state 'grow its own' mental health providers," Henderson writes. Carrasco told him, “I don’t know how many times people have said, ‘It’s fine; we’ll have the janitor translate,’ or ‘Her kids can translate.' If you’re having thoughts of suicide, you’re not going to want to say that and scare them. You’re going to want to say that everything’s OK—that they don’t have to worry.”

Some states, like California, "where nearly one in five residents had trouble with English, has created its own system of assessing shortages and is encouraging more bilingual therapists, while nonprofits have taken the lead in other states like New Mexico, Ohio and Texas," Henderson writes. One project in Alaska "translates mental health materials from English to the Inupiaq language spoken in northern Alaska so local volunteers can help assess progress in their communities."

The key is to recruit homegrown residents who are bilingual, Henderson writes. States like California, Texas and New Mexico have created programs that give scholarships or repay loans for bilingual students who study mental health. The problem, Carrasco says, is that when it comes to Latinos "not enough are finishing high school. Not enough are going to college. Those that do pursue higher education see a stigma in behavioral health fields.” (Stateline graphic)

Rural voters the difference in Ky. gubernatorial election; GOP winner to revise Medicaid expansion

By Tim Mandell
Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

Kentucky, which has been at the forefront of Medicaid expansion, the "war on coal" and the battle over same-sex marriage, on Tuesday elected a conservative Republican as its next governor, only the second time the state has elected a Republican governor since 1971. The credit, or blame, depending on your opinion about Governor-elect Matt Bevin, goes to the state's rural voters, who have now turned the state red. Both of the state's U.S. senators are Republicans, and five of its six House members are Republicans. The state Senate is Republican-controlled, while the state House is Democrat-led, the last such chamber in the South.

Bevin, who won overall with 52.5 percent of the votes to 43.8 percent for Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway, scored big in rural areas. He earned 50 to 59.9 percent of the votes in 56 counties; 60 to 69.9 percent in 32 counties; 70 to 79.9 percent in 12 counties—mostly in Eastern Kentucky coal country—and 83.4 percent in Jackson County, a solidly Republican county in Eastern Kentucky. Kentucky, which has 120 counties, had a voter turnout of about 31 percent.
Conway won in Rowan County—where county clerk Kim Davis waged her war on same-sage marriage—by a count of 49.7 percent to 46.7 percent. But President Obama carried that county, and in heavily Republican Casey County, where the county clerk has also refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses, Bevin scored 79.3 percent of the vote to 18.1 percent for Conway. Bevin had called for current Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, "to issue an executive order freeing Davis of the responsibility of issuing the licenses and even had his photo taken with Davis," Joseph Gerth reports for The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Bevin's hometown.

Bevin at first said he would abolish Medicaid expansion "but for the last three months has said he would seek a federal waiver to revise it," reports Kentucky Health News, published by the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which also publishes The Rural Blog. In Kentucky the uninsured rate dropped from 20.8 percent in 2013 to 9.8 percent in 2014, reports Kentucky Health News. The state had the nation's largest decrease of number of uninsured residents from 2013 to 2014, KHN reports.

"As governor, Bevin has called for an austere budget to pay down Kentucky’s state worker pension program’s unfunded liability, and he has promised to move new teachers over to a 401k type program rather than a traditional pension," Gerth writes.

Rural life typically leads to independence, leading to conservatism, political commentator says

The difference between rural and urban America is that rural residents are more likely to be independent, leading them toward conservatism, while urban residents are more likely to rely on state and federal programs, leading them to be more liberal, opines Victor Davis Hanson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

Victor Davis Hanson
"Rural living historically has encouraged independence, and it still does, even in the globalized and wired 21st century," Hanson writes. "Autonomy and autarky, not narrow specialization, are necessary and are fueled by an understanding that tools must be mastered to keep nature in its proper place. Such constant preparedness nurtures skeptical views about the role and size of government, in which the good citizen is defined as someone who can take care of herself."

