Saturday, November 21, 2015

Co-founder of institute that publishes The Rural Blog joins Kentucky Public Service Hall of Fame

Al Smith, co-founder of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes The Rural Blog, was placed in the Public Service Hall of Fame of the Martin School for Public Policy & Administration at the University of Kentucky Friday night.

Smith has served on several state government boards, councils, committees and commissions, and helped start major civic organizations in Kentucky, but his only time on the public payroll was as federal co-chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission, appointed by Jimmy Carter but serving longer under Ronald Reagan, when he thwarted Reagan's attempt to abolish the agency.

Smith was publisher of seven weekly newspapers in Kentucky and Tennessee from 1968 to 1985. He was the founding producer and host of "Comment on Kentucky," a weekly public-affairs show on Kentucky Educational Television, from 1974 to 2007, except during his time at the ARC. Lexington lawyer Brad Cowgill, chair of the school's Board of Visitors, said in introducing Smith that journalism at its highest level is public service.

In his acceptance of the honor, Smith talked about his early years, including his decade at newspapers in New Orleans, and the alcoholism that he got under control in 1962, leading to his ownership of newspapers. His advice to the audience was "to own something," including "ownership in a community." Here's his 16-minute speech:

Al Smith from Al Cross on Vimeo.

Iconic painting of rural newspaper office sold for millions, for Press Club and journalism education

UPDATE, Oct. 7: The buyer has placed the painting in the Rockwell museum in Stockbridge, Mass., where it is on public display.
The National Press Club will use part of the $10.2 million from its sale of Norman Rockwell's evocative painting of a rural newspaper office for "a robust program of education and training for journalists," the club said in a press release. The anonymous buyer paid $11.589 million, including fees, in an American-art auction at Christie's in New York.

The painting, "Visit to a Country Editor," was owned by the National Press Club Journalism Institute, which said it decided to sell because the NPC Building didn't have proper security for such a valuable piece of art. NPCJI President Barbara Cochran said the proceeds will be used to "support Institute programs to uphold press freedom, develop the skills of professional journalists and communicators, and provide scholarships for future journalists," the release said. An earlier notice to members said 70 percent of the proceeds will go to the club and 30 percent to the institute.

The illustration of the Monroe County Appeal office in Paris, Mo., was published in the Saturday Evening Post of May 25, 1946. It was inspired by Jack Blanton, left, whom an accompanying article said was probably the nation's best-known "country editor," according to an article by University of Alabama journalism professor Bailey Thompson:
An editorial described the typical country weekly newspaper as an ideal symbol for democracy. The readers often knew the editor personally, and he knew human nature intimately. “Character and right purposes” on the editor’s part rewarded the newspaper with influence in the community. “For the editor and his newspaper become more or less identical in the view of its readers,” the writer concluded. . . . A sense of connectedness flows from Rockwell’s painting between the newspaper and the citizens of Monroe County.
The painting shows Blanton at his typewriter as his printer looks over his shoulder. Rockwell, who included himself in the illustration, coming in the door, spent three days in Paris "detailing the operation of the paper," reported Derek Gentile of The Berkshire Eagle after interviewing an official of the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass. The Post gave the painting to the Press Club in the 1960s. It was moved to the Rockwell museum in 2014, after its appraised value "increased exponentially," club President John Hughes told members.

"Blanton’s grandson, Carter, a fourth-generation newspaperman, sold the family’s share of the paper in 1992," reports Jesse Bogan of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, noting that "a faded copy of the Rockwell painting" is displayed in the foyer of the Appeal, which has a print circulation of 1,000, far less than the 3,000 in Blanton's days, though the population of the county (Wikipedia map) has remained around 9,000. "The latest buyers of the paper have ties to the Chicago area," Bogan reports. "Townspeople complain that the paper isn’t what it used to be. . . . Most of the material is submitted, not reported." But he notes that the paper ran a story "about The Lake Gazette newspaper in nearby Monroe City being unwilling to run a marriage announcement for a gay couple."

Blanton's great-granddaughter, Becky Vanlandingham, 72, told Bogan, “I just wish, since it was about the country editor, that part of this money will come back to the University of Missouri School of Journalism for a scholarship in Jack Blanton’s name. I just think that’s only fair.”

Friday, November 20, 2015

Rural schools paying big bucks for excruciating slow Internet connections, analysis finds

Calhoun County Schools in northern Mississippi are paying big bills for Internet service that many rural students are unable to use because the connection is so slow, Benjamin Herold reports for Education Week. Internet service for the 2,500 students in the district's nine schools is the slowest in the state, despite a hefty monthly bill of $9,275.

"Today, school secretary Lisa Sutherland is given 15 names to enter," Herold writes. "Each click of her mouse is followed by an excruciating delay. The system times out. Sutherland grits her teeth and starts over. Nearly half an hour after it begins, a process that should take seconds is finally complete." Mike Moore, the district’s superintendent, told Herold, “Frustrating is a mild word for it. Smaller districts like us are at a tremendous disadvantage.” (EducationSuperHighway graphic)

The problem is the same in other rural districts in the U.S., with 20 percent of rural schools still unable to access the fiber-optic cables that are bringing high-speed Internet to schools elsewhere, says analysis by the broadband advocacy group EducationSuperHighway, Herold writes. "And even when they do get decent connections, rural schools are typically charged far more than their urban and suburban counterparts. In places like the vast, sparsely populated plains of western New Mexico, that means telecommunications companies routinely bill $3,000 per month or more for Internet service most U.S. schools could get for one-sixth the cost."

