Friday, December 11, 2015

Minnesota Democratic initiative aims to win back rural voters; could serve as a national model

Minnesota is training Democratic candidates to learn how to relate to rural voters and win back seats lost in 2014, Matt Barron reports for The Hill. The "Minnesota Rural Initiative," launched earlier this year, is focused on helping Democrats during the 2016 state legislative races. "Headed by Mike Simpkins, a former campaign manager for Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, the program has already enrolled 30 candidates at three regional training sessions by stressing the need to build strong campaign infrastructures."

In 2014, Minnesota lost 10 House seats, eight of them in rural areas, Barron writes. The trend has been national since President Obama took office, with Democrats losing 900 state legislative seats—many of them in rural areas—since he entered office in 2008. Simpkins told Barron, "Instead of blaming our DFL [Democratic Farmer-Labor] Party or our county unit, maybe we need to take more ownership of these rural campaigns."

Minnesota Democrats were concerned that the Democratic National Committee's recently released "autopsy report" on the 2014 midterms "made no mention of, and contained no recommendations for, winning back rural and white working-class voters who have been deserting the party in droves over the last eight years," Barron writes. Simpkins told Barron, "They don't even seem to acknowledge they have a problem."

Backers of the Rural Initiative "say the key to success is getting a fast start out of the blocks and making sure candidates are running smart races," Barron writes. One key is taking the time to visit rural voters, including some rural Minnesota districts that "range from 1,500 to 3,500 square miles." As part of the training, "candidates get schooled in the importance of having a solid field program as well as knowing how to execute paid and earned media plans." Candidates are also taught to focus on delivering "meat-and potato-services, as in 'how are you going to get this road fixed, get us broadband?'"

A similar initiative has been started in Maine. Minnesota Democratic state Rep. Jeanne Poppe said such initiatives could serve as a national model for all Democrats, Barron writes. She told him, "We are putting together the playbook for 2018 and beyond."

Sales of antibiotics for livestock up 23% from 2009 to 2014

Sales of antibiotics for livestock increased 23 percent from 2009 to 2014, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Tom Polansek reports for Reuters. Last year sales increased by 3 percent. "Public health advocates, along with some lawmakers and scientists, have criticized the long-standing practice of using antibiotics in livestock, arguing that it is fueling the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Agribusinesses defend the practice as necessary to help keep cattle, pigs and chickens healthy and to increase production of meat for U.S. consumers."

A study released last month said antibiotic use in animal feed is leading to increased rates of life-threatening infections among children. While many major corporations have said they will phase out antibiotic use in animals raised for food, a September environmental report said most of the top 25 fast food chains have poor policies about antibiotics, with 20 receiving a grade of F.

Agricultural safety grants available up to $10,000; deadline to apply is Jan. 7, 2016

About a dozen safety grants up to $10,000 are being offered to agribusinesses and producer groups through the Agricultural Safety and Health Council of America (ASHCA). ASHCA Chair Leon Graves, who represents Dairy Farmers of America, said in a statement: “An ideal grant proposal is one that comes from a small company or organization wanting to provide hands-on safety training to ag workers using an evidence-based safety program. The applicant should show a matched contribution from other sponsors or in-kind support from safety consultants or trainers.”

Priority will be given to: "Programs that engage both management and workers in the planning and implementation of successful injury reduction programs; hands-on training initiatives that will increase workers’ adoption of proven safety practices and will be sustained beyond the grant period; and initiatives that reach under-served or high-risk populations, e.g., non-English speaking workers." The deadline to apply is Jan. 7, 2016. For more information, click here.

Overpumping is draining the nation's aquifers; water levels down 64% in past two decades

Decreasing groundwater levels are depleting the nation's aquifers, draining farmers of much needed water and leading to increased costs for well owners, water utilities and the general public, Ian James and Steve Reilly report for USA Today and The Desert Sun. Overpumping is being blamed on agriculture—which accounts for nearly two-thirds of the nation’s use of fresh groundwater—and more water being drained for cities, expanding development and industries. Overall, more water is being pumped from the ground than cane be replenished.

"Nationwide, water levels have declined in 64 percent of the wells included in the government database during the past two decades," James and Reilly write. "The average decline among decreasing wells has been more than 10 feet, and in some areas the water table has dropped more than 100 feet during that period—more than 5 feet per year." Since the beginning of the 20th century, the U.S. has lost an estimated 1,000 cubic kilometers of water from the nation’s aquifers. (USDA map)

Decreasing groundwater levels are leading to increased costs for well owners, water utilities and the general public, James and Reilly write. "As water levels drop, more energy is required to lift water from wells, and those pumping bills are rising. In areas where aquifers are being severely depleted, new wells are being drilled hundreds of feet into the earth at enormous cost. That trend of going deeper and deeper can only go on so long. When groundwater levels fall to precarious lows and wells are exhausted, farming businesses can suffer. And in particularly hard-hit communities, such as parts of California, homeowners have been left relying on tanker trucks to deliver their water."

