Friday, March 25, 2016

Rise in rural opiate addiction leading to an increase in babies born addicted to drugs

The number of babies born suffering from opioid withdrawal, or neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), has increased from 1.2 per every 1,000 hospital births in 2000 to 5.63 per every 1,000 hospital births in 2009, with an estimated 21,732 babies born with NAS in 2012, according to a study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. A rise in heroin and opiate use in rural areas has helped lead to high numbers. NAS numbers are highest in Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee. Health officials in Wisconsin released a report this month that found that the number of babies born in Wisconsin addicted to heroin increased 125 percent from 2009 to 2014. Opiate addiction has become an increasing problem in the state's rural areas, especially some of the smallest counties. (Stateline map)

"When a pregnant woman uses drugs or alcohol during pregnancy, some of the substances travel through the placenta to the baby," Christine Vestal reports for Stateline. "In many, but not all, cases, exposure to opioids during pregnancy can cause the fetus to develop physical drug dependence. When the umbilical cord is cut at birth, the newborn is abruptly disconnected from its supply of opioids and can suffer withdrawal symptoms. Although painful, newborn withdrawal symptoms, which include muscle cramps, tremors, diarrhea, vomiting, sleep problems and sometimes seizures, are not life threatening and have not been shown to cause health problems or developmental deficiencies later in life. The condition can be treated with small doses of morphine and subsides within a one to three weeks."

"Last year, a federal law was enacted—the Protecting Our Infants Act—authorizing the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to work with states to collect data on the prevalence of babies born with opioids in their bloodstream," Vestal writes. It also calls on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to develop recommendations for the best way to prevent and treat drug use during pregnancy."

One problem is that it can actually hurt a baby for a drug addicted mother to quit using drugs while pregnant, Vestal writes. "Abruptly quitting opioids in the first and third trimesters of pregnancy can cause harm to the fetus, including miscarriage and stillbirth, and is not recommended. Even in the second trimester, specialists agree that the risk of relapse outweighs any potential benefit to the fetus of lowering the dose of addiction maintenance medications or discontinuing their use."

County-level census data shows big population losses in Central Appalachia coalfields, rural areas

Central Appalachian coal country took a significant hit in population from July 1, 2014 to July 1, 2015, according to county-level U.S. census figures released on Thursday, John Raby reports for The Associated Press. In West Virginia, nine of the 10 counties with the biggest population losses were in southern coalfields; in Kentucky the top 10 coal producing counties lost 3,060 residents; southwestern Virginia coalfields also saw big drops.

Overall census data showed a familiar trend of decreasing population in rural areas and increasing population in urban ones, reports AP. Overall, 285 of 381 urban counties saw population growth from 2014 to 2015. The same can't be said for rural areas. In Iowa, 71 of 99 counties lost population, with urban counties or counties near urban centers seeing growth. In North Carolina, 48 of 100 counties saw population declines, Richard Stradling and David Raynor report for The News & Observer. Two-thirds of the state's growth took place in Charlotte or the Triangle area of Raleigh and Durham.

Maryland close to banning household pesticides blamed for rapid decline in bee populations

Lawmakers in Maryland are expected in the next few weeks to send legislation to the desk of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan that would ban the use of household pesticides with neonicotinoids that are blamed for killing honeybee populations, Darryl Fears reports for The Washington Post. "Farmers and professionals who better understand how to apply them in a way that poses a lesser threat to bees would be exempted by the law when it takes effect in 2018." In Maryland, which lost 60 percent of its hives last year, much of the blame is on residents who overuse pesticides on gardens and trees. (Bee Informed graphic)

"Neonicotinoids were introduced to agriculture in the 1990s and made available to the general public more recently because it was thought to be safer for bees than other pesticides," Fears writes. "They seep into plants rather than simply coating the surface. Although some researchers insist the chemical doesn’t cause bee mortality, other scientists are gathering evidence that it does. The Environmental Protection Agency launched a review to determine if several varieties of the insecticide have contributed to the collapse of bee colonies. Its findings are due in 2018." The Maryland Department of Agriculture has said there is little scientific evidence linking bee deaths to neonicotinoids. 

If the legislation is signed into law, it could have national implications, Fears writes. "About a dozen other states are considering taking similar steps as bees die and honey production declines. Last year, honey production fell 12 percent among producers with five or more colonies, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture survey." (Read more)

Survey: 96% of meteorologists believe climate change is real; only 1% deny its existence

Most meteorologists believe climate change is real and man-made, with 96 percent of American Meteorologist Society members saying its real, 3 percent saying they don't know and only 1 percent saying climate change is not happening, according to a survey by the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University.

The survey also found that 29 percent of meteorologists say climate change is largely or entirely caused by human activity, 38 percent say it is mostly caused by human activity, 14 think the change is caused more or less equally by human activity and natural events, 7 say mostly natural events, 5 percent say largely or entirely by natural events, 6 percent said they don’t know and 1 percent think climate change is not happening. The survey was sent to all members, with 4,092, or 53 percent, returning the survey, though not all respondents answered every question. (George Mason graphics)
The earth "has witnessed its warmest two years on record, 2015 and 2014, over the last two years," James Samenow reports for The Washington Post. "At the same time, peer-reviewed studies have piled up demonstrating man’s influence on our climate. Ed Maibach, lead author of the survey, told Samenow, “It does appear that more meteorologists are now more convinced that human-caused climate change is happening. That is exactly what one would expect, of course, given the trajectory of our changing climate and the ever increasing of the science.”

Resources available to help journalists better understand stories involving math and statistics

Journalists don't need to fear math when writing stories, John Wihbey reports for Journalist's Resource. "Whether it’s reading a government-produced spreadsheet, calculating percentage changes or judging the results of complex academic studies, journalists often must confront the world of math, like it or not." Journalist's Resource offers some helpful resources to help reporters sharpen their skills.

When it comes to math and statistics, resources include: “Mathematics Competency Test for Journalists,” “What Headlines Would Look Like If We Lived in a Mathematically Literate World," “Math Basics for Journalists: Working with Averages and Percentages,” the Centre for Investigative Journalism's “Statistics for Journalists" and “Statistics Every Writer Should Know.”