"The result, experts say, is that many rural districts still face a steep climb to meet long-term federal goals for school connectivity, even though most currently provide students with the minimum recommended bandwidth," Herold writes. "Geography, bad policy and a severe shortage of technical expertise within schools all contribute to the problem. So do the business practices of telecoms: AT&T and Verizon have been accused in lawsuits and other legal actions of bilking the system of millions of dollars, while many smaller companies have taken advantage of local monopolies and generous federal subsidies."

"Ultimately, efforts to find a solution will be underwritten by the American people," Herold writes. "Fees on consumers’ phone bills fund a little-known federal program called the E-rate. The E-rate in turn covers a portion of the cost of phone and Internet service for schools and libraries. Since its inception in 1996, the program has paid out over $30 billion. This fall, it will begin paying out even more. The Federal Communications Commission recently approved a huge increase in E-rate spending, to $3.9 billion each year. Over the objections of the powerful telecom lobby, the commission also approved a number of policy changes intended to help rural schools . . . The idea is that more money, plus more competition, will add up to faster, cheaper Internet for thousands of schools. Critics on the right say the more likely result is wasteful spending."

More Mexicans leaving U.S. than entering the country, says Pew Research Center analysis

For the first time in 50 years, the number of Mexicans leaving the U.S. is greater than the number entering the country, says analysis by the Pew Research Center, Ana Gonzalez-Barrera reports for the organization. One million Mexicans left the U.S. for Mexico from 2009 to 2014, compared to 870,000 that entered the U.S. from Mexico, a difference of 130,000. The numbers are estimates because no official counts are kept, but officials say most left of their own accord, with only 14 percent being deported.

Researchers say the main reason Mexicans are leaving the U.S. is to reunite with family members, stricter immigration laws and the slow recovery of U.S. jobs after the end of the Great Recession, Gonzalez-Barrera writes. "Mexico is the largest birth country among the U.S. foreign-born population—28 percent of all U.S. immigrants came from there in 2013. Mexico also is the largest source of U.S. unauthorized immigrants." (Pew graphic)

"Between 1965 and 2015, more than 16 million Mexican immigrants migrated to the U.S.—more than from any other country," Gonzalez-Barrera writes. "In 1970, fewer than 1 million Mexican immigrants lived in the U.S. By 2000, that number had grown to 9.4 million, and by 2007 it reached a peak at 12.8 million. Since then, the Mexican-born population has declined, falling to 11.7 million in 2014, as the number of new arrivals to the U.S. from Mexico declined significantly; meanwhile, the reverse flow to Mexico from the U.S. is now higher. The decline in the number of Mexican immigrants residing in the U.S. has been mostly due to a drop of more than 1 million unauthorized immigrants from Mexico from a peak of 6.9 million in 2007 to an estimated 5.6 million in 2014."

Small Business Saturday, an opportunity to support and promote local businesses, is Nov. 28

While the insanity of Black Friday is nearing, so is Small Business Saturday, an opportunity to support and promote local businesses. Small Business Saturday, which is scheduled this year for Nov. 28, the weekend after Thanksgiving, is a great time for community newspapers to write stories about the importance of buying local during the holiday shopping season. Small businesses can register on the Small Business Saturday website, and shoppers can use the same website to look for small businesses in their area.

American Express launched Small Business Saturday in 2010. Last year an estimated $14.3 billion was spent at small independent businesses on Small Business Saturday, according to American Express. In 2012, 73.9 million people shopped at small businesses on Small Business Saturday. (Read more)

Senators who voted to block EPA regulations received 17 times more money from coal industry

Senators who voted this week to block the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan rules on average received 17 times as much money from the coal industry as senators who voted against the resolution, Miriam Marks reports for MapLight, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research organization that reveals and tracks the influence of money in politics in the U.S.

On Tuesday a pair of resolutions aimed at repealing the rules passed by 52-46 votes. Senators voting for the EPA rule-blocking resolutions received, on average, $75,802 from the coal mining industry, compared to $4,464 for senators who voted against them resolutions, Marks writes. "Thirteen senators received more than $100,000 from the coal mining industry between April 1, 2009 and March 31, 2015." All 13 voted yes on both resolutions. President Obama has threatened to veto the resolutions. (Read more)

Six wastewater wells shut down in Oklahoma after 4.7 and 4.0 magnitude earthquakes rock state

Oklahoma oil and gas regulators shut down six drilling wastewater disposal wells on Thursday after the largest quake in the state since 2011 was recorded, Mike Soraghan reports for EnergyWire. Two wells were shut down around Cherokee (Best Places map) after a magnitude 4.7 earthquake, which was felt more than 300 miles away in Dallas and Kansas City, hit. Another earthquake, this one magnitude 4.0, was near Crescent, closer to Oklahoma City, leading to the closure of four wells.

"The Oklahoma Corporation Commission also directed the owners of 23 other wells around Cherokee to reduce injection by 25 to 50 percent," Soraghan writes. "Overall, the volume of wastewater injected by the 25 wells near Cherokee is to fall by 41 percent. Further reductions in volume are expected in the Crescent area, and other operators near Cherokee were told they may be directed to reduce operations. There were a total of eight earthquakes, with five in the Cherokee area and three in the Crescent area." No major injuries were reported.

Oklahoma, which in 2014 led the lower 48 states in earthquakes with 584 of magnitude 3 or higher, has already surpassed that total this year. Prior to the oil and gas boom of 2009, Oklahoma averaged two earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or higher per year. (U.S. Geological Survey graphic)

College course teaches students about Appalachia by having them post articles to Wikipedia

While some college professors discourage students from using Wikipedia as a resource, one course at Ohio University is embracing the website, using it to publish articles students have written about Appalachia, Jacob Zuckerman reports for the school's newsletter. Ph.D. candidate Matthew Vetter, who teaches English at Ohio University, told Zuckerman, “Part of why I’ve found Wikipedia useful for teaching is because it is such a productive writing community. I’ve found that observing it can help students understand some important things about writing.” (Ohio University photo: Matthew Vetter)

One Wikipedia subject Vetter thought was lacking in material was Appalachia, Zuckerman writes. So he got his students to begin writing local articles about Appalachia for Wikipedia. Vetter told Zuckerman, "You get things that aren’t well represented because they aren’t valued. We see encyclopedias as these very neutral things when in fact they’re always very political and very ideological.”