One of the nation's biggest sources, the Ogallala Aquifer, is being severely depleted, James and Reilly write. The Ogallala covers 174,000 square miles in parts of South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas and "makes possible about one-fifth of the country’s output of corn, wheat and cattle." With water drying up, "some farmers are adapting by switching to different crops. Others are shutting down their drained wells and trying to scratch out a living as dryland farmers, relying only on the rains." (USA Today map: Orange areas have lost 5 to 15 feet of water, yellow 0 to 4 feet)

EPA reaches settlement with billionaire coal owner, the top candidate for W.Va. governor

The Environmental Protection Agency and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection announced on Thursday a proposed settlement with companies owned by billionaire Southern Coal owner Jim Justice, Manuel QuiƱones reports for Environment & Energy News.

"The agencies accused Justice, the James C. Justice Cos. Inc. and High Mountain Living LLC, a construction company, of building earthen, stone and cement dams in a creek on Justice property. The deal, lodged in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, calls for restoration, $220,000 from Justice and Justice Cos. and $125,000 from High Mountain Living."

Justice, who is running for governor in West Virginia, still owed $3.5 million in delinquent property taxes in Eastern Kentucky as of October. In 2014, Southern Coal faced 266 violations at coal mines in Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Virginia and Alabama. Despite those issues, a recent poll has Justice leading his Democratic primary opponent 48 percent to 25 percent and the Republican leader 44 percent to 32 percent, reports The Herald-Dispatch.

Feds propose banning mountaintop removal in parts of East Tennessee's Cumberland Mountains

Mountaintop removal could soon be banned in parts of Appalachian Tennessee, Michael Collins reports for the Knoxville News Sentinel. "The federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement released draft documents on Thursday that would designate portions of East Tennessee’s mountain ridges as unsuitable for surface coal mining . . . A final decision won’t be made until after a 45-day public comment period that will end next Jan. 25." (SOCM photo by Karen Kasmauski: Zeb Mountain coal mine in Campbell County, Tennessee)

Proposals "would place 67,000 acres in the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area and the Emory River Tract Conservation Easement off-limits to surface mining," Collins writes. "Re-mining would be allowed in certain areas once mining companies obtain all the necessary permits and authorizations."

"In 2010, then-Gov. Phil Bredesen petitioned the federal government to ban mountaintop mining in the North Cumberland Plateau," Collins writes. The affected land "is included in wildlife management areas that make up the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area. The state’s petition asked for a 600-foot buffer on either side of ridgetops where mining cannot occur in the Royal Blue, Sundquist and New River units. Much of the area drains into the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area."

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Number of farmers on state legislatures continues to decline; only 4.6% list occupation as agriculture

The number of farmers in state legislatures continues to decrease, giving the agricultural community fewer voices with firsthand farming experience, Jen Fifield reports for Stateline. Only 4.6 percent of state legislatures are farmers, down from 9.7 percent in 1976, according to a recent survey by Stateline and the National Conference of State Legislators. While the number of legislatures with farming backgrounds continues decreasing, the number with business backgrounds keeps increasing; 29.5 percent of legislators are business owners or are in accounting, insurance, real estate or other business fields.

While only one of Pennsylvania's 50 state senators are farmers, even more traditional agricultural states, like North Dakota, are seeing a decline in the number of legislators who are farmers, Fifield writes. Currently, 16 percent of North Dakota legislators are farmers, down from 42 percent in 1986. The main reason for the shift is migration, said Chris Mooney, director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois.

The highest total is in Nebraska, where 22 percent list their occupation as farmer, according to the survey. In South Dakota, 17 percent of state legislatures are farmers; Montana and North Dakota, 16 percent; Iowa, 14 percent; and Idaho, 13 percent. In every other state, less than 10 percent of state legislatures are farmers. (NCSL graphic: Only 7 percent of Kansas legislatures are farmers. For an interactive version, click here)

Should journalists carry guns to public meetings? Weekly editors have myriad responses

Recent shootings in California and Colorado have once again opened the debate about the right to carry concealed weapons and whether or not citizens should be armed when in public. Should that right carry over to journalists covering public meetings? That's a question that was posed on the listserv of the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors. Barbara Selvin, of The Poynter Institute, has compiled a list of responses.

Here is a sample of some of the responses:

“In my town of 4,000? In my county of 25,000? I don’t see the need, and I don’t know if I can conceive of the circumstance where I would.” -Brad Martin, editor of the Hickman County Times in Centerville, Tenn.