"Key areas in business and politics often present challenges for general assignment reporters in terms of knowing what’s relevant and detecting underlying data problems," Wihbey writes. Good examples to look at are: “Reading Economic Data Releases from the Government,” “Polling Fundamentals and Concepts: An Overview for Journalists,” “Statistical Terms Used in Research studies: A Primer for Media,” “Interpreting Academic Studies: A Primer for Media” and “Regression Analysis: A Quick Primer for Media on a Fundamental Form of Data Crunching.”

"For a hands-on primer on using Excel to analyze real-world data, try 'Data Journalism Lesson with Crime Stats: Parsing Close-call Numbers and Producing Valid Stories,' Whibey writes. "Using a dataset of 2013 crime stats from 269 U.S. cities, we walk you through the steps needed to find out what the data 'say' and point out traps that you should avoid."

"Some problems go well beyond simple numerical errors and ultimately come down to flaws in logic, inference and causality," Whibey writes. "For a rigorous overview of how to build an explanatory theory, see 'Guide to Critical Thinking, Research, Data and Theory: Overview for Journalists.' 'Introduction to Statistics: Inference' explores 'statistical ideas and methods commonly used to make valid conclusions based on data from random samples.' There are also a number of free online statistics tutorials available, including one from Stat Trek and another from Experiment Resources. Stat Trek also offer a glossary that provides definitions of common statistical terms. Another useful resource is “Harnessing the Power of Statistics,” a chapter in The New Precision Journalism."

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Many reliable sources exist for journalists using the Internet and social media for stories

The digital age provides a wealth of informational for journalists, but learning how to weed through all the misinformation to find reliable sources is the key, John Wihbey reports for Journalist's Resource. "A variety of tools—and a growing community and subfield—have sprouted up to encourage more targeted and powerful verification of information. It is also worth knowing a bit about the sharing, conversation and viral patterns that social scientists typically see online."

"It is not always easy to monitor the Web traffic flowing to a given third-party site, and having access to server data and a tool like Google Analytics is the most valid way of doing that," Wihbey writes. "Perhaps the best-known analytics firm that measures web traffic and ranks sites is comScore, but there are several other commercial firms that can help make estimates and allow basic/introductory analysis for free," such as (an Amazon company that can help analyze traffic patterns and other metrics) and (which makes estimates of unique visitors freely available). 

"In terms of social media tools, there are a variety of competing sites that allow you to do such things as track hashtags, search for mentions of certain terms and places and to even limit searches to certain geographical areas," Wihbey writes. "SocialMention monitors user-generated content across platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and dozens more. You also can get measures of sentiment, reach and other analyses of patterns. allows you to analyze specific terms, hashtags, URLs and more and to also get data on patterns across the Web. You can see the reach of information, timelines relating to posts and much more." Other tools include Twilert (provides real-time alerts), Twiangulate (shows common followers among user handles and analyzes hidden relationships), HashTracking (insights on hashtag patterns) and Who Tweeted It First (tracks the original source of memes and messages). (SocialMention statistics using the keyword Appalachia)

Other useful sources include BuzzSumo (helps assess most shared content and related trends), SocialRank (figures out patterns among your followers on platforms such as Twitter and Instagram), GramFeed (conducts and manages searches among Instagram photos) and Google Trends (reveals search traffic around certain keywords on the Web and YouTube). (Read more)

Oil and gas bust has cost 21,000 industry jobs, 133,000 supporting jobs since late 2014

After years of boom, the oil bust has decreased the number of oil rigs in operation in the U.S. to 476 today, down from 1,931 in September 2014, a 75 percent decrease, Jonathan Thompson reports for High Country News. The oil bust has hit some states hard. In the past year North Dakota has lost nearly 20,000 jobs, most of them in oil, gas and construction. Wyoming has seen its unemployment rate jump from 4.4 percent in February 2015 to 5.6 percent in February 2016, with the biggest jumps in fossil fuel hot spots. (High Country news graphic)
"Nationally, the oil and gas extraction sector alone has shed some 21,000 jobs since late 2014, and the 'support activities for mining' sector has lost 133,000 jobs," Thompson writes. "A recent analysis by the Brookings Institute predicts 'much worse employment carnage in energy states' to come. (Brookings graphic)
"During the last quarter of 2015, all the major Western energy-producing states saw significant decreases in severance tax revenues, levied on the value of produced oil and gas and minerals, compared to the previous year," Thompson writes. "North Dakota took in $400 million less—in just one quarter—than it did in the final quarter of 2014. As a result of these losses, four of these states saw total tax collections decrease, as well (Utah was the exception), despite the fact that nationally, state tax collections were up. While motor fuel sales taxes increased for every state, thanks to low gas prices, it wasn't enough to offset the other tax losses."

Still running second overall, Cruz wins big in rural Utah, Sanders in rural Idaho on Tuesday

Rural Utah and Idaho residents bucked the recent presidential voting trend, with rural Utah voters overwhelmingly favoring Texas Sen. Ted Cruz over businessman Donald Trump in Tuesday's voting and rural Idaho voters showing strong support for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton in the Democratic race, Bill Bishop reports for the Daily Yonder. Sanders also won big in Utah, while Trump and Clinton won in rural areas and overall in Arizona, with only about 5 percent of the state's votes coming from rural areas. (Yonder graphics)
In rural Utah, Cruz won 68.3 percent of the vote, to 21.3 percent for Trump and 10.4 percent for Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Bishop writes. Trump won 51.1 percent of rural votes in Arizona, to 31.3 percent for Cruz. In Idaho, Sanders scored 69.7 percent of rural votes, to 29.1 percent for Clinton. Clinton won the rural votes in Arizona, 64 percent to 30.7 percent. Sanders won overall in Utah, 79.3 percent to 20.3 percent. (Read more)

Obama administration says court erred in halting fracking regulations on public and tribal lands

The Obama administration says a Wyoming-based court made a legal error when it ruled last year that the Bureau of Land Management does not have the authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing on public and tribal lands, Timothy Cama reports for The Hill. Lawyers representing BLM are asking the Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver to overturn the decision and allow regulators to enforce regulations designed to improve well design standards, ensure wastewater is properly protected and require drillers to disclose fracking chemicals. Various states and the oil and natural gas industry argued "that Congress has expressly prohibited the federal government from regulating fracking, even on federal and American Indian land, as the BLM did early last year."