Vetter said he believes Wikipedia is a more valuable educational resource than most people realize, Zuckerman writes. "Vetter argues that most articles are better researched and more frequently revised than most people would assume. Citing Wikipedia’s entry on 'The Simpsons,' Vetter points to the entry’s 267 citations and hundreds of revisions since it was created almost 14 years ago."

A few articles Vetter's students wrote:

FDA approves genetically altered salmon, nation's first such animal approved by government agency

On Thursday the Food and Drug Administration "approved the nation's first genetically altered animal—a salmon engineered to grow twice as fast as its natural counterpart," Brady Dennis reports for The Washington Post. "AquAdvantage, produced by Massachusetts-based AquaBounty, is an Atlantic salmon that contains a growth hormone from a Chinook salmon and has been given a gene from the ocean pout, an eel-like fish. The result is a fish that is large enough for consumption in about a year and a half, rather than the typical three years." (AquaBounty Technologies photo: Two same-age salmon, a genetically modified salmon, rear, and a non-genetically modified salmon, foreground)

FDA officials said the decision "was 'based on sound science and a comprehensive review' and that regulators are confident that the genetically altered fish is as safe to eat as a normal Atlantic salmon, with no discernible difference in its nutritional value," Dennis writes. "Officials noted that the agency held meetings, combed through thousands of public comments and conducted scientific and environmental assessments about the AquaBounty fish before finally approving it."

Critics argue that approval of the genetically altered salmon "could open the door to a broad range of potentially unsafe genetically modified animal foods," Dennis writes. "Knowing an FDA approval was likely, critics have in recent years won commitments from some of the nation's most recognizable chains—including Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Target—to not sell the fish." (Read more)

Tree stand falls are most common injury to hunters; most of the injured are obese

Tree stand falls are the most common injury to U.S. hunters, says a study by researchers from the Marshfield Clinic, National Farm Medicine Center and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources published in the journal Injury. The main reason is that nearly nine out of every 10 hunters injured from a tree stand fall are obese. Data was mostly unavailable on harness use and blood alcohol levels. Structural failure was reported as the cause of the accident in 18 percent of falls. "Most falls occurred among archery hunters, in the evening and when descending from a tree stand," states the report. (Iowa Department of Natural Resources photo)

The study, which used data from 2009-2013 of patients who received medical care for tree stand falls in rural north-central Wisconsin, found that 39 confirmed tree stand falls—including two deaths—were reported. That's a relatively low number, considering the study area consisted of more than 16,000 hunters and the number of tree stand falls dropped from 6 per every 10,000 hunters in 2009 to 3.6 per every 10,000 hunters in 2013. But with deer hunting season upon us, it's always a good idea to practice safety. For safety tips on using a tree stand click here.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Yellowstone National Park proposes killing off 1,000 bison from its famed tourist attraction

Officials at Yellowstone National Park on Wednesday proposed reducing "its celebrated bison herd by 1,000 animals this winter by rounding up those wandering into adjacent Montana and delivering them to Native American tribes for slaughter," Laura Zuckerman reports for Reuters. "The longstanding but controversial annual culling is designed to lessen the risk of straying Yellowstone bison infecting cattle herds in Montana with brucellosis, a bacterial disease carried by many bison, also known as buffalo." More than 700 bison were culled last year.

"Yellowstone bison, the nation's last sizable herd of wild, purebred buffalo, are a top attraction for the millions of tourists who annually visit the park, which spans parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho," Zuckerman writes. "The size of the bison culling varies from year to year, and removing 1,000 animals this winter would mark the largest single reduction since more than 1,600 were taken from the herd in the winter of 2007-2008. The herd was estimated to number some 4,900 head this summer, and the culling—mostly females—is aimed at bringing it closer to its target population of about 3,000 animals."

States graded for climate change preparedness; Ark., Mo., Miss., Nev., Texas given an F

Five states—Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Nevada and Texas—are least prepared to address risks from climate change, while California, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and Pennsylvania are the most prepared, according to The States at Risk project. The project, a collaboration of ICF International and Climate Central, rated all 50 states based on their preparedness in five major categories: extreme heat, drought, wildfire, inland flooding and coastal flooding.

To assess extreme heat, researchers looked at the average annual number of heatwave days. To assess drought, they examined the severity of widespread summer drought. To rate wildfire, they calculated the average annual number of days with high wildfire potential. To measure inland flooding, they found the average annual severity of high flow events. To assess coastal flooding, they calculated the number of people at risk of a 100-year flood.

Arkansas, Missouri, Mississippi, Nevada and Texas were all given a grade of F. States receiving a D, D- or D+ are: Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, Alabama, Maine, New Jersey and Hawaii. California, Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania all received an A and Connecticut an A-. The report also ranks states for each of the five preparedness categories.

"More than half of all states have no plan for future inland flooding risks," and only 14 percent of states have taken action to prepare for extreme heat risk, Amanda Reilly reports for Environment & Energy Publishing. "Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, said one reason states have not taken more action to invest in preparation for natural disasters is that they've counted on the federal government to pick up most of the share for cleaning up after catastrophes."