“Do I really want the responsibility of carrying a deadly weapon, capable of taking a life, around with me? Am I really mature enough to be trusted with that responsibility?” -David Pugh, news editor at the Archbold Buckeye in Archbold, Ohio.

“As journalists, our weapons are words, used wisely and appropriately.” -Bill Tubbs, owner and publisher of the North Scott Press in Eldridge, Iowa.

“I conceal carry a firearm most of the time when I am out and about. You never know what you are going to run into, and my personal feeling [is] that I would rather have the gun with me and never have to use it than not. I even have a pistol hidden in my office in the case that I need it.” -Gregory J. Lamoureux, publisher of the County Courier in Northwestern Vermont’s Franklin County.

“I might never be armed; I might always be armed; I might sometimes be armed. Let’s just leave it at that.” -Bobby Mayberry, Cairo Citizen in Cairo, Illinois.

“I testify occasionally at committee hearings for the Texas Legislature regarding issues dealing with newspapers. The line to get into the capitol can be rather daunting, especially when you are late for a committee hearing. (With a permit) you can bypass the line, show your license and go on in to the capitol. Strange as it sounds, having a concealed gun gets you in easier.” -Cyndy Slovak-Barton, publisher since 1985 of Barton Publications in central Texas.

USA Today showcases 10 small towns that go all out for Christmas

Around this time of year some small towns turn into a winter wonderland, going all out to invoke the spirit of Christmas. In a story for USA Today Carri Wilbanks has highlighted 10 towns that are "some of the most cheerful Christmas small towns in America." The towns highlighted by USA Today are: Franklin, Tenn.; Hersey, Pa.; Jemez Springs, N.M.; Leavenworth, Wash.; Portsmouth N.H.; Santa Claus, Ind.; Skaneateles, N.Y.; Solvang, Calif.; Stickbridge, Mass.; and Frankenmuth, Mich. Are there any towns in your area that also go all out for Christmas? (Photo: Leavenworth, Wash.)

Rural Wisconsin town trying to fight placement of Milwaukee sex offender in its community

A rural Wisconsin town is at odds with urban Milwaukee County over where a violent sex offender will live, Bruce Vielmetti reports for the Journal Sentinel. While released offenders are typically placed in the county where they committed the offense, Milwaukee County residents complained they didn't want the Milwaukee sex offender in their neighborhood. Chris Rhymes in 1988 was sentenced to 26 years in prison for sexually assaulting a woman and beating her with a tire iron.

When state officials said in October that they couldn't find anywhere else for Rhymes to live, "District Judge William Brash approved a placement anywhere in any county—not just Milwaukee County," Vielmetti writes. "Brash has since been appointed to the Court of Appeals, so it now falls to Circuit Judge Mark Sanders to approve or deny" the placement of the sex offender in Fond du Lac County in rural Eldorado, which has a population of 1,500. Placement will be decided at a hearing Dec. 16. (Journal Sentinel graphic)

About 200 residents of Eldorado packed "its community center Monday evening to largely voice disapproval of the placement of Clint Rhymes in this township," Justin Kabbes reports for Fond Du Lac news. Residents expressed safety concerns of having a violent sex offender in their small town, and Fond du Lac County Sheriff Mick Fink said limited resources in patrolling a sprawling county (720 square miles of land) meant "he couldn't guarantee a speedy response to the town if an incident involving Rhymes occurred."

State Sen. Rick Gudex (R-Fond du Lac) "said people choose to live in small communities like Eldorado to escape problems like this," Kabbes writes. "Gudex said ordinances in Milwaukee are written in a way that significantly limit where sex offenders can be placed." He said he is working with Rep. Michael Schraa (R-Oshkosh) "on legislation to ensure violent sex offenders who serve their prison terms are placed back in the communities they originally resided." 

Dow, DuPont considering merger; move could affect jobs in Appalachia, rural areas

Dow Chemical Co. and DuPont Co. are considering a merger in a deal valued about $120 billion, Jeffrey McCracken and Jack Kaskey report for Bloomberg. "A deal may be announced as soon as this week, according to people with knowledge of the matter who asked not to be identified because the information is private. After the merger, the company would break into three businesses—agriculture, specialty chemicals and commodity chemicals—because of regulatory and other issues, one of the people said. There’s no guarantee a deal will get done, and talks may still fall apart, the people said. Shares of both companies jumped."

The merger would "create the world’s second-biggest chemical company behind BASF SE as well as the largest seed and pesticide company, surpassing Monsanto Co.," reports Bloomberg. It also could lead to total cost savings of $3 billion to $4 billion, said Hassan Ahmed, an analyst at Alembic Global Advisers.