Lawyers for BLM wrote: “The district court held that Congress has ‘directly spoken to the issue and precluded federal agency authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing not involving the use of diesel fuels.’ That was legal error. Congress has never directly spoken to BLM’s authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing on federal and Indian lands. Congress instead delegated BLM broad authority to regulate all oil and gas operations on federal and Indian lands. Congress has not carved hydraulic fracturing out of that express delegation of authority.”

“Because Congress has never excluded hydraulic fracturing from BLM’s expressly delegated authority, the district court erred,” lawyers wrote “Furthermore, substantial scientific and technical evidence in the record supports BLM’s expert conclusion that today’s greatly expanded hydraulic-fracturing operations pose a risk to groundwater, especially if well casings are inadequately designed or constructed.” (Read more)

Rural Mass. schools seeing declines in enrollment, state aid; towns tired of schools asking for money

Rural schools in Massachusetts are facing a continued decline in enrollment and state aid, Diane Broncaccio reports for The Recorder. "Although rural public school districts occupy nearly 70 percent of the entire state land mass, they represent only about 19 percent of the state’s public school districts, and they educate only 9 percent of all the state’s school children." That has led to state education aid either "declining, level or barely increasing between 2006 and 2016," said Michael Buoniconti, superintendent of Mohawk Trail/Hawlemont Regional School Districts in Franklin County. (Massachusetts Living map). He told Broncaccio, "We’re getting less money today than we got 10 years ago. So we’re asking our towns for more and more money, and we’re getting to the point where they’re saying ‘no.’ I don’t anticipate getting a [town-approved] budget this year."

Of the state's 94 rural districts, Buoniconti said 66 "have seen declining enrollment over the past 20 years, with school systems from western Massachusetts losing 39 to 57 percent of their student populations during these decades," Broncaccio writes. "And, compared to the state’s most populous school districts—Boston, which is 48 square miles, or Springfield, 32 square miles—Mohawk, with less than 1,000 students, covers 253 square miles, and the Franklin County Technical School covers 566 square miles."

Buoniconti said rural Massachusetts schools face the familiar problems—higher-than-average per-pupil spending, bigger transportation costs, under-used school building space and the disproportionate effect that charter schools have on rural school budgets," Broncaccio writes. He said the problem is how to explain those problems to state officials who are more familiar with urban schools than rural ones. Buoniconti, who said the state doesn't have a specific definition for rural, told Broncaccio, “When I asked, ‘What is rural?’ I was told, ‘It’s a state of mind.’ ‘Good god,’ I thought, ‘that guy is probably right.’” (Read more)

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Rising age of prison populations leading to higher health care costs for many states

The rising age of inmates at state and federal prisons—located disproportionately in rural areas—is costing states increasing amounts of money in health care, Michael Ollove reports for Stateline. A report by Human Rights Watch, "Old Behind Bars: The Aging Prison Population in the United States," found that between 2007 and 2010 "the number of sentenced state and federal prisoners age 65 or older increased by 63 percent, while the overall population of sentenced prisoners grew only 0.7 percent in the same period."

Most states are seeing a rising age in prisoners, Ollove writes. For example, in 1990 in Virginia 822 state prisoners were 50 and older (the age corrections officials usually consider old age for prisoners), or about 4.5 percent of all inmates. In 2014, 7,202, or 20 percent of all inmates were 50 or older. That's leading to increased health care costs, with nearly half of the $58 million Virginia spent on off-site prisoner health care in 2013 going to older prisoners, according to Trey Fuller, acting health services director in the state Department of Corrections. (Human Rights Watch graphic)
"Many states have taken steps to reduce their prison populations by releasing nonviolent inmates or by diverting some offenders to community programs before sending them to prison," Ollove writes. "But corrections officials say those reforms alone will do little to decrease the population of older prisoners who are serving mandatory sentences or have committed violent crimes. Several states have adopted programs such as early release for geriatric patients or 'compassionate release' for the dying. But advocates for prisoners say the programs are often so cumbersome and restrictive that few older prisoners are able to take advantage of them."

Correction officials say the rising age of inmates can be credited to an increase in the number of older people being sentenced to prison and a move in the 1990s to get tougher on prisoners that resulted in longer sentences, Ollove writes. Linda Redford, who studies health issues related to aging prisoners and is the director of aging and geriatrics programs at the University of Kansas Medical Center, told Ollove, “It was the push for mandatory sentences and three strikes you’re out. So we’re seeing people who came to prison in their 30s and 40s and 50s in their 50s and 60s and 70s today.”

Another problem is that many prisons were not designed to accommodate older inmates, Ollove writes. "States have had to install ramps and shower handles and make other physical modifications. Many prisons have had to create assisted living centers with full-time nursing staffs. In addition, at least 75 U.S. prisons provide hospice services for dying prisoners, according to the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit that advocates for criminal justice reform." Still, services for the elderly are often stretched thin at many prisons, which have to pick and choose which inmates receive assisted living or special care. (Read more)

Obama to attend prescription drug abuse summit next week; feds focused on fighting addiction

The White House announced on Tuesday that President Obama will headline the nation's largest prescription drug abuse summit next week in Atlanta "aimed at developing new guidelines for prescribing pain medications," Greg Bluestein reports for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Obama last month proposed spending $1.1 billion in new funding to address opioid and heroin abuse, which are growing problems in rural areas. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also this month proposed limits on painkiller prescriptions.

"The White House also sent letters to every governor urging more state involvement in 'turning the tide' of the drug and heroin epidemic," Bluestein writes. In his letter to Georgia Republican Gov. Nathan Deal, "the Obama administration said that Georgia and other states are 'on the front lines' and urged federal lawmakers to act quickly on Obama’s budget request." The letter stated: “We stand ready to work with you and your state to provide any technical assistance needed as you implement these best practices. And we encourage you to share the progress you are seeing as a result.”

