Saturday, July 23, 2016

Selection of Kaine leaves open to question how hard Clinton will compete for rural votes

In choosing Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine as her running mate, Hillary Clinton has left open to question how hard she will be competing this fall for rural votes, which increasingly have gone Republican in recent presidential elections.

Numerous media reports this week had Kaine and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, as the last two finalists in the Clinton veepstakes. A selection of Vilsack would have signaled the targeting of "white working-class men — especially in rural areas — in the Midwest," also being targeted by Donald Trump with his pick of Indiana Gov Mike Pence, Gabriel DeBenedetti and Helena Bottemiller Evich reported for Politico Tuesday.

Clinton and Vilsack have known each other for 40 years, and he supported her when he dropped out of the presidential race in 2007. But when his name surfaced as a finalist, some African Americans questioned it, giving his hasty firing of USDA official Shirley Sherrod, a black woman, in 2010 after she was misquoted by a right-wing news site.

Vilsack has little if any record on gun issues, but Kaine has an F rating from the National Rifle Association. Debuting with Clinton in Miami, he said, "When the vast majority of Americans and a majority of [National Rifle Association] members agree that we have to enact common sense gun safety measures, Hillary and I will not rest."

Kaine, 58, grew up in a suburb of Kansas City, Kan. He is the son-in-law of Linwood Holton, the first Republican governor of Virginia (a moderate, 1970-74) and a native of Big Stone Gap, in the Central Appalachian coalfield. Kaine started his political career on the Richmond City Council, which elected him mayor of the racially fractious city, then was lieutenant governor. After a term as governor (Virginia allows only one) he was President Obama's first chair of the Democratic National Committee.

"As governor of Virginia, Mr. Kaine appealed to both Democrats in urban pockets and independents in rural areas, and established a reputation as a pragmatic consensus builder," writes Amy Chozick of The New York Times. But his main appeal in the 2012 Senate race was to swing voters in Northern Virginia, and when he made an appearance with Clinton in Virginia last week, it was in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Annandale.

Kaine's main electoral assets appear to be his residence — Virginia is a swing state with 13 electoral votes, and Clinton will now be able to spend elsewhere most of the money she would have spent in the Old Dominion — and his fluency in Spanish, which will help turn out Hispanic voters in several other swing states. But he may add a flourish from old-time rural campaigns; he plays the harmonica.

Kaine has no apparent blemishes on his record. Virginian Dave "Mudcat" Saunders, a political consultant who once specialized in reaching rural voters for Democrats, has been skeptical of Clinton's prospects and has said he will vote for Trump, told Paul Schwartzmann of The Washington Post: "The boy is cleaner than the Board of Health. If there's one thing Hillary needs, it's clean."

Friday, July 22, 2016

Social problems in rural areas change nature of USDA and its concept of rural development

Pomeroy, Ohio (Bloomberg News photo by Ty Wright)
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is "becoming Uncle Sam’s lead tool to fight a social emergency -- soaring drug use, rising suicide rates and deepening poverty -- spreading across the heartland," Alan Bjerga reports for Bloomberg News.

“We’re charged with the responsibility of filling the gap to make sure rural America hasn’t been forgotten,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told Bjerga, who reported from Pomeroy, Ohio, "a town of about 1,800 people about 200 miles south of Cleveland, where . . . the opioid epidemic has accompanied an ebbing-away of jobs and, among some demographics, an unprecedented drop in life expectancy. Any Norman Rockwell idyll of white-picket fences and unlocked front doors has long since been upended by globalization."

"Such social problems have changed the government’s conception of rural development, says Vilsack, who’s under consideration by Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton as a possible running mate. Five years ago, “We might have made a grant for a fire station,” he said in an interview. “Now it might be a substance-abuse center.” (As a candidate in 1982007, Clinton said she favored renaming the Agriculture Department the Department of Agriculture and Rural Affairs.)

“Most people in cities are now several generations away from life on the farm, and some even think of rural areas as our dumping ground,” eminent Cornell University sociologist Daniel Lichter told Bjega. “It’s where we send our prisoners, our garbage and our toxic waste.”

Bjerga says USDA's role illustrates a point not often made: "The government, like the wider culture, is much more attuned to the problems of urban areas where most Americans live. That’s why Donald Trump’s message -- repeated at the Republican National Convention up the road in Cleveland, where he accepted the nomination last night -- of fighting for the small-town folks has resonated so much in rural parts of swing states like Ohio."

Dee Davis, president of the Center for Rural Strategies, told Bjerga, “When your government is based on the assumption that the country is going to be 90 percent urban, you’re going to concentrate resources on urban areas,” Davis said. “The USDA becomes the ‘rural’ agency that’s left with this wide mandate, even if it’s not always the best fit.” (Read more)

Fact checkers say Trump off base on issues such as Iran deal, Syrian refugees, cost of regulation

During his speech Thursday at the Republican National Convention, presidential nominee Donald Trump said, "I will present the facts plainly and honestly. The carefully-crafted lies, and the media myths the Democrats are holding their convention next week. But here, at our convention, there will be no lies. We will honor the American people with the truth, and nothing else." (Post photo by Ricky Carioti)

According to the Fact Checker column of The Washington Post, Trump followed that statement with a lengthy list of incorrect assertions. Politifact, NBC News, The New York Times and offered similar reviews of Trump's presentation.

Trump said the nuclear deal with Iran “gave back to Iran $150 billion and gave us absolutely nothing." Kessler and Lee write, "Trump frequently misstates the facts about the Iran deal, making it sound like the United States simply shipped $150 billion of taxpayers’ funds to Iran. This was always Iran’s money, frozen in banks around the world, but $150 billion is the high estimate of the money that could be received."