News of the possible merger has left some rural areas anxiously waiting to see how it could affect local businesses and jobs. In West Virginia, "the chemical manufacturing industry makes up about one-fifth of West Virginia’s manufacturing jobs," according to West Virginia University, Andrew Brown and Ken Ward report for the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Karen Facemyer, president of the Polymer Alliance Zone, who said chemicals make up the second-largest international export commodity in West Virginia behind coal, "said it is far too early to speculate on what any type of merger could mean for the state," Brown and Ward write. Matt Ballard, president of the Charleston Area Alliance, told the Gazette-Mail, “It is not something we have control of as a local economic development authority, but it’s something that we are going to monitor. There are tremendous opportunities for the chemical industry in Appalachia. I don’t think that would be ignored by any company that might be created.”

There is also concern about layoffs in Delaware, where DuPont's headquarters are currently located, Jeff Mordock and Jonathan Starkey report for The News Journal. "Dow, headquartered in Midland, Michigan, would likely be the lead company in the deal because it is approaching the transaction from a position of strength," said Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, a professor of business at Yale University. "That would mean the headquarters of any combined company would most likely stay with Dow in Michigan." Overall, DuPont has about 7,000 employees in Delaware. Dow has about 53,000 employees worldwide. DuPont has about 64,000.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Supreme Court decison on 'one person one vote' could shift political power to rural areas

The Supreme Court is weighing a decision that could shift political power from urban to rural areas, which in many regions would benefit Republican candidates, Adam Liptak reports for The New York Times. The basic question in the "one person one vote" controversy "is who must be counted in creating voting districts: all residents or just eligible voters? Right now, all states and most localities count everyone."

"The difference matters because people who are not eligible to vote—children, immigrants here legally who are not citizens, unauthorized immigrants, people disenfranchised for committing felonies, prisoners—are not spread evenly across the country," Liptak writes. "With the exception of prisoners, they tend to be concentrated in urban areas. Their presence amplifies the voting power of eligible voters in those areas, usually helping Democrats. Rural areas that lean Republican, by contrast, usually have higher percentages of eligible voters."

The case, Evenwel v. Abbott, "a challenge to voting districts for the Texas Senate, was brought by Sue Evenwel and Edward Pfenninger, who asked the court to require states to count eligible voters," Liptak writes. "The case’s partisan overtones were not acknowledged during the argument, but the court’s four Democratic appointees asked questions suggesting that they generally favored counting everyone while several of the five Republican appointees said that voter equality was an important interest."

"The Constitution requires 'counting the whole number of persons in each state' for apportioning seats in the House of Representatives among the states," Liptak writes. But "the Supreme Court has never definitively ruled on who must be counted. The 'one person one vote' principle, rooted in cases from the 1960s that revolutionized democratic representation in the United States, applies to the entire American political system aside from the Senate, where voters from states with small populations have vastly more voting power than those with large ones. Everywhere else, voting districts must have very close to the same populations."

Evenwel and Pfenninger contend that "they lived in 'districts among the most overpopulated with eligible voters' and that 'there are voters or potential voters in Texas whose Senate votes are worth approximately one and one-half times that of appellants,'" Liptak writes. Their lawyer, William S. Consovoy, told Liptak, “One person can’t be given two votes while their neighbor is given one vote.”

Scott A. Keller, Texas’s solicitor general, defended his state’s decision to count everyone, telling Liptak, "The only question the court has to resolve here is whether the equal protection clause requires every state to change its current practice and use voter population to reapportion. The answer is no.” The Supreme Court is expected to make a decision by June, 2016.

Free webinar Thursday to help journalists better cover the police beat

The Poynter Institute will host a free one-hour webinar at 2 p.m. (EST) on Thursday to help journalists use available data to better cover the police beat. Webinar participants will learn how "to get data that government agencies don't want you to have, analyze it and find patterns that will help you build police accountability stories," states Poynter. The webinar will focus on: How to find unique story ideas that hold police accountable; how to gather data and use it to build a solid story; where to look for data; how to navigate bureaucracy to get the data you need; and how to begin to spot patterns in police data.

Cheryl W. Thompson, an investigative reporter for The Washington Post and an associate professor of journalism at George Washington University, will be the course instructor. To enroll in the course, click here. For those unable to attend the webinar, an archived reply will be made available on the Poynter website.

Colorado weeklies add AP to inform readers of state and national stories that could impact locals

While most community newspapers aren't members of The Associated Press, a pair of Pikes Peak Newspapers Inc. weeklies in central Colorado have joined AP to inform readers about events that might be of local interest but happen outside the coverage area.