CDC in September 2015 selected 16 states to receive funds through the Prevention for States program, with 13 more states selected for funding this month, states CDC. For example, Connecticut was awarded more than $1.3 million for the Department of Public Health to target prescription drug overdoses, Jaclyn Diaz reports for The Bulletin in Norwich. (CDC map: States funded by the Prescription Drug Overdose: Prevention for States program)
Maura Downes, communications director for the state Connecticut Department of Public Health, "said the money will help her department work with the Department of Consumer Protection and the Yale School of Medicine on enhancing the Prescription Drug Monitoring program and increasing education for physicians and pharmacists about the system," Diaz writes. "The monitoring program collects data for prescriptions greater than a 72-hour supply of any controlled substance and places the information into a central database. The department will also work with health departments in Hartford, New Haven and Fairfield counties to educate residents on the dangers of opioids and heroin."

The Food and Drug Administration also announced on Tuesday "that fast-acting opioid pain relievers will begin carrying 'black box' warnings about the risk of abuse, addiction and overdose deaths that the popular medications pose," Tony Pugh reports for The McClatchy Company. New guidelines will "call for the prescription labels to warn that opioids can cause a dangerous central nervous system reaction if they interact with antidepressants and migraine medications. Labels will also warn that opioid use can cause a rare condition in which the adrenal glands don’t produce enough cortisol, a hormone that helps the body handle stress. New labels will also explain that long-term opioid use is associated with lower sex hormone levels and reduced interest in sex, as well as impotence and infertility."

Department of Transportation proposes new regulations for natural gas pipelines

Citing concern over an increase in natural gas pipeline explosions, the U.S. Department of Transportation on Thursday proposed regulations "that would expand federal safety standards to a bigger group of pipelines," Timothy Cama reports for The Hill. "The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration's (PHMSA) proposal would implement new assessment and repair criteria and apply them to gas lines in moderately populated areas. The rules previously only applied to densely populated areas. It would also make pre-1970 pipelines, previously left out of the regulatory reach, subject to many of the same rules older structures must follow."

Proposed regulations "do not mandate automatic shut-off or leak detection systems, one of the major remaining regulations from the 2011 law and a top ask of pipeline safety advocates," Cama writes. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), whose district includes San Bruno, Calif. site of a 2010 explosion that killed eight people, said she was pleased with the regulations but will "continue pushing for the shut-off and leak detection standards and that PHMSA has assured her they’re under development as part of a separate rule."

PHMSA Administrator Marie Therese Dominguez, who said the San Bruno explosion was a major reason for the new rules, along with the 2011 pipeline safety law, told Cama, “The proposal's components address the emerging needs of America's natural gas pipeline system and adapt and expand risk-based safety practices to pipelines located in areas where incidents could have serious consequences."

Journalists should become familiar with validity of polls before using them as sources

When relying on polls for stories—especially ones concerning the presidential election—journalists should validate the authenticity of the poll, Leighton Walter Kille reports for Journalist's Resource. "Polls are only as valid as their design, execution and analysis. The best polls are produced by independent, nonpartisan polling organizations, with no vested interest in the outcome of the findings," such as Gallup and the Pew Research Center and media groups such as CBS News/New York Times, ABC News/Washington Post and NBC News/Wall Street Journal. (Keith Bishop illustration)

"Many surveys are conducted by partisan actors—political consulting firms, industry groups and candidates," Kille writes. "In some cases, the findings are biased by factors such as respondent selection and question wording. Partisan-based polls need to be carefully scrutinized and, when possible, reported in comparison with nonpartisan poll results."

"It’s important to remember that polls are a snapshot of opinion at a point in time," Kille writes. "Despite 60 years of experience since Truman defied the polls and defeated Dewey in the 1948 presidential election, pollsters can still miss big: In the 2008 Democratic primary in New Hampshire, Barack Obama was pegged to win, but Hillary Clinton came out on top. A study in Public Opinion Quarterly found that 'polling problems in New Hampshire in 2008 were not the exception, but the rule.' In a fluid political environment, it is risky to assume that polls can predict the distribution of opinion even a short time later." For tips on polling concepts that journalists and students should be familiar with, click here.

Colorado coal town that twice voted to ban pot sales now reconsidering after coal's decline

A rural Colorado town that has been hit hard by the downturn of coal is reconsidering its marijuana stance, Jack Healy reports for The New York Times. Local leaders in Hotchkiss (Best Places map) are considering whether to repeal a vote twice passed that bans recreational and medicinal pot shops in its community. "Next month, Hotchkiss will vote on whether to undo its ban and welcome marijuana shops and the traffic and taxes that could come with them. With cannabis sales soaring to nearly $1 billion across Colorado and big states such as California poised to embrace legalization, wary towns like Hotchkiss are looking at the economics of marijuana and starting to reconsider."

"One mine here in the North Fork Valley has shut down amid a wave of coal bankruptcies and slowdowns, and another has announced that it will go dark," Healy writes. "The closings added to a landscape of layoffs and economic woes concussing mining-dependent towns from West Virginia to Wyoming. And as Hotchkiss searches for a new economic lifeline, some people are asking: What about marijuana?"

Thomas Wills, a town trustee who runs a used-book store and supports allowing some marijuana stores, told Healy, “If we could get it legalized right now, we could create some jobs, and we need the tax revenue. Downtown’s not going to be all flashing green crosses and dancing marijuana leaves. You can make it as unobtrusive as you want."