"The Treasury Department says the figure is in the range of $100 to $125 billion, but the usual liquid assets would only be about $50 billion, as the rest of the assets are either obligated in illiquid projects (such as over 50 projects with China) that cannot be monetized quickly, if at all, or are composed of outstanding loans to Iranian entities that cannot repay them," Kessler and Lee write. "For its part, the Central Bank of Iran said the number was actually $32 billion. Reasonable people can disagree on the merits of the Iran deal, but it’s a stretch to say 'nothing' was received. Iran’s nuclear program was certainly put on ice for at least a decade."

Speaking of Syrian refugees, Trump said, "there’s no way to screen these refugees in order to find out who they are or where they come from," Kessler and Lee write, "The process of vetting refugees starts with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and then continues with checks by U.S. intelligence and security agencies. It takes one to two years, or longer in some cases." Politifact has a detailed description of the process.

Trump said, "Excessive regulation is costing our country as much as $2 trillion a year." Kessler and Lee write, "Trump presents an unbalanced figure here. Various organizations, such as the Small Business Administration, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Competitive Enterprise Institute have come up with similar estimates on the cost of regulations. But there is one huge element missing—the benefit side of the analysis. Every regulation has costs—but also benefits. Look at cars, for example. Seat belts are a regulation, but they also result in fewer deaths, which is presumably a benefit. Higher fuel-economy standards raise the initial cost of a car, but also result in savings on gasoline over time." (Read more)

Beyond the fact checkers, other journalists took issue with Trump. NYT columnist David Brooks said the nominee's focus on law and order was "based on a falsehood. Crime rates have been falling almost without fail for 25 years. Murder rates have been rising just recently among gangs in certain cities, but America is much safer than it was a decade ago. In the first half of 2015, for example, the number of shootings in New York and Washington hit historic lows." In his speech, Trump said the Obama adminstration had failed inner cities on crime.

"Trump dwells on illegal aliens killing our children," Brooks wrote. Between 2010 and 2014, only 121 people released from immigration custody later committed murder; that’s about 25 a year. Every death is a horror, but the number of police officers killed each year as a result of a crime is about 55, in a nation of over 320 million people. The number of police deaths decreased by 24 percent between 2005 and 2015."

Next week we will share what fact-checkers have to say about the Democratic convention. These reports excerpt only a small part of what they have to offer.

Walmart begins selling damaged apples at Florida stores, says it wants to cut food waste

Walmart, the largest grocery store chain in the U.S. with more than 4,000 stores, this week began a pilot program selling imperfect apples, so-called "ugly fruit," at 300 stores in Florida, in what says is an effort to cut food waste.

"Ugly fruits and vegetables are a fact of life on the farm," Maria Godoy reports for NPR. "Sometimes the dents and scars are so minor that you wouldn't think twice about buying them. They're perfectly edible, delicious and just as nutritious as their unmarred brethren—or perhaps even more so. But their cosmetic challenges (think hail-pocked apples or curvy leeks) have traditionally kept them out of retail stores."

Imperfect produce often ends up in landfills, Godoy writes. Statistics are not kept on how much is thrown out, but JoAnne Berkenkamp, a senior advocate for food and agriculture at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said about 20 percent of production is thrown out each year. Walmart, which calls the apples "I'm perfect," has already been selling imperfect potatoes, called "Spuglies," in Texas. (Read more)

Rural Mainstreet Index in heartland remains on the negative side of the ledger for 11th month

For the 11th straight month the Rural Mainstreet Index was below 50, showing an economic decline. July's number was 39.8 on a 100-point scale. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss surveyed 174 bank executives in Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.

"One out of five crop farmers in the region is losing money on grain sales, Goss said, and that’s causing declines in farmland prices (for the 32nd straight month), farm equipment sales and retail sales in the 10-state area," Steve Jordon reports for the Omaha World-Herald. "The bankers said they expect loan defaults, on average, to increase by 5.4 percent over the coming year, Goss said, although many of them said they expect defaults to increase by more than 10 percent. That’s largely because of commodity prices, which are down 9 percent over the past 12 months, including a 16 percent drop in livestock prices, Goss said." (Read more)

Water in rural Colorado town tests positive for marijuana's psychoactive ingredient

Officials in rural Hugo, Colo. (Best Places map), on Thursday warned residents not to drink or bathe in water or allow pets to drink it, because water supplies tested positive for tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychoactive compound in marijuana, John Ingold reports for The Denver Post. "There have been no reports of illnesses or any symptoms of impairment from drinking the water, officials said." Hugo, located in Lincoln County, does not have any commercial marijuana operations. The county of 5,420 residents has 62 medical-marijuana patients, according to the state Department of Public Health and Environment.

"Concerns about the water were first raised by a Hugo company using quick 'field tests' to check employees for THC," Ingold writes. "The simple tests are similar in function to home pregnancy tests in that they can return only two results: positive or negative." The company conducting the tests "had been getting inconsistent results and decided to test a vial of tap water, expecting it to be negative. Instead, the test came back positive, and the company called authorities."

"Lincoln County officials conducted 10 other field tests, using two different types of test kits, on the town’s water and six came back positive," Ingold writes. "Authorities later isolated the positive results to a single well—well No. 1, about a mile south of Hugo’s small downtown." The well showed signs of forced entry, but officials said it was unclear when the damage occurred.

The source of the chemical remains a mystery, on more than one level. THC is not soluble in water.