"You may be wondering if this signals some sort of shift from our motto that 'community matters' and our vow to be laser-focused on local news," writes Bill Vogrin, owner/editor of The Pikes Peak Courier and The Tribune. "Let me tell you emphatically: Absolutely not. The way I see it, anything is local news if enough people putting down three quarters for the paper are interested in the subject or it impacts their lives in some way There is local news happening all over the state and even the country. For example, we'll better be able to cover developments in crimes that occur to Tri-Lakes residents in other parts of the state or country." (Wikipedia map: Teller County is located in the Courier's coverage area)

"We also have an acute interest in the outdoors, the national forests, the Colorado General Assembly, state government in general and much more," Vogrin writes. "With our AP feed, we'll be able to track more closely bills of keen interest to our readers as they move through the legislature. We'll watch for transportation funding bills that might result in the widening of Interstate 25, for example. Or legislative mandates related to school curriculum and testing."

"There are lots of examples," he writes. "I've already set up an automatic search for topics such as marijuana to track the latest news related to pot around Colorado and the nation. Other searches will deliver me stories related to military retirees, senior issues in general, skiing and more. I'm not interested in using the AP to duplicate news you'll hear on TV at 6 o'clock or on your homepage. I'm thinking more obscure stories precisely targeting our readers."

Eastern Kentucky coal company ordered to pay $6 million for thousands of violations

An Eastern Kentucky coal company "accused of submitting false water-monitoring reports agreed to pay $500,000 in a $6 million settlement covering thousands of environmental violations, according to citizens groups involved in the deal," Bill Estep reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. If it abides by the deal, Frasure Creek Mining will only have to pay the $500,000. (Wikipedia map: Frasure Creek Mining was based in Floyd County, Kentucky)

In a press release, Appalachian Voices, one of the citizens groups, said the fine was "the highest ever entered by Kentucky against a coal company for environmental violations . . . In addition, if Frasure Creek, which is currently not mining in the state, or its owners want to resume mining, they must pay $2.75 million before a permit application will be processed."

Appalachian Voices said it first discovered that Frasure Creek was duplicating water pollution reports in 2010 and filed a notice of intent to sue, Estep Writes. The Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet proposed a fine of $390,000 for 39 violations. The citizens argued that the fine wasn't steep enough, leading a circuit judge to rule that the settlement was inadequate. 

Appalachian Voices states that in 2014 the groups "discovered that, once again, Frasure Creek was duplicating or otherwise falsifying water pollution reports. Almost half of the company’s data submitted for the first quarter of 2014 was copied from previous reports. In November 2014, the groups filed a notice of intent to sue over the new violations. The cabinet then filed an enforcement action against Frasure Creek, which the citizens groups joined."

During Sunday broadcast, TV news magazine to spotlight Oklahoma's man-made earthquakes

An Al-Jazeera television report on Oklahoma's man-made earthquakes scheduled to air on Sunday features the state's former seismologist speaking about the pressure he was under to not link the oil and gas industry to an increase in earthquakes, Mike Soraghan reports for EnergyWire. Prior to the oil and gas boom of 2009, Oklahoma averaged two earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or higher per year. Last year Oklahoma had 585 earthquakes and has had more than 800 this year.

Speaking on "Fault Lines," former Oklahoma Geological Survey seismologist Austin Holland "said oil titan Harold Hamm told him to 'watch how you say things' in a now-notorious 'coffee' meeting in the office of University of Oklahoma President David Boren," Soraghan writes. "He also said a position paper released in 2014, deeming the earthquakes to be natural, contradicted OGS's scientific understanding. OGS is part of the university, which at the time was seeking a $25 million donation from Hamm for a new building."

"OGS lagged behind federal and academic scientists in finding that the swarms of quakes were related to wastewater disposal from oil and gas operations," Soraghan writes. "Holland said it was clear to him and others at OGS by 2013, but OGS didn't formally acknowledge it until April of this year. Scientists say the unprecedented swarms of man-made quakes in the state since 2009 can be attributed to favorably aligned faults and production methods that create uniquely large volumes of wastewater."

Fault Lines will air at 9 p.m. (EST) on Sunday. Oklahoma officials said producers from CBS's 60 Minutes are also working on a story about Oklahoma's earthquakes. (USGS graphic)

Rural Nevada mining counties lose battle to block federal sage grouse regulations

A lawsuit by two rural Nevada counties and two mining companies to block federal sage grouse regulations was denied on Tuesday in district court, Sandra Chereb reports for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. U.S. District Judge Miranda Du, who said "much of the alleged harms seem to be driven by confusion and uncertainties over . . . implementation" of the rules said the plaintiffs, which included Elko and Eureka counties, "failed to show the likelihood of irreparable harm if the rules imposed in September take effect." (Census map: Nevada counties)

The lawsuit, which "argued the rules would cause tens of millions of dollars in economic losses," was filed the day after the Department of Interior announced sage grouse would not be listed under the Endangered Species Act, Chereb writes. Critics "argued that the amended land use regulations adopted instead were just as onerous to rural economies. Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt and seven other counties later joined the suit but were not allowed to argue on the motion for a preliminary injunction. The case is expected to go to trial next year." (Read more)