The vote whether or not to allow pot sales in Hotchkiss has divided the community between those who want the economic impact of sales and those who fear it will lead to a rise in crime and hurt the idyllic lifestyle in the town, Healy writes. "The push to allow marijuana has touched off conversations about the soul of the town. It is tucked into a sunny mountain valley draped with peach orchards and vineyards. But the coal mines up the valley were an economic mainstay for generations, and people say that tourism and boutique agriculture cannot replace good-paying mining jobs. Unemployment here in Delta County is 5.3 percent, higher than the statewide average of 3.2 percent." (Read more)

Rural Georgia family hoping to revive state's once prosperous turpentine industry

"As the weather warms and the pine sap rises, a long-forgotten South Georgia industry edges closer to resurrection," Dan Chapman reports for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "A French company recently announced plans for a first-in-decades turpentine factory in Effingham County. Here in the buckle of the old Georgia pine belt, though, an old-fashioned, farm-rigged turpentine still already turns pine gum into paint thinner, violin varnish, soaps and salves. It’s owned by the Griner family, fifth-generation foresters revitalizing a profitable and painful Georgia history one sticky bucket at a time." (AJC photo by Curtis Compton: Pines being tapped for pine gum)

"From a sole customer in Brunswick five years ago, the Griners now count hundreds of online aficionados who buy small batches of turpentine and rosin," Chapman writes. "Artists use the goo to thin paint or clean brushes. Craftsmen mix turp into a fine furniture wax. It’s in Vicks VapoRub, inhalers and medicated soaps. Hunters deploy turpentine to mask their scent. Rosin, another pine sap byproduct, helps baseball players grip bats and bull riders grab reins. Violin makers apply rosin as a varnish. It’s in chewing gum, Coca-Cola and depilatory wax."

Georgia once led the nation in turpentine production, Chapman writes. "Much of the success, though, was built on the backs of African-American slaves, freemen, convicts and sharecroppers who did the hot, dirty, dangerous work of cutting the trees, gathering the tar, building the barrels and distilling the gum. By midcentury, Georgia-tapped turpentine generated $43 million annually and tallied 8,000 gum producers, according to the American Turpentine Farmers Association in Valdosta. South Georgia state legislators pushed to make Georgia the 'Turpentine State.'"

"The romance, though, soon ended," Chapman writes. "Production dropped off drastically by the mid-60s as the forests, and the men needed to cut them, dwindled. Pulpwood proved more lucrative work for turpentiners. Cheap-labor Brazil, China and Indonesia supplanted the American South as the turpentine leader. By the mid-70s, the Miss Spirits of Turpentine beauty pageant had been canceled. Today, only 4.3 million acres of longleaf pine remain in the South."

Five years ago the Griner family tapped 10 trees on their 500 acre farm and used repurposed farm equipment—old vats, pipes, funnels and sieves—to fashion a still, Chapman writes. Once the mash was taken to a factory to turn pine stumps, trees and other natural resources into additives and solvent they were in business. Wade Griner told Chapman, "We’ve gone from zero customers in a month to, this month, over 800 customers. We (tapped) 70,000 trees last year. We also bought gum from other people. As time goes by, I don’t think we’ll be able to produce as much as we need. If we can revive this industry in the U.S., we’ll all be ahead of the game. I’m not sure it will all work out or not. But we sure are a lot further ahead than when we started.” (Read more)

Weekly editor-publisher pulled no punches in covering sensitive local-option election in Ky.

The number of rural places that ban the sale of alcoholic beverages is declining, but the local-option elections that repeal Prohibition often don't get incisive advance coverage from local weekly newspapers, perhaps because so many readers have a faith-based opposition to alcohol and many others drink on the sly.

The Adair County Community Voice took a more aggressive approach as the Southern Kentucky county prepared to vote yesterday on whether to allow alcohol sales. Editor-Publisher Sharon Burton wrote a front-page essay that began with reliving her own experience of buying liquor from a bootlegger on her senior-prom night and went to the current experiences of students at the local, Methodist-sponsored college and federal survey statistics on local drinkers: 22 percent of adults in the county of 19,000.

Burton said the community has "already said yes to alcohol. But we've said yes in a way where we don't have to take responsibility. We allow alcohol to be sold in the shadows, treating it like a heroin den; people can get their fix, but we don’t have to look at it. We can pretend it isn’t there because we don’t see it when we go to the gas station or local restaurant. We don’t have to drive by a store with a beer sign in the window."

The following week, the Community Voice filled most of its front page with a set of bullet points about what would happen if voters said no to alcohol, and longer list of what would happen if they said yes. In today's paper, it reports the vote: Yes, 3,384; No, 2,755.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Rural Voices magazine focuses March issue on examining solutions to rural homelessness

Rural homelessness remains an often overlooked problem, with 78,085 people in rural areas experiencing at least one night of homelessness in 2015, according to the Annual Homeless Assessment Report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Of those people, 32,800—42 percent—were people in families and 9,650—11.6 percent—were chronically homeless individuals. Some groups have said rural homeless counts are likely short because they are conducted during January and only count people on the street and in shelters, not those staying with a friend or those who find the money for a hotel on cold nights.

The Housing Assistance Council has focused the March edition of its magazine, Rural Voices, on rural homelessness. "There are broad structural factors that cause homelessness in both rural and urban areas: the lack of affordable housing and employment options, low wages and insufficient services for those who need them," reports the Housing Assistance Council. Rural areas face more unique challenges, such as more substandard housing; transportation barriers that impede access to jobs, services and education; access to affordable housing; higher poverty rates; lack of mental health, child care and health services; and fewer employment opportunities. (Housing Assistance Council graphic)
"Many of the factors that distinguish rural from urban homelessness could, in fact, suggest a path to ending homelessness in rural areas," reports the Housing Assistance Council. "First, there must be continued improvement in the assessment of the size and nature of rural homelessness. Administrative data matching might identify people who are homeless but who, in the absence of homeless programs, receive assistance from other public systems of care (hospitals, mental health services, substance abuse treatment). And enhanced and coordinated counting methodologies could better identify those living outdoors or in places not meant for human habitation."

"The fact that rural areas have relatively less investment in shelters and other temporizing measures can, in some places, allow more flexibility to spend available funds to help people escape homelessness immediately," reports the Housing Assistance Council. "Funds could be used to more directly house people who become homeless, employing the 'rapid rehousing' model, thus eliminating the need for shelters where none exist. As the number of literally homeless people decreases, rural areas could use improved data to enhance their ability to predict who will become homeless, and invest more resources in prevention by providing services that help people maintain housing and increase housing affordability."