Demand for organic is on the rise, but making the switch is costly and time-consuming for farmers

Consumer demand for organic products is on the rise, but obstacles for farmers to be certified organic is creating a shortage of producers, Leah Messingers reports for The Guardian. Organic sales in the U.S. reached $13.4 billion last year, up from $12.8 billion in 2014, according to research group Euromonitor. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture says only 1 percent of U.S. cropland has been certified organic. (Getty Images by Nick David)

The problem is that "the time and expenses required to get organic certification present major roadblocks for increasing the amount of organic farmland in America," Messinger writes. One California farmer who was recently certified organic said "he spent three years working to demonstrate the use of eco-friendly pest and soil management practices and paid between 10 to 20 percent in higher labor cost. Yet he was unable to convince processors that pack and ship his harvest to pay more for his fruit—which he was already cultivating by using the organic standards set by the federal government—during that period."

"The USDA, which sets the organic standards for certification by public and private organizations, requires farmers to show their changing practices by forgoing the use of prohibited products, such as certain synthetic pesticides, for three years," Messinger writes. "This time frame allows the changes in the chemical and biological properties of the soil to take root. During this transitional period, farmers can already be growing fruits and vegetables organically, but they cannot increase the prices to the levels commanded by harvests from certified farms." Food giants say "more farmers would switch to organic if they could get financial help during the three-year transitional period." (Read more)

Thursday, July 21, 2016

How is Ted Cruz's party-splitting act playing in your area? It's an easy national story to localize

Cruz waves goodbye as Trump supporters boo him. (Los Angeles Times photo)
Last night the star of the Republican National Convention was supposed to be Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, the vice-presidential nominee. But Texas Sen. Ted Cruz stole the show by refusing, in the face of chants and boos from Donald Trump supporters, to endorse his former primary rival. This morning, in a performance just about as remarkable, Cruz defended himself before the Texas delegation. Cruz is clearly running for 2020, but his critics say he has killed his presidential prospects. What do the Cruz supporters in your area think?

This is a story easy to localize. If you don't know who your local Cruz supporters are, you can look up his contributors in your three-digit ZIP code area on a page of the Federal Election Commission website, here. Just click on your state, then the candidate, then the ZIP code area. There's also a button (not visible on the cropped screenshot example below) to download the names, addresses and amounts of contributors to an Excel file. Then call 'em up and ask, is Cruz doing right or wrong? If enough journalists did this, and shared the results with us, we could get an idea of how Cruz is playing and how unified the Republican Party is. In any event, it's still an excellent way to localize the biggest current national event.

Fact-checking convention claims on national debt, taxes, Benghazi

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, vice presidential nominee
(Photo from The Detroit News)
The Republican National Convention has completed its third day, and we take a look at what fact-checkers are saying about Wednesday's speeches. The Rural Blog will be providing excerpts from both conventions. If you want to re-publish them, we encourage you to look at The Washington Post's Fact Checker, or Politifact for full context and things you may want to add. The fact-checkers looked at a lot more assertions yesterday than we have room to publish here.

Donald Trump's running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, "said that Hillary Clinton’s 'only answer' to the debt 'is to keep borrowing and spending,'" Lori Robertson writes for FactCheck. "But the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget found that Trump’s tax and spending plan would cause a 'massive increase' in the debt, while Clinton’s plan would result in a 'relatively small' increase."

Trump's son Eric "claimed that the U.S. is 'one of the highest-taxed nations in the world,' but U.S. personal taxes aren’t even in the top 10 among industrialized nations," Robertson writes. The U.S. does has one of the highest business-tax rates. "Florida Gov. Rick Scott claimed the U.S. has 'world-record high debt'— it actually ranks 39th out of 178 nations in terms of debt as a percentage of GDP. And he said the U.S. economy is 'not growing,' when it is."

Pence took out of context a Clinton quote about the Benghazi terrorist attacks, which left four Americans dead, report Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee of the Fact Checker. At a congressional hearing, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) "pressed Clinton repeatedly why she did not directly speak to survivors of the attacks to find out if it had been prompted by a protest, as initial media reports indicated. Her answer was an FBI investigation into the attacks had been launched and that it would have been inappropriate to speak to people who were being interviewed by professionals."

"Johnson called that 'a good excuse' and asserted the administration misled Americans about whether the attacks were preceded by a protest," Kessler and Lee write. Clinton replied: “With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided that they’d go kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator.”

Pence said Indiana has "a $2 billion surplus, the highest credit rating in the nation, even though we've cut taxes every year since I became governor four years ago." Actually, it's tied with 14 other states for highest, Allison Graves and Neelesh Moorthy write for Politifact.

Federal judges rule against Texas, Wisconsin voter ID laws; ACLU sues Kansas over rule change

Federal judges this week ruled against voter-identification laws in Texas and Wisconsin that critics say are barriers to people more likely to vote Democratic. Also, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against Kansas over a rule change passed last week that would throw out up to 50,000 votes cast by people who registered at the Department of Motor Vehicles, where proof of citizenship is not required to register to vote.

The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that "Texas’ voter identification law violates the U.S. law prohibiting racial discrimination in elections," Jim Malewitz reports for The Texas Tribune. The court ruled that the state's "2011 voter ID law—which stipulates the types of photo identification election officials can and cannot accept at the polls—does not comply with the Voting Rights Act. Texas is among nine states categorized as requiring 'strict photo ID,' and its list of acceptable forms is the shortest."

Because not every Texas county has an office that generates driver's license or alternate photo IDs, the law has a disproportionate impact on rural areas.