The differences between rural and urban life "wouldn't matter so much if it weren't for the fact that the nation's urbanites increasingly govern those living in the hinterlands, even as vanishing rural Americans still feed and fuel the nation," Hanson writes. "The elite that runs the country in politics, finance, journalism and academia is urban to the core: degrees from brand-name universities, internships at well-connected agencies, residence in New York or Washington, power marriages. The power resume does not include mechanical apprenticeships, work on ships or oil rigs, knowledge of firearms or farm, logging or mining labor—jobs now regulated and overseen by those with little experience of them."

"The founders and early observers of American democracy, from Thomas Jefferson to Alexis de Tocqueville, reflected a classical symbiosis, in which even urban thinkers praised the benefits of life in rural areas," Hanson writes. "Jefferson famously wrote: 'I think our governments will remain virtuous for many centuries; as long as they are chiefly agricultural; and this will be as long as there shall be vacant lands in any part of America. When they get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, they will become corrupt as in Europe.'"

"Rural folks didn't romanticize the city but rather, like characters in Horace's 'Satires' or the rustic mouse of 'Aesop's Fables' saw it as a necessary evil," Hanson writes. "Yet urbanites idealized the farm—if certainly from a safe distance. The 21st century may at last see the end of a venerable consensus that rural citizens prizing liberty and freedom provide a necessary audit on the dependent urbanites. We have left for good the world of Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower and entered the age of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump—and likely with worse to come." (Read more)

Marshall University launches peer-reviewed medical journal focusing on Appalachia

Marshall University, located in southwestern West Virginia near the Ohio and Kentucky borders, has launched a peer-reviewed, open-access online medical journal that will focus on Appalachia. The Marshall Journal of Medicine "accepts scholarly articles, including case studies, original research, review articles and letters to the editor," writes Leah Payne, director of public affairs. "Articles also receive Digital Object Identifiers, or DOIs, from the CrossRef organization to ensure they can always be found. The journal does not charge for submission." Submissions are accepted on a rolling basis online at For more information, e-mail

Joseph I. Shapiro, M.D., dean of the School of Medicine, said in a statement: "This journal is another step toward establishing a culture in our School of Medicine that prioritizes research. Showcasing research that is focused on better health outcomes for our region goes hand in hand with our overall mission of fostering a skilled physician workforce to meet the health care needs of West Virginia and central Appalachia.” (Read more)

Rash of earthquakes in rural North Texas not caused by injection wells, state officials rule

No link exists between wastewater disposal wells and a rash of earthquakes in 2013 and 2014 in two North Texas towns, despite research that suggests otherwise, state officials ruled on Tuesday, Jim Malewitz reports for The Texas Tribune. The three-member Republican panel of the Texas Railroad Commission unanimously cleared Houston-based EnerVest and ExxonMobil subsidiary XTO Energy from any responsibility for the more than two dozen earthquakes in the rural towns of Reno and Azle (Best Places map) in the Barnett Shale region. The ruling clears the companies to continue their usual business.

The Texas Railroad Commission "ordered hearings after a team of researchers led by Southern Methodist University concluded that industry activity 'most likely' unleashed the earthquakes," Malewitz writes. "The peer-reviewed research, published in April, linked the earthquakes to wells operated by XTO Energy and EnerVest. The SMU study said the operators’ withdrawal of brine—naturally salty water removed during oil and gas drilling—and the high-pressure injection of huge volumes of wastewater from gas wells likely spurred the quakes."

"In two rulings, commission examiners sided with the energy companies, writing that 'natural tectonic processes' surprised North Texans unaccustomed to shaky ground," Malewitz writes. "The SMU study is a 'commendable first-order investigation' of the issue, the examiners wrote in both decisions, but 'presents data indicating a weak temporal correlation between injection and seismic activities—too small, however, to imply a causal relationship without further corroborating evidence.'” (Read more)

Farm Foundation Forum Tuesday to focus on Endangered Species Act, greater sage grouse

The Farm Foundation will host a forum from 9-11 a.m. (EDT) on Tuesday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on the Endangered Species Act, focusing on "how key elements of the Greater Sage-grouse effort, as well as other collaborative protection and preservation efforts, may reshape preservation work and the ESA in the future." The panel includes: Michael Bean, U.S. Department of the Interior; Alex Echols, Sand County Foundation; Patrick O'Toole, Ladder Ranch, and president of Family Farm Alliance; Brian Rutledge, Audubon Society; Jason Weller, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service; and David Willms, Wyoming Governor's Office.