Another problem is that federal funds often go to stop chronic homelessness, which is more of a problem in urban areas than rural ones, reports the Housing Assistance Council. "While rural communities as well as urban areas should be accountable for meeting standards for effectiveness and reaching the worst-off residents, more flexibility would be helpful when it comes to assigning federal homeless funds to support programs and services that meet their particular needs."

Ohio River Network building a newsroom that crosses state lines to cover Appalachian region

The Ohio River Network—a three state newsroom in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia—was created to turn competitors into collaborators by crossing state lines to have journalists in other locations work together to report the news, Anna Clark reports for Columbia Journalism Review. "The collaborative stretches across both cities and rural areas, reaching listeners that tune in from Athens, Ohio, to Whitesburg, Ky., home of WMMT/Appalshop, the legendary documentary outfit that is perhaps the most distinctive station in the network."

Ohio River Network, which consists of seven public media partners led by Louisville Public Media, wants to produce “hard-hitting, high-quality multimedia journalism that examines the region’s economy, energy, environment, agriculture, infrastructure and health," Clark writes. It was founded with a $445,000 grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The $4.4 million venture, which includes partnerships with networks such as NewsHour and Morning Edition, "will eventually create 57 newsroom positions, including 11 editors, in places ranging from Little Rock, Ark., to Buffalo, N.Y."

Donovan Reynolds, Louisville Public Media president and general manager, said the "most pressing news doesn’t stop at state lines," Clark writes. "Louisville Public Media created the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting in 2013, a nonprofit newsroom that it is incubating alongside the three public radio stations that operate under LPM’s umbrella. It also expanded its capital coverage, in part by developing a newscast that it distributes around the state, laying the groundwork for the more far-reaching collaboration of the Ohio River Network."

Jeff Young, a veteran of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, one of the Ohio River Network partners, told Clark, “This is a place that’s been kind of beaten down over the years, and I think there’s a kind of fatalism. A lot of people in this region believe that in order to have economic growth, we have to accept environmental degradation and bad impacts on our health. We want to have good journalism around these issues that present some options for going in a direction that’s better and healthier.” (Read more)

2000 trade deal with China that outsourced U.S. jobs left some rural areas with few opportunities

A Republican-led trade deal in 2000 with China helped pull China out of poverty but eventually cost the U.S. millions of outsourced jobs, leading today to poor, uneducated, underemployed Americans—mostly in rural areas—who are now supporting Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and his anti-trade stance, Jim Tankersley and Matt O'Brien report for The Washington Post.

In 2000, "urged on by their presidential standard-bearer Texas Gov. George W. Bush and by nearly all of the business lobbyists who represented the core of the party’s donor class, three-quarters of House Republicans voted to extend the status of permanent normal trade relations to China," Tankersley writes. The bill, signed into law by Democratic president Bill Clinton, "held the promise of greater economic prosperity for Americans. But few could predict that it would cause a series of economic and political earthquakes that has helped put the GOP in the difficult spot it is in today: with the most anti-trade Republican candidate in modern history, Trump, moving closer to clinching the party’s nomination."

"The 2000 vote effectively unleashed a flood of outsourcing to China, which in turn exported trillions of dollars of cheap goods back to the U.S.," Tankersley writes. "Over the next 10 years, economists have concluded, the expanded trade with China cost the U.S. at least 2 million jobs. It was the strongest force in an overall manufacturing decline that cost 5 million jobs. Those workers were typically men whose education stopped after high school, a group that has seen its wages fall by 15 percent after adjusting for inflation." (Post graphic)
While the trade deal helped improve the Chinese economy, it came at the expense of American workers, O'Brien writes. "Ask any economist, and they'll tell you that this isn't the way things work. That people who have their jobs outsourced will, for the most part, find new ones that pay just as much if not more. And, to be fair, that was a pretty accurate description of the world for a long time—but not right now."

"Economists David Autor, David Dorn and Gordon Hanson have found that, between 1990 and 2007, the American communities most exposed to Chinese competition saw their manufacturing workers pushed into persistent unemployment, their non-manufacturing workers pushed into accepting lower wages and everyone pushed into relying on the safety net, whether that was welfare, disability or food stamps, more than before," O'Brien writes. "In all, trade with China alone was responsible for about a fifth of the manufacturing jobs we lost during this time—or 1.5 million to be exact."

50 years later rural-urban divide remains in Va. lake community between locals and urban migrants

Smith Mountain Lake, created 50 years ago by Appalachian Power Co. to generate electricity, has turned rural farmland into lucrative waterfront property but has also driven a wedge between rural Southern locals and Northern migrant "lake people," Casey Fabris reports for The Roanoke Times. "Despite the benefits that accompanied the lake—the two magisterial districts including the lake provide nearly 60 percent of the county’s real estate tax revenue, a number touted by many making the case for the lake—some county residents haven’t taken kindly to the arrival of new neighbors. The lake has changed the makeup of Franklin County, with newcomers—many of them retirees from areas like Northern Virginia, New York and New Jersey—settling in the South." (Smith Mountain Lake map)

Even 50 years later a divide remains, Fabris writes. Tim Tatum, Blue Ridge District Supervisor, told him, "It’s sort of like the old saying, if you come here and want to become one of us, more power to you. If you come here and want to change us, pack your bags. You know, you come here and you want to become part of Franklin County—Franklin County is a great place to live—but don’t come here thinking you’re going to change us. Because we think we’ve got it right.”

Vicki Gardner, executive director of the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce, told Fabris, “If you were to just walk around the lake and say, ‘Where are you from?’—you’re just going to be amazed at how few people say, ‘Oh, I was born and raised here in Franklin County.’ That is the anomaly.” Gardner, a native New Yorker, said "there were times when she’d offer her hand to someone and that person would decline to shake it."

Lake resident Tom Tanner said locals think of the lake residents as “snobby rich people,” Fabris writes. But Tanner, who said it's like there are two counties in Franklin County, argues that lake residents "fund major county projects as well as a school system that many lake residents, as retirees with grown children, don’t use."