On Tuesday a federal district judge in Milwaukee ruled "that Wisconsin voters without photo identification can cast ballots by swearing to their identity," Patrick Marley and Jason Stein report for The Journal Sentinel in Milwaukee. The decision "creates a pathway for voters with difficulties getting IDs who have been unable to cast ballots under the state's 2011 voter ID law."

"The ruling will allow voters to use affidavits instead of IDs to vote in the Nov. 8 presidential election," Marley and Stein write. "But this new system will not be in place for the Aug. 9 primary for congressional and state legislative races because Adelman determined election officials needed more time to implement it."

The ACLU said in its lawsuit against Kansas Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach that "the dual voting system established by his office last week violates a previous court ruling," Bryan Lowry reports for The Wichita Eagle. "A state panel approved a temporary rule last week to allow more than 17,000 Kansans, who registered to vote at DMV offices without providing proof of citizenship, to vote in federal elections this August and November under the federal motor voter law." The Kansas State Rules and Regulations Board said those votes wouldn't count. The number of votes that would be tossed out could reach 50,000 by the presidential election.

"The move was meant to satisfy a federal court order," Lowry writes. "But the ACLU contends that blocking these voters from state and local elections runs afoul of a previous ruling by a Shawnee County judge that Kobach lacks the authority to create a dual voting system."

Gentrification has revived rural W.Va. mountain community, but raised suspicions, prejudices

A once-sleepy West Virginia mountain community 125 miles west of Washington, D.C., has received an economic boost from urban migrants, many of whom are gay, Shilpi Malinowski reports for The Washington Post. The gentrification of Hardy County has brought new business but also suspicion and prejudice, especially among poor residents who have seen newer, more expensive housing being built, with most of the new housing being used for weekend getaways by urban dwellers. (Post photo by Astrid Riecken: Wardensville, W.Va.)

In the past two years 16 new businesses—13 owned by newcomers—have popped up on Main Street in Wardensville, a town of about 250 residents whose downtown was once filled with vacant storefronts, Malinowski writes. In 2015, there were 115 local real-estate sales, up from 61 in 2012. One factor that helped: "In 2010, Hardy County received a federal grant to lay fiber-optic cable for internet service throughout the area," bringing in high-speed broadband.

"What is happening in the area seems to fit the definition of gentrification; the new residents moving into Wardensville and Hardy County often have D.C. salaries that far exceed the area’s median household income, which the 2010 census put at $31,347," Malinowski writes. "Wealthy gentrifiers moving into the relatively poor, rural area come with their own tastes, and the new businesses popping up often seem like they belong in Columbia Heights or Bloomingdale. Breweries, restaurants with city-level prices and art galleries are bringing the larger world into the small town."

Malinowski writes, "a rainbow pride flag now flies on Main Street, and the town is incorporating a more visible gay culture into its existing community." Paul Yandura and his partner, Donald Hitchcock, who moved to Hardy County in 2008, opening a store and becoming real-estate agents, told Malinowski, “We were told at one point that one of the churches was going to boycott our business because we are gay. But one of the preachers came in and apologized, and said they should never treat people like that. And the truth of the matter is that there have been gay people in this town for many years.”

Martha Bradfield, a longtime resident, told Malinowski, “Change is difficult for some people, and so is the fact that it’s the outsiders who are coming in and being the movers and shakers. realize that a lot of people who have lived here all their lives probably would like to see it remain a sleepy little town." (MapQuest image)

High tensions leading Connecticut police officers to make fewer traffic stops, departments say

Police officers in Connecticut are making fewer traffic stops, largely because of growing fear of increased tension between police and residents, escalated by recent national shootings of police officers and by police officers, Dave Altimari reports for the Hartford Courant. In 2015 Connecticut police made 576,000 traffic stops, 20,000 less than in 2014. Some police chiefs attribute the reduction in stops "to the growing animus between officers and the public."

The number of statewide tickets issued in 2015 decreased by 24,196, or 6 percent, according to data submitted by the departments to the state racial profiling prohibition advisory board, Altimari writes. "Ninety-three departments reported a decrease in infractions issued and 37 departments reported an increase last year" and "about 60 police departments reported a decline in motor vehicle stops, compared to about 40 departments that reported an increase."

Eugene O'Donnell, a former police officer and district attorney in New York City who teaches law and police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, "said the numbers in Connecticut, considered to be a relatively 'safe' state, reflect what he believes will be a national trend of officers cutting back on routine traffic stops," Altimari writes. O'Donnell told him, "People are toying with the cops, almost daring them so they can videotape it. The interaction is not one of equals. Citizens are yelling at cops and filming them all of the time. If you are doing stops in a high-crime neighborhood there's a good chance you will end up in a bad situation and you can't pretend that the political establishment will always support you." (Read more)

Small towns in Delaware rarely, if ever, receive Freedom of Information Act requests

Residents and journalists in some small towns rarely, if ever, take advantage of the Freedom of Information Act, Craig Anderson reports for Delaware State News. The Delaware Freedom of Information Act requires all Delaware municipal governments to provide requested information in a timely manner and at a fair cost. (Anderson photo: City of Dover administrative assistant Jody Stein reviews a FOIA request)

In Hartly, the state's smallest incorporated town with 74 residents, local officials searched back to the 1990s, but were unable to find any FOIA requests, Anderson writes. The town has a website link for FOIA matters, which Delaware Code requires, but it appears to have never been used. Suzanne Morris, town commissioner and clerk, told Anderson, "I can tell you that to the best of my knowledge Hartly has never received a FOIA request."