Dental therapists are the key to improving oral health in underserved rural areas, advocates say

Dental therapists could be the solution for improving oral health in rural areas, Pew Charitable Trust's oral health advocates Julie Stitzel and Rebecca Singer Cohen report for Stateline. Of the 4,438 areas designated as having dental health professional shortages, 60 percent are in rural areas. The oral health deficiency is compounded by rural residents being more likely than urban ones to be poor, lack dental insurance, have poor water supplies and often have long distances to travel to the dentist.

Another problem is that only about one-third of dentists accept Medicaid or other public insurance, Stitzel and Cohen write. As a result, many patients skip dentists and go to the emergency room with oral care concerns. "In 2012, there were more than two million dental-related visits to hospital emergency rooms—most of them for preventable conditions that could have been addressed earlier in a dental office. The cost for this care was about $1.6 billion."

Midlevel dental providers—or dental therapists—are the solution, Stitzel and Cohen write. These professionals "have a proven ability to deliver cost-effective and high-quality preventive and routine restorative care—such as filling cavities, placing temporary crowns and extracting loose teeth—to a variety of underserved populations. The growth of dental therapy in recent years mirrors the rise of physician assistants and nurse practitioners in the mid-1960s during a time of physician shortages in rural areas and in primary care."

Minnesota was the first state to authorize dental therapists in 2008, with a therapist opening a private practice in rural Montevideo, Stitzel and Cohen write. "In the therapist's first year, new patients increased by 38 percent," and the therapist served 500 more Medicaid patients and made an additional $24,000 in profit. The American Dental Association has publicly criticized dental therapists, saying a in February statement: "The supply of dentists is adequate to serve America’s needs," and ADA "remains firmly opposed to allowing non-dentists to perform surgical procedures."

Horses abandoned on Eastern Kentucky reclaimed coal mines leading to safety, health concerns

A growing number of horses abandoned on reclaimed coal mines in Eastern Kentucky has led to safety concerns involving horses wandering into traffic and a lack of food and health care for the wild animals, Bill Estep reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. An official count in March 2014 reported 500 wild horses in nine Eastern Kentucky counties, but animal rights activists say estimates are more likely to be between 3,000 and 5,000. Advocates also say some of the horses are not abandoned but have owners who are trying to take advantage of free grazing. (Kentucky Humane Society photo: Wild horses near a road in Eastern Kentucky)

Karen Gustin, head of the Kentucky Equine Humane Center, "estimated 30 percent of the horses she has seen on reclaimed mines don’t look to be in good shape," Estep writes. She said that "even some of the ones that look good could have damaging parasites." She said "some of the free-roaming horses are emaciated and many lack vaccinations and proper care for their teeth and feet."

Safety concerns are elevated during the winter, when the horses, starved for salt, wander onto roads to lick salt distributed for snow and ice removal, Estep writes. Last month three men were arrested on charges of stealing four horses from a reclaimed mine, and "there also have been reports of the free-roaming horses being shot." Horses have also been blamed for damaging property, such as chewing siding from a house. And more horses means more breeding, which leads to even more horses. Lori Redmon, head of the Kentucky Humane Society, told Estep, “There’s a problem that is growing. There are some sites that are currently not able to sustain the horse population.” (Read more)

Sage grouse conservation to cost Wyo. $1B, study says; endangered listing would have cost more

A study commissioned by Wyoming Republican Gov. Matt Mead says that conservation regulations in September that prevented the greater sage grouse from being listed as endangered "will cost the state $1 billion in total economic impact, including thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in lost revenue to state and local governments," Tiffany Stecker reports for Greenwire. The study "estimates that the state will face a loss of 5,500 jobs, $349.9 million less in labor earnings and $56 million less in state and local government revenue."

"The study sought to measure the value of sage grouse habitat to the state," Stecker writes. "These lands provide a direct annual impact of $18.4 billion—about 22 percent of Wyoming's total commodity production value of $84 billion, according to 2013 figures, said Temple Stoellinger, a law professor at the University of Wyoming."

David Willms, an adviser to Mead, said "the cost 'pales in comparison' to the economic impact if the grouse had been listed," Stecker writes. David Bush, communications director for Mead, told Stecker, "There are costs associated with the plan, but a listing for the sage grouse would have been far more devastating."

Listing the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act could have had major implications on the state's oil and gas industry because the Obama administration tried to postpone oil and gas activity in habits. A report by WildEarth Guardians said the industry still has more than 27,000 wells in Wyoming that could greatly fragment the breeding grounds of species and bring it closer to extinction.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Rick Cohen, respected journalist, champion of rural philanthropy, dies at 64

Rick Cohen
Rick Cohen, an advocate for rural philanthropy and a journalist for Nonprofit Quarterly and the Daily Yonder, died at the age of 64 on Tuesday, reports Nonprofit Quarterly. "His loss will be inestimable to many of you, as it is to us. Rick will be remembered for his integrity, his powerful and nimble intellect, his unyielding courage in pursuit of truth, his commitment to social justice and his humor. Of all the things and people that he loved, the most important was his cherished daughter Ellie—and to her we say, thank you for sharing him with us. The world is immeasurably poorer for our loss of him."

The Yonder states, "Cohen’s groundbreaking research on private philanthropy found that major foundations gave up to 99 percent of their grant dollars to projects in metropolitan areas, leaving rural groups struggling to serve community needs . . . Cohen called out the nation’s largest foundations for what he said was their failure to invest equitably in rural community development. Simultaneously, he challenged the nation’s nonprofits—both rural and urban—to do better in their efforts to serve marginalized and underrepresented populations."