One problem is that rural natives fear outsiders might be inclined to try to change the rural lifestyle in Franklin County, Fabris writes. "Boone District Supervisor Ronnie Thompson said he’s not bothered by growth and development at the lake. What does bother him are those who move to the area because they want something different and then end up trying to make it exactly like the place they left behind." He told Fabris, “You’re moving into the country. There’s not a store on every corner; there’s not a fire station on every corner; there’s not a police car on every corner.” Many county residents fell the same way, saying "growth and development at the lake is fine—as long as it stays at the lake. They don’t want subdivisions and shopping centers popping up in their back yards." (Read more)

Cultural clash rising in rural Idaho between Mormon population and Middle Eastern college students

A cultural clash has been brewing in rural isolated Pocatello, Idaho, (Best Places map) between the large Middle Eastern student population at Idaho State University that brings much-needed money to the community and a growing feeling among the large Mormon local population that the foreigners have demonstrated morally poor behavior, Stephanie Saul reports for The New York Times.

ISU, which has suffered from decreased enrollment and state funding, has welcomed students from the Middle East, who pay "$20,000 per student in annual out-of-state tuition, nearly three times what state residents pay," Saul writes. "As the number of Middle Eastern students grew to nearly 1,200, almost 10 percent of the school’s enrollment, that meant an estimated $40 million for the local economy every year."

But officials were ill-prepared for conflicts between Middle Eastern students and locals, Saul writes. "Even if they were just normal, rowdy college kids, the behavior of the mostly male students stood out in this conservative, predominantly Mormon city. Free from the strict cultural mores of their home countries, some students have faced charges like drunken driving and stalking. At the same time, professors said students, many of them unfamiliar with English, were ill-prepared and frequently resorted to cheating. Students have taken umbrage to the accusations and have recounted episodes of discrimination on campus and in town. Now some students are leaving."

While Middle Eastern students helped revive the economy in Pocatello—supporting car dealerships, restaurants and local businesses—they also brought unease on campus, Saul writes. Professors were unhappy with "extra work required of them because of the poor English skills of many students who needed help after class. Some professors also believed the students did not have the proper math backgrounds for their chosen majors: A chart sent to the faculty by one dean revealed that in some classes with more than 20 Middle Eastern students, 90 percent of them had failed physics, 75 percent had failed introductory English and more than 60 percent had failed math." That led to accusations of cheating. While some Middle Eastern students were caught cheating, others say they were wrongly labeled cheaters for being of the same ethnicity. That has caused some students to tell friends to seek education in America elsewhere.

ISU lost more than $2 million per year in tuition alone from 100 students who left last summer, Saul writes. But the school is not alone. "By some estimates, the one million international students in the U.S. generate a $30.5 billion boost to the economy. The largest group comes from China, but Saudi Arabia, the fourth-largest country of origin, supplies more than 70,000 students to schools like Arizona State, Western Kentucky, Cleveland State and Southern Illinois."

"Some of these institutions are particularly concerned about the impact of a recent announcement by the King Abdullah Scholarship Program, which supports most of the students from Saudi Arabia," Saul writes. "The program is facing 'deep funding cuts,' according to Moody’s Investors Service, which said the scholarships would be limited to the top 100 American schools, an Academic Ranking of World Universities list that does not include Idaho State," which could lose another 250 Middle Eastern students in the next academic year. (Read more)

Monday, March 21, 2016

Banks continue to pull financing for coal; industry officials say coal is still part of nation's future

Banks continue to say no to coal. "JPMorgan Chase announced two weeks ago that it would no longer finance new coal-fired power plants in the U.S. or other wealthy nations," Michael Corkery reports for The New York Times. "The retreat follows similar announcements by Bank of America, Citigroup and Morgan Stanley that they are, in one way or another, backing away from coal. While coal has been declining over the last several years, Wall Street’s broad retreat is an ominous sign for the industry." Chiza Vitta, a metals and mining analyst with the credit rating firm Standard & Poor’s, told him, “There are always going to be periods of boom and bust. But what is happening in coal is a downward shift that is permanent.”

Corkery writes, "Coal, like railroads, steel and other engines of the nation’s industrial expansion in the 19th and early 20th centuries, helped drive Wall Street’s profits for generations. More than a century later, the coal industry is in a free fall, and the banks are pulling away. Some banks say they are trying to do their part to curtail climate change by moving away from coal projects and financing ventures that produce less carbon. But bankers also say there is a more basic reason for the shift: Lending to coal companies is too risky and could ultimately prove unprofitable." (SourceWatch map: Electricity produced by coal)
"Coal companies are being squeezed by competition from less expensive energy sources like natural gas and by stiffer regulations—pressures that show no signs of letting up," Corkery writes. "As a result, even the most secure loans—like those made to companies emerging from bankruptcy, known as debtor-in-possession loans—are increasingly off limits for many banks, according to bankers and industry lawyers. And it is not just big banks. Even many more daring investors like hedge funds and private equity firms, which are usually eager to pounce on industries in distress, are shying away from coal because of deep uncertainty about its future."

Some in the coal industry say banks are making a mistake, especially since coal still powers about a third of the nation's electricity, with coal powering the majority of electricity in Central Appalachian states, Corkery writes. Mike Duncan, president of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, an industry group, told Corkery, “Coal is part of our future, and I think the banks are taking a shortsighted view. They are ignoring a huge market and buying into rhetoric that just doesn’t work.” (Read more)

Pilot program in Virginia aims to turn oil from tobacco plants into non-fossil jet fuel

A Virginia company has created a pilot program to extract oils from tobacco plants "to create non-fossil jet fuel," Denice Thibodeau reports for the Danville Register & Bee. Danville-based Tyton BioEnergy Systems begins its process with whole tobacco plants, some as high as 15 feet, that are "fed into a hammermill to shred the plant into small pieces. Once chopped up, the plants travel through ducts to the processing lab, where the equipment separates out the various elements of the plants—a sugar syrup, oil, proteins and bio char." Peter Majeranowski, the company’s president, told Thibodeau, “There is zero waste. That’s a big advantage.” (Register & Bee photo by Matt Bell: Tyton BioEnergy Systems grows tobacco to be used in the lab, where the equipment separates out a sugar syrup, oil, proteins and bio char)

Connor Hartman, chief operating officer and vice president of business development, said "the difference between Tyton’s process and more traditional biomass processing techniques is that there is no pretreatment required and far fewer processing steps," Thibodeau writes. "The plants have no nicotine, are not grown to taste good as a smoking product and are disease resistant. Different types of tobacco plants are bred for different uses." Hartman said "an acre of tobacco raised for high-sugar output can produce three times more sugar than an acre of corn, making it an excellent source for ethanol."