Little Creek, a town of 235, handled just one FOIA request since at least 1995, Anderson writes. Felton, a town of 1,362 residents, averages one request every couple years. Harrington, with 3,715 residents, gets about 10 per year, "typically coming from email or a form completed on the town website." Smyrna, which has 10,023 residents, sometimes gets four or five in one day, and other times goes a month without one. (Read more)

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Cop killings leading some rural police departments in Mo. to change how they respond to 911 calls

Wikipedia map: Douglas County
Shootings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, and Tuesday in Kansas City, have led rural police departments in Missouri to change the way they respond to 911 calls, Sara Forhetz reports for KYTV-3 in Springfield. Smaller counties in Missouri "say they are doing a few things differently now, such as whenever someone calls 911, asking a lot more questions on the phone before they respond. It might take a little longer to get there to the scene, but at least they know who they are dealing with and what the situation is."

Rural police departments also are more closely monitoring social media, Forhetz writes. Douglas County Sheriff Chris Degase told Forhetz, "Most of the time we know who we are dealing with before we go, which is a good thing... It's definitely in the back of all of our minds. ... There has been a drastic turn toward law enforcement. Just waking up and turning on the TV every morning would keep us from becoming complacent. It seems like something is happening every night." (Read more)

Citizenship offices are few and far between, forcing rural immigrants to travel long distances

Rural immigrants usually have to take the long road to citizenship. Most states have few U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services offices—some have none—and most are located in urban areas, meaning it's not uncommon for those seeking naturalization to make several trips across thousands of miles before becoming U.S. citizens, Sara Millhouse reports for the Daily Yonder. (Map: USCIS offices)
Iowa only has one immigration office, in Des Moines, meaning that someone like French-born Stephanie Rickels, who lives in rural Cascade, Iowa, has to drive 183 miles each way for appointments, Millhouse writes. Her three required trips—her last appointment lasted 15 minutes—will equal 1,098 miles.

While being a teacher affords Rickels time during the summer to make three trips to Des Moines, some rural residents are not so lucky, Millhouse writes. Some people can't afford to take time off from work, while others lack the transportation. Rural transit authority is available from Cascade to Des Moines, but three trips cost about $450.

Costs and lack of transportation and time have caused some to fear that many rural immigrants skip being naturalized, thus, are ineligible to vote in a presidential election in which immigration has become a major issue, Millhouse writes. The U.S. government "estimates that 8.8 million people are eligible for citizenship. Of those, 653,416 went through the process in fiscal year 2014, the latest for which statistics are available through the government’s Office of Immigration Statistics. In 2014, 6,125—less than 1 percent—of newly-naturalized citizens lived in 'micropolitan' or noncore counties." (Read more)

Rural towns banking on new electric car charging stations to boost tourism from Yellowstone visitors

A rural town in Montana hopes that installing electric car charging stations will boost tourism, mainly from visitors on the way to Yellowstone National Park. Red Lodge, Mont., located about 68 miles from Yellowstone, in June installed two Tesla destination chargers and two Clipper Creek universal chargers at public restroom sites, Erik Olson reports for the Billings Gazette. City officials said they hope travelers using the chargers, which take three or more hours to reach full power, will spend that time shopping in Red Lodge. Katelynn Essig, the city’s sustainability coordinator, told Olson, “They’re going to come in, cap off, eat something and go." (Olson photo: Red Lodge electric charging station)

The charging stations can be used on any electric car, Olson writes, "Installation of the four stations cost about $10,000, which will be reimbursed through Tesla Motors," whose owner Mo Fowell owns a home in Red Lodge. Fowell said "the stations will help eliminate 'range anxiety' for electric car owners who worry that their battery will die on the highway." Adding the new charging stations means that on Interstate 90 in Montana, no two stations are more than 150 miles apart, a distance that Tesla electric cars travel on a full charge. Fowell told Olson, “Last year, you couldn’t get to Yellowstone Park. Now you can." (Read more)

Advances in social media, live streaming are changing the way conventions are being covered

Advances in social media are changing the way the Republican and Democratic National Conventions are being covered. "In 2012, live video coverage was almost exclusively the domain of news organizations," Shelley Hepworth reports for Columbia Journalism Review. "Now social platforms have set their sights on live streaming, and the 2016 conventions are shaping up to become a frenzied microcosm of the next era of live event coverage."

"Facebook users are watching more than 8 billion videos a day on the service, according to numbers released in November," Hepworth writes. "Snapchat surpassed that figure with a reported 10 billion daily video views in April. YouTube claims to reach more 18- to 49-year-olds than any cable network in the US. Having conquered video, social platforms are partnering up with news organizations to deliver live streams from the conventions directly to users’ social feeds." Crystal Patterson, Facebook’s head of government and politics outreach, told Politico, “This is the most engaged we’ve been at the convention, and it’s highly correlated to the fact (that) we have a lot of tools to offer.”

Hepworth writes, "The advent of live social streaming comes at a time when TV audiences are shrinking. Until now, live event coverage on TV has been relatively immune to digital encroachment, but new tools mean networks can now expect to be challenged on that front, too, with some commentators suggesting they could spell the demise of cable news."

"The upside of live streaming is the amount of choice available to viewers, who can watch the conventions in the formats they prefer," she writes. "The downside is the potential for audience fragmentation, which could adversely impact advertising revenue." (Read more)

Fact-checking convention claims on Medicare, Keystone XL, Zika, Common Core and more

The Republican National Convention has completed its second day, and we take a look at what fact checkers are saying about Tuesday's speeches. The Rural Blog will be providing excerpts from both conventions. If you want to re-publish them, we encourage you to look at The Washington Post's Fact Checker, or Politifact for full context and things you may want to add. The fact-checkers looked at a lot more assertions yesterday than we have room to publish here.