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Report details climate change concerns facing rural communities; looks for ways to identify solutions

The Rural Climate Network has released a report, "Rural Climate Policy Priorities: Solutions from the Ground," that includes 10 recommendations specific to climate change in rural areas, Brandon Campbell reports for Public News Service. The report, which focuses on agriculture, conservation, education, energy, fisheries, forestry, health, infrastructure and recreation and tourism, includes "suggestions such as how to keep the U.S. agriculture industry resilient to extreme weather conditions and how federal agencies can do more to help conserve local ecosystems."

Tara Ritter, climate and rural communities program associate with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), told Campbell, "Rural areas have different concerns. They generally have longer travel distances between destinations, different energy use, different building stock, different industries that their economies are based upon. We weren't seeing those concerns reflected in climate policy."

Ritter said "one of the key ways the U.S. can help rural communities do that is by incentivizing clean energy infrastructure projects or making renewable energy production a priority," Campbell writes. She told him, "There are already so many incentives for fossil fuels that in order to level the playing field, we need to see some clean energy incentives to get that industry up and running and going even stronger than it already is." (Read more)

Medical marijuana reduces obesity, says study

The obesity epidemic—especially high in rural areas—can be reduced through legalization of medical marijuana, says a study by researchers at San Diego State University and Cornell University published in Health Economics. Researchers said that enforcing medical marijuana laws is "associated with a 2 percent to 6 percent decline in the probability of obesity" and leads to "$58 to $115 per-person annual reduction in obesity-related medical costs."

Researchers, who analyzed more than 20 years of data from the federal Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey, "found that passage of medical marijuana laws was associated with declines in obesity and overall BMI, controlling for social and economic factors, policy differences and food prices," Christopher Ingraham reports for The Washington Post.

Since older patients are more likely to be prescribed medical marijuana for chronic pain, reduction of pain allows them to be more active, Ingraham writes. Among adults ages 18 to 24, researchers found that prescribing medical marijuana reduced the probability of alcohol consumption by 3.1 percent and binge drinking by 4.8 percent. Researchers "posit that medical marijuana availability may lead some younger adults to 'substitute away from highly caloric alcoholic beverages toward a lower-calorie marijuana 'high,' resulting in lower body weight and likelihood of obesity.'"

Critics of legalizing medical marijuana say the study is misleading, Ingraham writes. For instance, since Colorado legalized marijuana, alcohol sales have actually risen. Also, Rosalie Pacula, director of the BING Center for Health Economics at the RAND Corp., said that "in a number of the states in this study, medical marijuana laws are still very new, so the data on the impact of those laws are relatively sparse." (Indianapolis Business Journal map)

Study: Methane emissions from oil and gas industry are higher than EPA estimates

Methane emissions from the oil and gas industry are actually higher than government estimates, says a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Gayathri Vaidyanathan reports for ClimateWire. "The study finds that daily leaks of the potent greenhouse gas from oil and gas wells in Texas' Barnett Shale matched the annual emissions of 8,000 cars."

"Methane is 86 times as warming as carbon dioxide on a 20-year time scale, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change," Vaidyanathan writes. "The leak in the Barnett means that a Texan who uses natural gas would have a 50 percent greater climate impact over the next 20 years than a consumer elsewhere, said Steven Hamburg, chief scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and a co-author of the study." Hamburg said "the study justifies the need for regulations on existing sources. He told Vaidyanathan, "The data show that existing sources are a significant part of the problem."
The Environmental Protection Agency reported in October that oil and gas methane emissions were down, citing agency regulations as one of the causes in the reduction. The agency in August proposed regulations to further cut emissions, with final rules expected in June 2016. But the EDF study says "EPA is underestimating the industry's emissions by a factor of 2," Vaidyanathan writes.

"About 1.5 percent of the 103,312 metric tons of gas produced per day in 2013 leaked, the study finds," Vaidyanathan writes. "This equals a loss of $100 million per year in revenue. Accidents caused by human error—a person leaving a hatch open or a broken valve—at 10 percent of facilities were responsible for almost 90 percent of the emissions. And only 2 percent of facilities were responsible for almost half the emissions." (Read more)

Rural counties ranked in top 20 entrepreneurial hotspots by eBay; Essex County, Vermont No. 1

Essex County, Vermont, is the nation's No. 1 entrepreneurial hotspot for online businesses, according to eBay's list of top 20 hotspots, Ina Steiner reports for Ecommerce Bytes. The list, compiled in honor of Small Business Saturday, lists counties that are "home to the top per capita eBay seller activity in the U.S., based on a ranking of the top 20 U.S. counties by number of eBay small business and entrepreneur sellers and their sales measured on a per capita basis," said eBay Senior Vice President of North America Hal Lawton.