There is no charge to attend the event, but registration is requested. The forum will also be available via audiocast. For those unable to attend in person or listen to the live audiocast, an audio file will be posted in the Forum Archives after the event. For more information or to register, click here.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

High obesity rates in South, Midwest costing taxpayers; state plans promote healthier living

High obesity rates are costing taxpayers and leading some states to adopt plans to tackle the problem to create healthier communities, Teresa Wiltz reports for Stateline. "Obesity-related health problems cost $147 billion to $210 billion each year, according to the State of Obesity. Obesity is also associated with diminished productivity on the job and with work absenteeism, costing the country $4.3 billion per year, according to the report."

"Obesity, defined as a body mass index of 30 or higher, is a leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. and can cause a host of chronic health issues, from diabetes to high blood pressure to cancer," Wiltz writes. Nearly one third of U.S. adults—78 million—are obese, up nearly 50 percent since 1990, according to Health Intelligence, a health data analysis site. Seven of the top 10 most obese states are in the South, and 23 of the top 25 are in the South or Midwest, led by Arkansas with an obesity rate of 35.9 percent.

Arkansas Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson "last month launched a 10-year plan to combat the problem in his state, from tightening nutritional standards in schools to creating more walkable communities and improving access to affordable, healthy foods," Wiltz writes. "Governors in New York (27 percent adult obesity), Georgia (30.5 percent) and Tennessee (31.2 percent) have all announced plans to combat high rates of obesity among their citizens."

"Race, class, culture and ethnicity play a big role in obesity. American Indians and Native Alaskans have the highest rates of adult obesity, at 54 percent, according to the Trust for America’s Health," Wiltz writes. "Among African-Americans, 47.8 percent are obese, while 42.5 percent of Latinos are obese. Asian-Americans have the lowest rates of obesity at 10.8 percent, while 32.6 percent of whites are obese. Research suggests that the poorer you are, the more likely you are to be obese." (Read more)

Rural, isolated areas lead the nation in suicides

Some of the nation's most rural and isolated states have the highest rates of suicides, Laura Beil reports for The New York Times. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Wyoming, one of the largest states in area but one of the smallest in population, led the nation in 2012 in suicides with almost 30 deaths per every 100,000 people, well above the national average of 12.6 suicides per every 100,000 people. Alaska, Montana, New Mexico and Utah were not far behind. Rural adolescents also commit suicide at about twice the rate of their urban peers, according to a study published in the May issue of the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

Some of the reasons attributed to higher suicide rates in rural areas are lower incomes, greater isolation, family issues and health problems," Beil writes. "Country life can be lonely for people in the grip of mental illness or emotional upheaval, and the means to follow through on suicidal thoughts are close at hand. Firearms, the most common method, are a pervasive part of the culture; 51 percent of rural households own a gun, compared with 25 percent of urban homes, the Pew Research Center reported last year. Experts also note a mind-set, born long ago of necessity, dictating that people solve their own problems." (CDC graphic)

"Self-medication with alcohol and drugs can add to the challenges, and a study this year in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse noted that rural treatment centers have reduced access to highly educated counselors," Beil writes. 