On Tuesday Donald Trump Jr. (left) said Hillary Clinton would destroy Medicare for seniors. Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee write for the Post, "This is a mysterious claim by Trump’s son that appears to have no factual basis. There is no specific proposal by Clinton that could be said to 'destroy' Medicare, the health-care program for the elderly."

"The most substantive change that Clinton would make is to allow people older than 55 to join Medicare; currently it is limited to those age 65 or older," the writers report. "But the effect on the program, while uncertain, does appear to be limited, especially if premiums are set correctly, according to a 2008 Congressional Budget Office study of options for Medicare. (The CBO looked at a general buy-in program as well as one for people as young as 62.) Such a plan may lead people to retire early, thus reducing the size of the workforce, but that’s entirely different from 'destroying' Medicare."

Lori Robertson of writes, "Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wrongly said that Clinton was for the Keystone XL pipeline before she was against it. She did not take a position until she opposed the pipeline in 2015." Also, concerning the threat from Zika, McConnell said “Clinton Democrats in the Senate blocked a bill aimed at eliminating that virus before it can spread.” The whole story is that Democrats objected to “poison pills” Republicans added to the bill, primarily denying of the funding to Planned Parenthood. McConnell also claimed that the Senate “ended Common Core.” It may have eliminated any connection to federal funding, but the Common Core State Standards are a creation of the states, not the federal government. But the Post found McConnell was correct in saying Clinton made up a story about landing under sniper fire in Bosnia.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Clinton "had expressed support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, despite documented human rights abuses in the country," claiming she called the leader, who Christie said is responsible for 400,000 deaths, a reformer, Allison Graves and Neelesh Moorthy report for Politifact. What Clinton actually told CBS's Bob Schieffer in a 2011 interview was, "Many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he's a reformer."

Fish and Wildlife Service takes lesser prairie chicken off endangered and threatened list

Current range in green; former in light green
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Tuesday removed the lesser prairie chicken from the federal list of endangered and threatened wildlife, following a court order, Todd Neeley reports for DTN The Progressive Farmer. The agency said in a statement: "This administrative action and the decision not to appeal the court’s ruling do not constitute a biological determination on whether or not the lesser prairie chicken warrants federal protection. The service is undertaking a thorough re-evaluation of the bird’s status and the threats it faces using the best available scientific information to determine anew whether listing under the ESA [Endangered Species Act] is warranted.” (USFWS map)

In June 2014, the Permian Basin Petroleum Association and several New Mexico counties "filed a lawsuit challenging the service’s 2014 listing," Neeley writes. "In September 2015, a court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and vacated the final listing rule, effectively ending ESA protections for the bird. The ruling also invalidated USFWS’s rule under section 4(d) of the ESA that tailored regulations governing take of the species to focus on activities that are threats to the species’ survival."

"Once abundant across much of the five range states of Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado, the bird’s historical range of native grasslands and prairies has been reduced by an estimated 84 percent, according to USFWS," Neeley writes.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Fact-checking speeches at the party conventions

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani
Assertions made from behind the lecterns at national political conventions often don't get the scrutiny they deserve, because speakers appear in rapid succession, and some of them don't merit the sort of attention that candidates and elected officials do. Also, television reporters and anchors usually don't have the corrective facts handy.

However, The Washington Post's Fact Checker unit (Glenn Kessler and Michelle Ye Hee Lee) is performing this important duty at this year's conventions, and The Rural Blog will be providing excerpts from both gatherings. If you want to re-publish them, we encourage you to look at the Post's reports for full context and things you may want to add.

Last night two survivors of the attack on the Benghazi consulate "repeated claims that have been questioned by various investigative committees," the Post reports. "Despite repeated claims of a stand-down order, various investigations have found that at best it amounted to tactical disagreements."

One survivor said "Hillary Clinton failed to protect her people on the ground," and the mother of a killed State Department official said "I blame Hillary Clinton personally for the death of my son," but the Post notes, "The security decisions were made well below Clinton’s level and no evidence has emerged that Clinton was aware of the requests."

The mother also said Clinton "looked me squarely in the eye and said a video was responsible" for motivating the attack. She did not include Clinton in her initial version of the account, adding her later. "All but one of the family members interviewed by The Fact Checker disagreed with this account," the Post reports.

Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani claimed "Hillary Clinton is for open borders," but that's an exaggeration, the Post says: "Clinton has said she would expand Obama’s executive actions on immigration, and has advocated comprehensive immigration reform including a pathway to citizenship. But she also has supported enhanced border security."

Desperation in Appalachia and rest of rural U.S. fueled Trump's rise to Republican nomination

Donald Trump's rise from businessman and reality television star to Republican nominee for president has been fueled by desperation in some parts of rural America, Claire Galofaro reports for The Associated Press. Lost jobs, high rates of poverty and drug abuse, and limited education in some areas led to anxiety and despair. "And desperate people, throughout history, have turned to tough-talking populists. And that is how, in one of America’s forgotten corners, the road was perfectly paved for the ascent of Trump." (AP photo by Steve Helber)

Trump has been huge in Central Appalachia, winning "by spectacular margins all across the coalfields," Galofaro writes. "From Appalachia to the Rust Belt to the hollowing manufacturing towns in the Midwest, Trump collected his most ardent supporters." Trump, won big in areas like Logan County, West Virginia, where the unemployment rate is 11 percent—compared to 5 percent nationwide—and West Virginia is the nation's only state "where less than half of working-aged people work." Logan County resident Mike Kirk, who lost his home and his $28 per hour mining job, and now makes $11 in a pawn shop, told Galofaro, “He offers us hope and hope’s the one thing we have left.”