Essex County, with a population of 6,125, has an annual average ebay sales per capita of $332, states eBay. No. 2 on  the list is Fulton County, Ohio, with a population of $42,580 and an annual sales per capita of $272. Other hotspots in largely rural areas include: Casey County, Kentucky, No. 7; Whatcom County, Washington, No. 11; Nelson County, North Dakota, No. 12; Clinton County, New York, No. 18; Gwinnett County, Georgia, No. 19; and Clackamas County, Oregon, No. 20. (eBay map: Top 20 U.S. Entrepreneurial Hotspots. For an interactive version, click here.)

Rural meth users in South Carolina more likely to be poor white women, says UCLA study

Rural meth users in South Carolina are more likely to be poor white women, said a study by researchers at UCLA presented last week at the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry meeting in Huntington Beach, Calif., Parker Brown reports for MedPage Today. The study, which included 199 participants in Los Angeles and 66 participants in rural eastern South Carolina, found that 63 percent of rural meth users were women, compared to 28 percent in urban areas. In rural areas, 98 percent of meth users were white, compared to 22 percent in urban areas, and 77 percent of rural users make less than $15,000 per year, compared to 48 percent of urban users. (South Carolina Law Enforcement Division graphic)

"There was no significant difference in the level of education in the two groups, but rural users also had less use in the past 30 days, using methamphetamine six times on average during the last 30 days versus 20 days in the urban group," Brown writes. "'Understanding regional differences may improve treatment adherence and retention,' the authors wrote, noting that white women from rural areas with a lack of education and job opportunities may have different treatment needs than men living in urban areas."

Emily Hartwell, a fourth year clinical psychology graduate student at UCLA, who was the lead researcher, told Brown, "It's possible that because meth was introduced in the [western U.S.] and has slowly trickled its way across the country, rates are higher in the west. So in some ways, it's not surprising that people are using quite as much, just in that it's a new substance on the east coast. But for it to be this different was a little surprising." (Read more)

Ag uranium levels rising in N. California; little info being given to non-English speaking residents

Agricultural workers in California's San Joaquin Valley—many of them non-English speakers—are being warned through poorly worded notices short of information that their drinking water could contain dangerous levels of uranium, reports The Associated Press. Giselle Alvarez, 16, one of the few English speaking residents in the area, told AP of the warning signs, "It says you can drink the water—but if you drink the water over a period of time, you can get cancer. They really don't explain." Long-term exposure can damage kidneys and increase cancer risks. (Valley CAN map)

"Uranium, the stuff of nuclear fuel for power plants and atom bombs, increasingly is showing in drinking water systems in major farming regions of the U.S. West—a naturally occurring but unexpected byproduct of irrigation, of drought and of the overpumping of natural underground water reserves," reports AP. The average level of uranium in public-supply wells of the eastern San Joaquin Valley increased 17 percent from 1990 to the mid-2000s, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

"The number of public-supply wells with unsafe levels of uranium, meantime, climbed from 7 percent to 10 percent over the same period there," reports AP. That means one in four families "on private wells in this farm valley who, unknowingly, are drinking dangerous amounts of uranium, researchers determined this year and last."

The problem has also affected other areas, reports AP. "Nearly 2 million people in California's Central Valley and in the U.S. Midwest live within a half-mile of groundwater containing uranium over the safety standards, University of Nebraska researchers said in a study published in September." (Read more)

Montana TV reporter does fluff pieces about local sheriff, who happens to be her boyfriend

A Montana television reporter who has repeatedly reported fluff pieces on the local sheriff has been actively dating the sheriff for more than a year, Jim Romenesko reports on his blog. Judy Slate, a reporter for KBZK in Bozeman, has reported on Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin participating in a cold-water challenge, touring a high school and even attending a conference in Washington, D.C., that that they apparently went to together. (Facebook photo of reporter Judy Slate and Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin)

Slate also reported "a story about county commissioners rejecting a dog leash law. After the piece aired, Slate noted on Facebook that 'I got my dogs and my man in my story last night,'” writes Romenesko. A rival Bozeman journalist told Romenesko, “The TV station—the leading TV station here in Bozeman—has become a glorified PR desk for the sheriff. Slate gets to have her pick of time with the sheriff, and her station gets notified of news that otherwise no one would have heard about, like remote traffic accidents in the middle of the night." Slate, Gootkin and KBZK news director John Sherer all refused to speak to Romenesko about the issue. (Read more)

Monday, December 07, 2015

Study: Coal particles are much more likely to cause heart disease than other types of air pollution

Research has found that particles from burning of coal and other fossil fuels are "far more dangerous than average" particulates that pollute the air, Sean Reilly reports for Environment & Energy News. And "Exposure to emissions from coal-fired power plants over a long period of time is significantly more harmful to the heart than other forms of carbon pollution," Darryl Fears writes for The Washington Post.