"Identifying at-risk patients in private doctors’ offices or adding a mental health component to a public clinic can catch people who would otherwise avoid being seen at an office obviously associated with mental health," she writes. "Technology may also provide an answer, enabling doctors to reach patients in underserved areas via live video chats streamed to computers, television screens and iPads in clinics and schools." (Read more)

Some states have stopped repairing rural roads, opting to spend funds on costlier urban projects

Some states have stopped funding rural road repairs and are instead spending the money on bigger, costlier projects in urban areas, reports The Associated Press. "The same pattern is playing out across the country, provoking growing fears in rural areas and elsewhere that the trade-off could make it even harder to eke out a living in many places where opportunity is already limited." Rural communities say poor roads not only make it harder for farmers to reach their fields and for residents to run errands but also hurt the tourism industry. (AP photo: A closed bridge in Milo, Iowa)

In Iowa money is going to fix roads in Des Moines, while residents in nearby rural Warren County say they are getting shortchanged, reports AP. The county of 50,000 residents "has permanently closed 20 bridges over small streams, with more likely to come. Current budgets can't possibly pay to maintain every road or bridge built over the last six decades, according to transportation officials."

"In Lafayette, Louisiana, Public Works Director Kevin Blanchard said he's closed three bridges. Another three are in 'rough shape' and might not pass their next inspection," reports AP. "One of the most troublesome closures has been a small bridge over a drainage canal that connects the University of Louisiana with student housing. The closure forces students to walk or drive an extra mile to campus, though many simply squeeze through an opening in a chain-link fence" to use the bridge, despite warnings that it could collapse.

In King County, Washington, "more than $3 billion is being spent to replace an elevated highway in Seattle with a tunnel carrying a double-deck roadway," AP reports. "In unincorporated areas, officials have closed three bridges and are struggling to maintain 1,500 miles of road. Far from Seattle's skyscrapers, residents of the tiny mountain community of Skykomish are furious that the state and county opted not to rebuild a section of the Old Cascade Highway that washed away several years ago. Eventually, officials plan to remove the bridge and permanently close a section of the scenic road. Residents fear that will hurt a community that relies on tourism and force more residents onto a frequently clogged highway that is now the only way to reach the town." (Read more)

Lack of local care leading Appalachian women to be diagnosed with late-stage breast cancer, study says

A lack of qualified local primary care providers—not longer driving distances to see a doctor—is leading Appalachian women to be "diagnosed with late-stage cancer—rather than having it caught early, when it is more easily treatable," says a study by the University of Virginia School of Medicine published in the journal Medical Care. The study, which looked at more than 15,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer from 2006 to 2008 in Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania, found that "21 percent of the women diagnosed with breast cancer had a late-stage diagnosis of breast cancer."

Researchers evaluated three measures of care access: the ratio of care providers to the population, the distances patients must travel to see a provider and the new demographic method, known as the 2SFCA method. Rajesh Balkrishnan, PhD, of the UVA Department of Public Health Sciences, said, “Traditionally when looking at disparities, people have looked at distances—distances to hospitals, distances to physicians, the travel time between the patients and providers. One of the problems is that this doesn’t account for the supply-and-demand factors, which are particularly important in areas of geographic disparity, such as Appalachia.”

Researchers found that "the 2SFCA method, which factors in a host of variables, was the best predictor of the methods assessed," states UVA. Balkrishnan said, “The traditional methods, like distance to physicians, may not give you an accurate indicator of how much of a barrier patients actually face.” (Read more)

Death rates on the rise for white middle-class Americans without a college degree

The death rate for white Americans ages 45 to 54 with less than a college education rose dramatically from 1999 to 2013, "most likely because of problems with legal and illegal drugs, alcohol and suicide," said researchers of a study published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Lenny Bernstein and Joel Achenbach report for The Washington Post. Prior to 1999, "death rates for that group dropped steadily, and at a faster pace." (Post graphic: Death rate for U.S. non-Hispanic whites (USW), U.S. Hispanics and six comparison countries, aged 45-54)

Angus Deaton, the 2015 Nobel laureate in economics, who co-authored the paper with his wife, Anne Case, both economics professors at Princeton University, said, “Drugs and alcohol and suicide . . . are clearly the proximate cause. Half a million people are dead who should not be dead. About 40 times the Ebola stats. You’re getting up there with HIV-AIDS.”