Peter Atwater, a consultant who studies the tides of consumer confidence, said "the average Republican is as pessimistic about the economy today as the day Lehman Brothers collapsed eight years ago," Galofaro writes. "That perception of decline—that the country is careening in the wrong direction—can be as politically potent as watching your hometown wither, he said." Some call those people "nostalgia voters."

Daniel Cox, research director for the non-profit Public Religion Research Institute, "said an uneven recovery from the recession lined up with societal shifts—the election of the first non-white president, a rising minority population, the decreasing influence of Christian values," Galofaro writes. "It left many in struggling, blue-collar communities across the country feeling deserted for the sake of progress someplace else." He told Galofaro, “Today, we’re not interested in the plan, we’re interested in the slogan. When confidence falls, it’s all too complicated to understand an elaborate plan or an articulated policy. We don’t want to wait for the details; we don’t want to read the footnotes. Just give me a powerful headline.”

That's something Trump excels at, Galofaro writes: "Trump promised to build the wall. Create jobs. Destroy ISIS. He blamed immigrants and China and Muslims for America’s woes. He stood on a stage in West Virginia, put on a hard hat and pantomimed shoveling coal. He promised to make them win again. His critics warn that his red-blooded, racially tinged rants threaten to unravel the very fabric of the nation. Here, the same words translate as truth-telling. His call caught fire so fervently that some are staking their families’ futures on whether he wins in November." (Read more)

Publisher jailed after records request gets charges dropped after a little weirdness from another judge

Lawyer Russell Stookey, publisher Mark Thomason
(Atlanta Journal-Constitution photo by Rhonda Cook)
Identity-fraud charges against North Georgia publisher Mark Thomason and attorney Russell Stookey were officially dismissed Monday, Jim Zachary reports for The Daily Citizen in Dalton. Thomason, who runs the weekly Fannin Focus, was jailed last month by Chief Appalachian Circuit Judge Brenda Weaver, who was unhappy about being negatively portrayed in the press and pounced when the publisher filed an open-records request.

"Weaver had pressed charges against Thomason after he had requested spending records of government accounts under her control, creating a media firestorm," Zachary writes. "After the Georgia chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, The Georgia First Amendment Foundation and the Georgia Press Association condemned Weaver’s actions, she requested all charges be dropped," but senior Judge Richard Winegarden insisted Thomason appear in court on Monday.

Despite the prosecutor filing a motion to dismiss charges, Winegarden insisted on reciting all the charges against Thomason and Stookey, Rhonda Cook reports for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He also asked each reporter in attendance who they were and why they were there and commented on news coverage of the case.

"In great detail, the judge recounted day-by-day dental appointments, medical tests, and other hearings he presided over in the period between being assigned to the case on June 29, receiving the prosecutor’s motion to dismiss the indictment and finding a place on his calendar to hold a hearing," Cook writes. "He noted that such motions are required to be heard in 'open court'." Winegarden said, “It’s important to address my reasons for doing what I’ve done.” Stookey said he had wanted the case to go to trial to earn an acquittal and to ensure that the prosecutor couldn't revive the charge.

Johns Hopkins study correlates fracking to asthma

Living close to natural-gas wells using hydraulic fracturing is associated with asthma attacks, says a study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, published in JAMA Internal Medicine. Researchers found that people who live near bigger or larger numbers of wells are one and a half to four times more likely to have asthma attacks than people who live farther away. (Johns Hopkins map)

The study, which used data from 2005 through 2012 in 40 Pennsylvania counties, identified 35,000 asthma patients between the ages of five and 90 years, logging 20,749 mild attacks (requiring a corticosteroid prescription), 1,870 moderate ones (requiring an emergency room visit) and 4,782 severe attacks (requiring hospitalization).

Researchers were unable to identify why asthma attacks increased near natural gas wells, but said "air pollution and increased stress levels from the noise, traffic and other community impacts associated with the industry could play a role. In previous research, stress has been implicated in substantially increasing the risk of asthma attacks." (Read more)

New, personal monitors show that new dust-control rules in coal mines are about 99% effective

The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration said Monday that nearly all of "the nation’s coal mines were in compliance on nearly all dust samples taken this year with new monitors aimed at cutting miners’ exposure to particles that can cause deadly black lung disease," Bill Estep reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Tougher dust-control rules in coal mines, which took effect Feb 1, require "companies to begin using continuous personal dust monitors on miners in the dustiest jobs and to conduct more sampling." (ThermoFisher Scientific photo: A personal dust monitor)

MSHA, which analyzed more than 20,000 dust samples collected by the personal monitors from April 1 to June 30, found that "about 99 percent complied with exposure limits," Estep writes. "MSHA said more than 98 percent of the samples would have been in compliance with a new standard set to take effect Aug. 1, when the permissible exposure level of breathable dust for a miner will drop from 2 milligrams per cubic meter of air to 1.5 mg."