Cohen "conducted his first study of rural philanthropy more than a decade ago and found that national foundations gave a lot less to rural community development than they did to urban community development on a per capita basis," reports the Yonder. "His research showed that only about $1 to $1.50 of every $100 foundations give away finds its way to rural communities. He repeated the study over the years and made presentations on it to the National Rural Assembly and the annual Rural LISC Seminar, a national gathering of rural development organizations."  (Read more)

Crop insurance facing a crisis from proposed budget cuts, low harvest prices

Crop insurance is taking a hit from proposed budget cuts and low harvest prices, Harwood D. Schaffer and Daryll E. Ray write for Policy Pennings. Harvest-time prices for corn yields are $3.83 per bushel on a $4.15 projected price and are $8.91 for soybean per bushel harvest price on a $9.74 projected price, according to Gary Schnitkey at the University of Illinois.

"Corn yields will need to be at least 8 percent below the production history specified in the policy for revenue insurance to make a payment—and that is at the 85 percent coverage level," Schaffer and Ray write. "For coverage levels below 85 percent, the yield has to be even lower than that, dropping to 54 percent of production history before a payment is made on 50 percent coverage policies. Soybean yields would have to be at least 7 percent below the production history specified in the policy for farmers to receive an insurance payment. The problem with the situation that farmers find themselves in this year is that low prices generally indicate they will find themselves with average or higher than average yields."

"Higher soybean yields overall suggest that the farmers with yields 7 percent below their historic average will be relatively few in number," Schaffer and Ray write. "Farmers who bought 50 percent coverage on their revenue policies will need yields below 55 percent of their production history figure to collect an insurance payment; no one wants to be in that situation. Individually, when prices are low, farmers seek high yields—not low yields—to maintain per acre revenue."

"While the recent budget agreement between Congress and the White House prevented a default on the national debt and reduced chances of an immediate government shutdown, it came at a price," Schaffer and Ray write. "Part of that price was a cut to the overall rate of return for crop insurers from 14.5 percent to 8.9 percent. This raises the concern of farmers who fear that with a lower overall rate of return, some crop insurers will drop out of the market, making crop insurance harder to obtain."

"If the current low prices continue into the third and fourth years of the 2014 Farm Bill, there will be significant pressure from agriculture to find ways to provide risk management tools other than crop insurance," Schaffer and Ray write. "The Average Revenue Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) were supposed to provide for price risk, but most farmers chose ARC, and if prices are stable at a low level, it, too, is an inadequate risk management tool. Unless there is a sudden increase in demand or a significant crop failure somewhere in the world, the next two years may begin to look like 1998." (Read more)

Vague rules on reporting wastewater spills in Texas causing confusion in oil and gas industry

Some states, like Texas, don't track wastewater spills from oil and gas operations that can cause severe environmental damage. The Texas Railroad Commission not only fails to track wastewater spills but "the rules are so vague and unenforceable that insiders say companies don't even need to notify state officials when they have a spill," Mike Soraghan reports for EnergyWire. "Many consider notifying RRC about waste spills to be voluntary, though the agency insists otherwise. Most other states with oil and gas producers track wastewater spills and require drillers to report them. But while Texas tracks spills of crude oil and condensate, its records leave out spills of the waste fluid often called 'salt water' or 'produced water.'" (U.S. Fish and Wildlife photo: Corroded flowlines leaked oil and wastewater into the Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge)

Former Texas Railroad Commission executive director John Tintera "said a requirement that spills be cleaned up is unenforceable if they don't get reported," Soraghan writes. He told Soraghan, "The notion that salt water spills can be effectively regulated without even requiring spills to be reported is ludicrous." But such spills make up a large portion of pollution from oil and gas wells. For instance, in New Mexico, 55 percent of spills reported in 2014 were wastewater-only, and in Oklahoma, 36 percent were wastewater-only.

The main problem is that rules for reporting spills are confusing, Soraghan writes. While "the RRC has specific requirements for reporting oil and condensate spills of five barrels or more . . . there is no specific reporting requirement for reporting brine spills," which a study by a Duke University doctoral candidate found to more severe and longer-lasting than oil releases.

An RRC spokeswoman "said brine spills are covered under requirements to notify the agency about releases of 'other well liquids,'" Soraghan writes. That's not how everyone else sees interprets the rules. Richard Brantley, associate director of the Midland office of the University of Texas's University Lands "said that reporting wastewater spills to the Railroad Commission is voluntary." Heather Palmer, a lawyer who advises clients on the environmental issues surrounding oil and gas development, "says it's her understanding that companies must report brine spills by phone and follow up with a letter. But there is some confusion, she said, because there is no threshold for reporting brine, unlike the five-barrel threshold for oil. So it's not clear what counts as a spill. That makes for some subjective decisions in the field."

When moving, Americans were more likely to leave the county in 2014 than in 2005

When Americans move to another household they are more likely to move outside of the county than they were 10 years ago, Tim Henderson reports for Stateline. "Fewer people moved to new residences within the county in which they lived in 2014 than in 2005. However, more people moved longer distances and from abroad. Thirty-one states saw declines in the number of people moving within county boundaries, while 43 states registered more people moving across county boundaries and from other states. Thirty-seven states saw more people moving in from abroad." (To view an interactive version, click here)

Shooting of rancher in rural Idaho by local law enforcement has distrustful residents on edge

A small rural county in western Idaho is reeling from an incident on Nov. 1 in which a rancher was shot and killed by local police officers dispatched to an accident scene in which a vehicle struck a bull. "Emergency medical personnel and Adams County (Wikipedia map) deputies arrived to the scene and began to extricate the driver and a passenger from a Subaru station wagon. During this time the bull that was injured in the crash began charging at first responders and other vehicles," according to a statement from the Adams County Sheriff's Department obtained by The Adams County Record.