The study "could have far-reaching implications as the surviving members of this sizable segment of the population continue toward retirement and eligibility for Medicare, according to experts," Bernstein and Achenbach write. "A sicker population that has been less able to prepare for the costs associated with old age will place an increasing burden on society and federal programs, they said."

"Death rates for other developed nations examined by the two researchers, as well as rates for U.S. blacks and Hispanics, continued their steady decline of recent decades," Bernstein and Achenbach write. "Whites in other age groups between 30 and 64 and more educated whites also had lower death rates. But the other age groups also experienced substantially higher death rates from drug and alcohol overdoses, suicide, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis of the liver." (Read more)

Monday, November 02, 2015

County level maps show changes in uninsured rates from 2013 to 2015

The New York Times has created a county-level map that shows where Americans remain uninsured. The largest portion of uninsured are in the South and Southwest and tend to be poor and live in Republican-led states that chose not to expand Medicaid under federal health reform, Quoctrung Bui and Margot Sanger-Katz report for the Times. Maps from 2013 and 2014—Obamacare went into effect on Jan. 1, 2014—are also used to show county-level changes in the number of uninsured.
"Fewer people signed up for insurance this year using the new state marketplaces than some analysts had expected," Bui and Sanger-Katz writes. "Medicaid enrollment leveled off. And many of the people who lack insurance in states with a lot of uninsured people are effectively unable to benefit from Obamacare programs because of their low incomes and local politicians’ decisions to forgo Medicaid expansion. More than three million people in 19 states remain stuck in a 'Medicaid gap,' too poor to qualify for subsidies in the new marketplaces but unable to get into a government program. Medicaid expansion continues to be a huge predictor of how many people remain uninsured in a given state." (For an interactive version, click here)

Shipping chemicals by rail helps boost economies in coal-depressed Appalachia

The economic benefits of railway cars carrying potentially dangerous chemicals through rural areas far outweighs the risks, said a nationally recognized expert on rail safety, G. Chambers Williams reports for the Knoxville News Sentinel. David Clarke, director of the University of Tennessee's Center for Transportation Research, told Williams, "Yes, there is risk. But I don't feel we have undue risk from railroad movement of hazardous materials. Railroads are extremely safe." (Sentinel photo by Michael Patrick)

With the Appalachian coal industry in decline, trains carrying chemicals now ship products used for industries that provide thousands of jobs in East Tennessee, Williams writes. Richard Karn, director of chemicals marketing at the Florida-based CSX Transportation, told Williams, "Crude oil, natural gas liquids and frack sand have helped during the decline of our coal business. Chemicals, coal and intermodal are our three biggest commodities."

"CSX is optimistic about growth potential for the U.S. chemical industry, which has changed significantly in the past seven or eight years," Karn told Williams. "With increased volume of those chemical raw materials, we're among the most competitive regions in the world for producing petrochemicals, part of the shale revolution. Currently there are over $150 billion in capital investment products that have been announced within the U.S. chemical industry. Ten years ago, it might have been $5 billion." (Read more)

EPA proposes ban on insecticide widely used in agriculture

The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday proposed a ban on an insecticide that has been linked to autism and other developmental delays, Tiffany Stecker reports for Environment & Energy News. The proposed rule "would revoke chlorpyrifos tolerances on food, restricting the use of the chemical on edible crops. The insecticide could still be used on golf courses not located near sensitive watersheds and possibly in certain insect baits," said Patti Goldman, an attorney with the environmental nonprofit Earthjustice, which represented environmental groups that filed a lawsuit against EPA.

EPA banned chlorpyrifos for residential use 15 years ago, Daniel Enoch reports for Agri-Pulse. "The agency noted that it was under an Oct. 31 deadline, set by a federal appeals court in August, to respond to allegations about the pesticide alleged in a 2007 activist petition. The groups that brought the original lawsuit—the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Pesticide Action Network—contend that chlorpyrifos causes brain damage to children and poisons field workers."