Minnesota compensates beekeepers for losses linked to pesticides from neighboring farm

The Minnesota Department of Agriculture "has compensated two beekeepers whose hives were severely damaged last spring by toxic dust that drifted off the fields of a neighbor planting corn," Josephine Marcotty reports for the Star Tribune. The farmer in question used neonicotinoids, a widely used pesticide used on crops that attract pollinators. State officials have "confirmed, in effect, what beekeepers have been saying for years: Even when used according to law, the most widely used class of insecticides in the world are acutely toxic to honeybees under routine circumstances."

State Sen. Rick Hansen, a Democrat who sponsored a 2014 environmental law that created the compensation system, said "the finding marks a precedent in the ongoing national fight over the controversial group of insecticides called neonicotinoids, which have been implicated in the decline of bees and other wild pollinating insects," Marcotty writes. Hansen told her, “This is the first action of any state, a finding of fact, that neonicotinoids are harmful to bees. Once you have a state compensating people for a loss, it’s real."

The insecticide at the heart of the controversy, clothianidin, "is used as a coating on most of the corn and soybean seeds used in American agriculture," Marcotty writes. "Farmers use it as a preventive to protect seedlings from insects in the soil. As the plant grows, the toxin grows with it, making the entire plant poisonous. Beekeepers, especially those in the Midwest, say that drift from corn planting is a common and serious problem that occurs just when their bees need to be out collecting nectar for the honey crop in springtime."

The Environmental Protection Agency in January released a study linking neonicotinoids to a decline in bee populations. Critics, led by Bayer CropScience, have called the study flawed. "But Bayer has acknowledged that drift from corn planting, which can contain extremely high levels of the toxin, can damage bees and other insects," Marcotty writes. "The company says such events are rare but has supported the development of other products to help solve the problem." (Read more)

Daily newspaper connecting with community through social media and technology classes

A daily newspaper in Northern California last year began offering classes to teach the community about social media and technology. The Record Searchlight in Redding (Best Places map) has offered entry level workshops that include a blogging fair to show people ways to start a blog, use social media to promote local businesses, use a smartphone and edit digital photos.

The workshops, conducted through a partnership with a local marketing firm, cost $10, all of which is donated to local nonprofits, reports Media Life Magazine. "While papers these days are trying to squeeze every cent they can from the advertising side, the Record Searchlight saw an opportunity to generate the sort of goodwill that you can’t always put a price on." Michelle Rogers, content editor at The Record Searchlight, leads the project. She told Media Life, “The drive behind offering the workshops is not financial; it’s about community engagement and face-to-face interaction with our audience. We’ve heard that this type of outreach is exactly what the community needs as some segments of the population are behind in embracing and using social media in their personal and professional lives.”

More than 350 people participated in the first 19 workshops, and dozens of workshops are scheduled this spring, reports Media Life. Silas Lyons, the paper’s editor, told Media Life, “We serve a relatively small and close-knit community, and our brand relies heavily on word-of-mouth. This is the kind of project that turns readers into evangelists, and the impact of that positive experience with us ripples out into the broader community. It has helped to create a more receptive environment for both our journalism and our circulation and advertising sales efforts.” (Blogging workshop)

Wyo. raising some highways to 70 mph; bill sponsor says people more comfortable driving that speed

Raising speed limits to 70 mph on some rural Wyoming highways will increase safety, said the state senator who sponsored the bill that was signed into law Tuesday by Republican Gov. Matt Mead, Laura Hancock reports for the Billings Gazette. Some speed limits have already been raised from 65 mph to 70 mph, while 1,500 miles will be raised by the end of April and another 1,000 miles by the end of May. In all, the state will put up 900 new signs, some of which will be new curve warnings to adjust for higher rates of speed. (Wyoming Department of Transportation photo)

Republican state Sen. Leland Christensen, who said he sponsored the bill because he felt it would be more cost-effective to pass the bill than to continue studying it, said 70 mph is a safe speed because data shows that the average person drives 71 to 72 mph, Hancock writes. He told her, “People tend to drive where they’re comfortable. That’s what we found out when we raised the speeds on the freeways.” He also said he studied when speed limits were raised from 75 to 80, finding "there was more variation between the speeds of the fastest and slowest vehicles," which he said increases accident risks.

Cathy Chase of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a Washington-based nonprofit public health, safety and consumer group, disagrees that raising speed limits can be safer, Hancock writes. She said "people are more likely to be killed or permanently injured at high speeds than lower speeds," stating that one-third of all crashes are speeding-related. She also "pointed to federal data showing that in a six-state region that includes Wyoming, fatalities were up in the first nine months of 2015 compared with the same time in 2014." (Read more)

Rural remote Washington school district holding meeting to discuss arming staff members

A rural school district in Washington is holding a public meeting tonight to discuss arming educators and administrators in Naches Valley School District, Rafael Guerrero reports for the Yakima Herald. Superintendent Duane Lyons, who said the ultimate goal "would be to keep students and staff safe in case of an emergency," told Guerrero, “Should we allow some of our employees to be trained and armed? We don’t have the answer to that yet. But we hope to have that discussion with the community and staff.” Naches (Best Places map) has about 800 residents.

The Kiona-Benton City School District, located about 80 miles from Naches in Kiona, last year approved a policy "to allow some administrators to carry," Guerrero writes. "In December, Lyons and three school board members met with Toppenish Superintendent John Cerna over the Lower Valley school district’s well-known firearms policy." Cerna, who said it make sense that Naches officials would be curious about his district's policy because of its remote location, told Guerrero, “Naches is way out there, so their response time is probably 20 to 30 minutes. For them it’s probably even more critical.” (Read more)