"As deputies prepared to put the injured bull down, the owner of the bull, Jack Yantis, 62, of Council, arrived on scene with a rifle," states the sheriff's department. "The events that transpired over the course of the next few minutes are under investigation, but, at this time, it is believed that two deputies and Mr. Yantis all fired their weapons. Mr. Yantis sustained fatal injuries and was pronounced dead at the scene. One deputy sustained a minor injury."

The collision wasn't an unusual occurrence in Adams County, where animals are often found wandering in the road, Kirk Johnson reports for The New York Times. During such incidents, the "owner of the animal, if it is still alive but deemed beyond recovery, puts a bullet through its head and hauls it away."

"Much about what happened that night, on a dark stretch of highway just outside Payette National Forest, two hours north of Boise, remains uncertain," Johnson writes. "State and county officials said Mr. Yantis’s bolt-action rifle had discharged, but they have not described the circumstances. Family members say flatly that Mr. Yantis was murdered. Inquiries by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States attorney’s office and the Idaho State Police are just beginning. Mrs. Yantis (who suffered a heart attack after learning her husband had been killed) is recovering in a hospital in Boise, and one of the people in the vehicle that struck the bull is still hospitalized."

But anger and anxiety is running rampant among the 800 residents of Council (the county has 3,900 residents) since the shooting, much of it directed at the sheriff’s office, Johnson writes. "And though the circumstances of other recent police-involved shootings around the nation are different—including that all the parties involved here were white—the alienation from authority echoes in a way that feels much the same." Dale Fisk, editor of The Record, told Johnson, “This is a very conservative community in a very conservative state, and people are just distrustful of the government.

Serving as a law enforcement officer in a county with low population and a vast area to cover is not easy, with pay ranging from $14.50 to $15 an hour, Johnson writes. "With the two officers involved in the shooting now on paid administrative leave, only four deputies are left to patrol an area bigger than the state of Rhode Island." Another problem is the economic woes in Adams County, which has the state's highest unemployment rate, 6.8 percent, compared with 4.2 percent statewide. Some say the sheriff's office tries to make up for it by issuing an excessive number of speeding tickets.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Antibiotic use in animal feed leading to increased life-threatening infections in children, says study

Antibiotic use in animal feed is leading to increased rates of life-threatening infections among children, especially those under five years old, says a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics published in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers found that 19,056 infections, 4,200 hospitalizations and 80 deaths involving children were reported in 2013 to the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network, part of the Centers for Disease Control.

"The incidence of laboratory-confirmed Salmonella infections per 100,000 children was 63.49 in children younger than 5 years of age, 19.33 in children 5 to 9 years of age and 11.26 in children 10 to 19 years of age," states the report. "Salmonella results in 123,452 illnesses, 44,369 physician visits, 4,670 hospitalizations and 38 deaths annually among children younger than 5 years."

Researchers said "infants and children are affected by antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the food supply, direct contact with animals and exposure in the environment," Lisa Rapaport reports for Reuters. "Pediatricians and parents can help combat antibiotic resistance by avoiding use of antibiotics to treat colds or other viral illnesses. Parents and other consumers may also help discourage the use of antibiotics in livestock feed by choosing to buy only organic products or foods labeled as 'raised without antibiotics.'"

Cotton, once king in the South, expected to hit 150-year lows in some Southern states

Cotton farming continues its steady decline, especially in the South, where it was once king, Chris Prentice reports for Reuters. Harvesters in Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama and Arkansas this year expect to harvest some of their smallest crops since the year after the Civil War ended. Overall, U.S. farmers this year planted the fewest acres of cotton since 1983, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. There are now 18,000 cotton farms in the U.S., a 50 percent drop in the past 20 years.

"The farm law that passed last year phased out payments to farmers of many crops, leaving growers more exposed to market conditions," Prentice writes. "This year marks the first the U.S. cotton farmers are getting by without a subsidy program that had long been the subject of a trade dispute between Washington and Brazil. Washington paid $300 million to Brazil to settle the subsidy squabble and agreed to stop subsidy payment programs to cotton farms that totaled about $576 million in fiscal 2013, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates."

It's now getting too costly to grow cotton, Prentice writes. The price of cotton is currently about 60 cents, down 35 cents from 2014 highs. Also, demand is down, "with global consumption down 9 percent from a peak of 122.5 million bales nine years ago. The industry's most pervasive worry ultimately is not cost, but consumption. Cotton has struggled to recover demand lost amid price spikes in 2008, 2010 and 2011, which drove consumers toward clothes made of other fibers, such as polyester and nylon." (USDA map)

Telemedicine saving revenue for hospitals and allowing doctors to better monitor rural patients

Telemedicine is saving hospitals revenue from readmission penalties, while allowing medical professionals to keep better tabs on rural and remote patients with severe conditions and allow patients to better monitor themselves, Debra Gordon reports for George Washington University.

The Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program, instituted in 2012 by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), "is designed to slash the rate of 30-day readmissions of Medicare patients, which hit a high that year of nearly 20 percent," Gordon writes. "The penalties are tough. This year, hospitals stand to lose 3 percent of their entire Medicare reimbursement for excess readmissions of patients who have had heart attacks, pneumonia, heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and hip and knee replacement. In 2014, 2,610 hospitals were fined through the program, with 39 penalized the entire 3 percent. Overall, CMS estimates that hospitals paid $428 million in penalties that year."

But money isn't the only issue, Gordon writes. Remote monitoring means patients—especially those who have to travel long distances—make fewer trips to the hospital while still getting the extra care they need. Patients can be equipped with devices such as an iPad, a digital scale, a blood pressure monitor and an oximeter to determine the oxygen levels in her blood and a handheld EKG device to measure heart rates. Hospitals can also monitor the weight of a person with congestive heart failure to provide an early warning signal that the patient's heart is having trouble pumping enough blood. "Ensuring that patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) use their maintenance medications every day can prevent problems that lead to hospital readmission."