EPA said that, based on its current analysis, “there do not appear to be risks from exposure to chlorpyrifos from food, but, when that exposure is combined with estimated exposure from drinking water in certain watersheds, EPA cannot conclude that the risk from the potential aggregate exposure meets the FFDCA safety standard," Enoch writes. In a statement, Dow AgroSciences said it "disagrees with EPA's proposal and remains confident that all U.S. tolerance issues relating to the continued use of chlorpyrifos can be readily resolved with a more refined analysis of data."

Coal is not coming back, even if EPA regulations are halted, Appalachian Power president says

Coal is not coming back, regardless of whether the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan rules go into effect, Appalachian Power President Charles Patton said last week at the West Virginia state Energy Summit, David Gutman reports for the Charleston Gazette-Mail. Patton said, "You just can’t go with new coal [plants] at this point in time. It is just not economically feasible to do so.”

Patton said Appalachian Power expects its use of coal power to be down 26 percent by 2026, "with or without the Clean Power Plan," Gutman writes. He said cheaper alternatives are making it hard for coal to compete. "The cost of natural gas electricity, including construction of power plants and infrastructure, is about $73 per megawatt hour, Patton said. For a conventional coal plant, it’s $95 per megawatt hour. Even wind power, which is less dependable than coal, is still significantly cheaper, at $73 per megawatt hour, when a longstanding tax credit for wind energy production is factored in. An advanced coal power plant, with carbon capture and storage to lower emissions, costs nearly twice as much, at $144 per megawatt hour, Patton said."

He said belief in climate change—72 percent of Americans believe the earth is getting warmer and that man-made causes are partly attributable—is largely responsible for the downturn in coal, Gutman writes. Patton said, “Americans believe there is a problem, and while we in West Virginia believe that’s ludicrous and we have our view on coal, it’s really important to understand, if you’re not in a coal-producing state, your affinity for coal is not there. The debate largely, at this point in time, has been lost.” (Read more)

Now that legal hemp crops have been grown in Kentucky, state looks for ways to grow industry

Now that the nation's first legal hemp crops since 1970 have been grown in Kentucky, the next step is to find ways to grow the industry, Janet Patton reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Agriculture Commissioner James Comer told Patton, "We've proven first of all that it's not a drug, which was very important for the opposition to realize. And we've proven it's economically viable, or there wouldn't be 22 companies that have made an investment in the state. . . . What we're doing now is working with the companies that want to go to the next step to commercialize the product." (Herald-Leader photo by Charles Bertram: Harvesting hemp crops in Winchester, Ky.)

GenCanna, which moved from Canada to Kentucky to be in the heart of the hemp revolution, has 100 acres in Winchester in Central Kentucky, Patton writes. The Shell Farm and Greenhouses in Lancaster, also in Central Kentucky, "is turning its fields away from tobacco, growing 157,000 hemp plants on 40 acres outdoors and 3,500 plants in a greenhouse." While Shell plans to increase its acres next year, other companies are getting in on what some predict could become a billion-dollar industry.

Comer told Patton, "We get requests every day for companies that want to start processing hemp. I worry that some may not have the credibility of some of the others, and that's why it's taking longer to certify, to get more background info. We're not picking winners and losers but those that have credibility. Our reputations are on the line here, too." (Read more)

World's largest cellulosic ethanol plant opens in Iowa

The world's largest cellulosic ethanol plant opened on Friday in Nevada, Iowa. The DuPont plant, which uses corncobs, husks and stalks, plans to eventually produce 30 million gallons of ethanol annually, Donnelle Eller reports for The Des Moines Register. Commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol is considered more environmentally friendly than conventional ethanol. (Biofuels Digest photo; Nevada, Iowa plant)

Jim Lane of Biofuels Digest writes, "The majority of the fuel produced at the Nevada, Iowa, facility will be bound for California to fulfill the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard where the state has adopted a policy to reduce carbon intensity in transportation fuels. The plant also will serve as a commercial-scale demonstration of the cellulosic technology where investors from all over the world can see firsthand how to replicate this model in their home regions." (Read more)