The study by a team of New York University researchers concluded that the long-term exposure to fine particulates produced by fossil fuel combustion, especially those from coal-fired power plants and diesel vehicles, was associated with a higher risk of death from ischemic heart disease, a category that encompasses heart attacks," Reilly writes. The peer-reviewed study was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Fears writes, "The risk of death from heart disease, including heart attacks, was five times as high for people who breathed pollution from coal emissions over 20 years than for those who were exposed to other types of air pollution, according to the study’s findings. The burning of coal releases fine particles with a potent mix of toxins, including arsenic and selenium." He quotes lead author George D. Thurston, an NYU professor of population health and environmental medicine: “Our results indicate that, pound for pound, coal-burning particles contribute roughly five times as much to heart disease mortality risk as the average air-pollution particle in the United States.”

Banking bill sent to Obama would allow counties labeled non-rural to petition for rural status

Congress has passed a bill creating a petition process for areas to be designated as "rural" by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a designation that allows certain lending practices in areas that the agency considers under-served. Meanwhile, the agency has adopted rules that "would expand the definition of rural areas to include census blocks that are not in an urban area as defined by the Census Bureau," it said early this year.

The agency, created by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act of 2010, originally defined "rural" in a way that excluded may rural counties. "While the CFPB recently undertook efforts to revise its definition, it once again neglected to allow input from rural communities themselves," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnelll, R-Ky., said in a news release. McConnell was a sponsor of the bill.

Democrat Charles A. Vice, commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Financial Institutions, said in the release that the bill “provides the needed flexibility for community banks to provide appropriate loan products to individuals living in rural areas.  Community banks are vital to Kentucky’s economy expansion and growth.”

The CFPB's rule changes would make it easier for banks and credit unions to "make loans to borrowers with high levels of debt," The Wall Street Journal reported. Jack Hartings, president of The People’s Bank Co. in Coldwater, Ohio, and chairman of the Independent Community Bankers of America, told the Journal that the changes would “allow us to expand the lending that we do to the individuals in our community that we know are good qualified credit (risks) but from a regulatory standpoint, fall out of that box.” Journal reporter Alan Zibel wrote, "Many borrowers in rural areas, he said, often have high levels of debt, including small-business owners and farmers who take out business loans as individuals."

Recent trends, and Obama's presidency, have made supporting gun rights about more than guns

Many gun-control advocates don't understand the motivations of their opponents, write Jim Tankersley and Scott Clement of The Washington Post, citing polling data.

"Supporting gun rights, for a large portion of Americans, is about much more than guns," they report, citing several factors: "A backlash against government intrusion into individuals' lives . . . a belief that more guns make us safer" and "the rise of gun laws as a partisan issue (seen in poll graphic, above) after Barack Obama was elected president."

Tankersley and Clement write, "It's important to note that some tighter gun-control measures enjoy wide support across America, among liberals and conservatives, gun owners and even National Rifle Association households as well as those who have never pulled a trigger. More than 4 in 5 Americans support requiring background checks for private and gun-show firearms sales, and nearly as many favor laws preventing people with mental illness from owning guns, Pew Research surveys have found. Seven in 10 support a federal database of gun sales. Over half support bans on semi-automatic and assault weapons."

Still, "defending gun rights is a more popular position now than it has been in almost 20 years," the reporters note: "Half of Americans now say it is more important to 'protect the right of Americans to own guns' than it is to 'control gun ownership.'"

Effort to clear wild hogs out of creek valley in far Western Kentucky has been successful

Rural areas being plagued by wild hogs (map from December 2014) might take some cues from an effort in far Western Kentucky. Leaders of the Obion Creek Feral Hog Project say they have eliminated most of the feral swine in Graves, Hickman and Carlisle counties, report Brianna Clark and Justin Jones of WPSD-TV in Paducah.

The furrows in this cornfield look man-made, but they were dug
by feral hogs going down freshly planted rows of corn. (Photo
via Graves County, Kentucky, Cooperative Extension Service)
"About six years ago, numerous agencies from federal, state and local levels got together" to start the project . . . and began tracking down these destructive animals using trail cameras," the station reports. The hogs were trapped, hunted and shot from the air, the Graves County Cooperative Extension Service reported.

"We're actually having a hard time finding any pigs to go shoot now," Jeff Berryhill told the station. "There are still a few left, a scattered one or two here and there, and those are the ones we are trying to clean up." A U.S. Department of Agriculture helicopter found only one in a sweep last week.