There are still some challenges to using telemedicine, Gordon writes. "State medical boards regulate the practice of medicine in each state, often with differing requirements. What happens when a doctor or nurse licensed in one state delivers telemedicine services to a patient living in another?" Other concerns are whether or not insurers will pay for telemedicine, how treating virtual patients affects malpractice rates, privacy and confidentiality concerns and whether or not technicians who help set up the equipment understand HIPAA policies. (Read more)

Taco Bell, which has been resistant to change, to switch to cage-free eggs by the end of 2016

Taco Bell, one of the last major fast food franchises to commit to improving animal welfare practices, announced on Monday that it will switch to cage-free eggs by the end of 2016, Roberto Ferdman reports for The Washington Post. "Taco Bell, which has more than 6,000 restaurants throughout the U.S., sells close to 150 million eggs each year, which could be a boon for the cage-free egg industry. The shift will improve the lives of more than 500,000 hens, according to estimates by the Humane Society of the United States."

"The chances of Taco Bell committing to use only cage-free eggs seemed particularly unlikely given how the promise might affect its breakfast menu, which was first introduced last year," Ferdman writes. "The strategy has centered around novelty—there was a waffle taco, then a biscuit taco—and convenience: All of their offerings are easily eaten on the go, many with only a single hand. But its appeal has been predicated on price. Switching to cage-free eggs could compromise that, and with it, the chain's chance of elbowing out some room in the fast-food breakfast space." (Read more)

Rural residents say relocating Guantánamo Bay inmates to Southern Colorado will hurt tourism

Rural residents in Southern Colorado, which is home to seven state and four federal prisons that house some of the most notorious criminals in recent history, say they don't want inmates from Guantánamo Bay, Jack Healy reports for The New York Times. President Obama has promised to close Guantánamo Bay, and Southern Colorado is a site officials have considered for relocating prisoners. (Best Places map: Florence, Colo., a town of 3,800 is one location being considered for Guantánamo Bay detainees)

Colorado prisons are already home to unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaeva, a Sept. 11 conspirator and 10,000 other inmates, Healy writes. "While some people here say the prisoners would be safely locked away, like the thousands of others who are already here, other residents worry their community could become a target. And some have legal objections to imprisoning dozens of detainees who have not been convicted criminally."

Sheriff James Beicker of Fremont County, which is home to the United States Penitentiary, Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, one of the locations being considered for Guantánamo Bay detainees, was one of 40 Colorado sheriffs who signed a letter to Obama last week opposing any Guantánamo transfers to Colorado. He told Healy, “It just doesn’t make sense to bring these dangerous people to our ground. Why put any extra level of threat to our state or my county?”

Residents say "they do not want the added notoriety of housing 61 Guantánamo detainees," Healy writes. "The tourism-reliant county recently lost out on an effort to attract a call center, and a recent sexting scandal at the high school in nearby Cañon City scared away a business looking to relocate." Keith Ore, mayor of Florence, told Healy, “Something of that magnitude could just come in and destroy this town.”

"While state and federal corrections officers handle security inside prison walls, the police and sheriff deal with any issues outside the gates," Healy writes. "They geared up when protesters gathered to condemn a 60-year prison term for a Colombian rebel leader. They investigated last year when two middle-school girls got Facebook messages from a stranger asking them for photos of their school." (Read more)

Monday, November 16, 2015

Adult obesity rates, a major concern in rural areas, are on the rise, especially among women

Obesity, a major concern in rural areas, is on the rise among American adults, especially women, says a report by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The obesity rate among U.S. adults was 37.7 percent in 2013-14, up from 32.2 percent in 2003-2004. While obesity rates have long been similar among adult male and females, CDC says that 38.3 percent of women are now obese, compared to 34.3 percent of men. The obesity rate among youth ages 2 to 19 was 17.2 percent, up from 17.1 percent from 2003-2004. (CDC graphic)
Obesity has plagued rural areas, especially the South, the nation's most rural region in terms of population. According to the 12th Annual State of Obesity report released in September by Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation seven of the top 10 states with the highest rates are in the South and 23 of the 25 states with the highest rates of obesity are in the South and Midwest.

One of the main concerns is that "for the past several years experts thought the nation's alarming, decades-long rise in obesity had leveled off," Mike Stobbe reports for The Associated Press. Dr. William Dietz, an obesity expert at George Washington University, told Stobbe "This is a striking finding," and suggested that a situation that was thought to be stable is getting worse.

The study, which consisted of 5,000 participants, found that "the prevalence of obesity was higher among non-Hispanic white, non-Hispanic black, and Hispanic adults and youth than among non-Hispanic Asian adults and youth." Also, "the prevalence of obesity was higher among middle-aged (40.2 percent) and older (37 percent) adults than younger (32.3 percent) adults."

Texas closes 12th rural hospital since 2010, after residents vote down tax district; 58th in U.S.

A rural hospital in Texas closed its doors this morning, in response to residents in Bowie (Best Places map) voting last week against a tax that would have kept the facility open, Stephanie Garland reports for KDFX-3 in Wichita Falls, Texas. Without the tax, Bowie Memorial Hospital officials had warned they would close down within two weeks. The closing will affect 138 hospital employees and 336 jobs in the community.

Bowie is the 12th rural hospital that has closed in the state since 2010, Matt Goodman reports for D Healthcare Daily in Dallas. "It will be the 58th in the country, according to the North Carolina Rural Health Research Program. No other state has had more rural closures than Texas; Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee all trail with five total." Texas did not expand Medicaid under federal health reform.

Rural students learning agriculture and business skills by raising turkeys to sell this Thanksgiving

High school and middle school students in a rural Kentucky county are attaining agricultural skills, while learning to run a business that will provide Thanksgiving turkeys, Cheryl Truman reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Students in animal classes in Harrison County have been raising 46 turkeys on more than 80 acres of farmland near the school. (Herald-Leader photo by Mark Cornelison)

Students, who have been with the turkeys since they hatched in July, taught the turkeys "to eat, drink and get grit into their diets. They clipped their wings to make sure they did not fly away. They provided them with clean bedding and made sure they stayed safe from roaming coyotes." This week the turkeys will be taken to Kentucky State University to be processed and sold to customers.

Last year, the class donated 19 birds to a food pantry, Truman writes "But this year, the students have gone into the business of selling them, since their teachers want them to learn not just farm skills but how to best present and package the resulting product and become entrepreneurs." Students have also "been in charge of doing market research and marketing the birds, including Facebook pages and other social media." (Family Search map: Harrison County)

Some states fear Clean Power Plan will cost them millions in revenue from severance taxes

Some coal states are concerned that the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan will cost them much-needed severance taxes that many communities rely on to fund services such as schools or local government agencies, Sophie Quinton reports for Stateline. "In 2013, Montana’s tax revenue from severance taxes was nearly 12 percent. In West Virginia it was 13 percent and in Wyoming it was 39 percent," according to a Stateline analysis. The regulations take effect in December, but could be blocked by court action.

The rules could spell bad news for some small towns, like Colstrip, Mont., whose coal "operations contributed 4.5 percent of all state tax revenue and $104 million in state and local taxes," according to a 2010 University of Montana study, Quinton writes. "The electricity-generating plants consume almost all the coal mined at the Rosebud Mine, the second largest coal mine in Montana. When the mine removes—or 'severs'—coal from the earth, the mining company pays the state a severance tax on the value of the coal. Some of the money is invested into state trust funds, and some goes to support statewide services, such as public schools." (Stateline map; for an interactive version click here)
State Rep. Duane Ankney, a Republican who represents Colstrip, said the regulations would have a major financial impact on the state. He told Quinton, “We’re talking a $700 million to $800 million fiscal impact to the state, county and local governments.” Puget Sound Energy, a part-owner of the Colstrip operation, already wants to close part of it, a threat to the town of 2,300.

In West Virginia last month, "Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin announced a 4 percent, across-the-board budget cut to compensate for a deficit driven by a $190 million drop in severance tax collections," Quinton notes. "Wyoming’s Republican Gov. Matt Mead announced $200 million in budget cuts, citing falling energy prices."

"The U.S. Energy Information Administration expects coal-fired power plants to continue to shut down and for very few new coal-fired plants to replace them, even without the Clean Power Plan," Quinton reports. "That’s a big deal, because more than 90 percent of the coal mined in the U.S. is burned to produce electricity, according to the EIA." (Read more)

Rural settlement with no broadband installs its own

Frustrated with no broadband Internet service, residents of a rural neighborhood in Louisa County, Virginia (Wikipedia map), installed their own high-speed Internet, Cherney Amhara reports for The Charlottesville Newsplex.

Reedy Creek Property Owners Association President Joe Snyder told Amhara, "The pole that I'm sitting on right now was bought and paid for by the Reedy Creek Property Owners Association. The investment that the property owners made in all this is roughly about $5,000." Snyder, who said when prospective home owners are told the area has no broadband it drives them elsewhere, told Amhara, "Without Internet, basically Louisa and this whole place becomes irrelevant."

The first step was convincing the county to create a process to apply for a permit for neighborhoods to purchase their own Internet service, Amhara writes. Two years later, CVA Link "dug a hole to put the pole purchased by the neighborhood into the ground and the Ethernet cable will run alongside the pole and pass power and data through the antennas. CVA technician Andrew Hollins told Amhara, "The ultimate result of installing these antennas is that we would go to a customers house and install one of these (Customer Premises Equipment) relay to the antenna which would pass bandwidth to it. You would run the cable into the house and you have unlimited internet."

CVA's Brian Gilbreth told Amhara that what normally takes a company months to provide, his can do in hours: "The key difference is wireless. Our wireless link will link back instead of having to lay all those miles and [use] manpower to bury the cable in the ground." (Read more) Louisa County is in the Piedmont, with no mountains to obstruct wireless networks.

Go west, young bear! Or east, as Md. town finds out

Black bears are becoming a common sight for many western Appalachian towns, as the species continues its comeback and spreads out, largely via younger males. But bears are also heading east, as the 1,500 residents of Hancock (Best Places map) have discovered, reports the Herald-Mail in Hagerstown.

Reporter Tamela Baker writes that Pete Jayne, associate director for game management for the state Department of Natural Resources, "said there is a resident bear population in Washington County, and it's becoming a little less unusual for one of them to stray into traffic. Three such incidents were reported in 2012, four in 2013 and six last year, he said."

Herald-Mail photo illustration
"Each year, the state permits a brief bear-hunting season in the two westernmost counties—Garrett and Allegany—to help control the population," Baker reports. "During this year's season, which ran Oct. 26 to 29, hunters harvested a record 95 black bears. Expanding the hunt to include Washington County has been discussed, but no decision has been made to do it, Jayne said."

Meanwhile, Jayne said residents are being told to learn to "get along with bears," reports Herald-Mail. Jayne said, "We tell them to be ‘bear aware’ and to make sure they're not creating attractions. They're crazy about bird seed. If you feed birds in fall or summer, you can attract them. We tell people to wait until December" when the bears are hibernating. (Read more)