"The coal industry had challenged the new dust-control rule, arguing among other things that the monitors had a high failure rate," Estep writes. Joe Main, head of MSHA and a former United Mine Workers safety director, said the sampling results show the monitors and the rule work to protect miners. "The monitors give miners and supervisors real-time information about dust levels so they can make adjustments to lower exposure to dust, Main said. Under the old rules, it could take days or weeks for test results to show the concentration of dust miners had worked in." (Read more)

Labeling law could be the beginning of a long battle over GMO use, researchers say

The Senate and House this month passed bills requiring genetically modified foods to be labeled. President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law. "We suspect that this is the first skirmish in what could be a very long and protracted battle over GMOs and their presence in the food supply," opine Harwood Schaffer and Daryll Ray of the Agricultural Policy Analysis Center at the University of Tennessee, in their latest "Policy Pennings" edition. "We say that because the issues at stake for both sides involve much more than the labeling issue that is the subject of the current legislative actions."

One problem is that when "talking about GMOs, different people mean different things—for instance, there is not just one GMO technology—and different actors in this discussion have different agendas," Schaffer and Ray write. "Opponents of labeling argue that the other side has to prove that the presence of GMOs in the food supply is dangerous. Proponents of labeling, on the other hand, assert that the suppliers of GMOs have to show that they are safe. The sticking point is that the two sides cannot agree on what level of risk is safe enough."

"Farmers in general have shed their early skepticism about GMOs and increased their use, despite the higher cost, because it simplifies the production process," Schaffer and Ray write. "The use of GMOs to control for weeds and/or pests has reduced the number of field passes they must make. We dare to say that no one misses the hot sweaty days walking beans with a sprayer or a hoe. Some farmers have used the time saved in reducing the number of field passes to increase their acreage."

"Some participants in the debate see GMO labeling as an opportunity to resist corporate control of the agriculture and food system and the foods we eat," Schaffer and Ray write. "They see the use of GMOs as a tool that agribusiness uses to dictate what is grown and extract monopoly profits from producers and consumers alike. They believe that with mandatory labeling, consumers will reject products with GMO labels—the other side fears this might be true—and GMO grains and meats produced from animals fed GMOs will disappear from the marketplace the way the use of rBGH in milk production did when dairy processors began to label their milk product as rBGH-free."

"The flip side of concern over corporate control is concern to protect corporate profits," Schaffer and Ray write. "If the production of GMO corn and soybeans were to drop by half, the profits of a number of companies could disappear. Companies that have almost completely aligned themselves with the production of GMO seeds and production of the associated chemicals would be in gravest danger if consumers were to embrace foods produced without GMOs to any significant degree."

"In the long run, producers need to produce what consumers want to buy," Schaffer and Ray write. "Consumers do not need to buy what producers want to grow, process or manufacture. If a set of producers does not want to meet consumer needs (in this instance information), the likely result is that consumers will find a set of producers who will." (Read more)

Okla., Colo., Pa. get $9M in grants to test using telemedicine to fight rural drug addiction

Oklahoma, Colorado and Pennsylvania will receive $9 million in grants from the Obama administration to help train rural doctors to fight rural drug addiction, Sarah Ferris reports for The Hill. The three-year pilot program will use telemedicine to "help expand treatment in areas that have been historically underserved by healthcare providers."

The grants from the Department of Health and Human Services will allow states to "use a model called Project ECHO, in which rural primary care doctors watch videos by urban speciality doctors who are trained in complex health problems like opioid addiction," Ferris writes. "The Project ECHO approach, which was developed by the University of New Mexico, became widely touted after its use to help primary care doctors treat hepatitis C. A study published in February in the journal Substance Abuse found that the model is a strong tool to help expand anti-addiction treatment 'particularly in underserved areas.'" (Read more)

Monday, July 18, 2016

39% of rural areas lack access to broadband, which has been redefined to be faster than before

Installing fiber-optic cable for broadband
(Photo from Brookings Institution)
The recent court decision upholding the Federal Communications Commission's classification of the internet as a public utility, and the validation of the FCC's "net neutrality" stance, "fail to rectify existing inequalities between urban and rural communities" when it comes to broadband, writes Jack Karsten of the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution, a longtime liberal think tank.

That's because the evolution of the internet has made true broadband a lot faster than it was just a few years ago. In 2015 the FCC "redefined broadband as connections with 25 megabits per second (Mbps) download speeds and 4 Mbps upload speeds," Karsten notes on the center's TechTank blog. "This is more than six times the previous standard of 4 Mbps download, allowing for multiple simultaneous video streams."

The FCC's 2016 Broadband Progress Report says 39 percent of rural areas lack access to the newly defined broadband, while only 4 percent of urban areas lack it, Karsten notes, saying "This rural/urban 'digital divide' in access severely limits rural populations from taking advantage of a critical component of modern life. . . . Rural schools lack access to high-speed fiber and pay more than twice as much for bandwidth. In a growing world of personalized online curricula, internet-based research, and online testing, this severely restricts rural students from educational opportunities their urban counterparts may enjoy."

Karsten says the FCC "must do more as a regulatory body to ensure equal access to this public utility," expanding broadband access "alongside advances in technology rather than after the fact, satisfying increased demands for faster internet with infrastructure growth. Otherwise, rural communities will continue to play catch up with their urban counterparts and the U.S. will remain digitally divided." (Read more)

Increases in gun sales boost a program that pays states to manage and restore wildlife, buy land

Increases in gun sales, often spurred by public shootings and calls for more gun control, benefit state wildlife programs. The 1937 Pittman-Robertson Act, which provides federal aid to states for management and restoration of wildlife, is funded through an 11 percent excise tax on sporting arms—shotguns, rifles, ammunition, bows and arrows and other outdoor equipment—and a 10 percent excise tax on handguns.

"With gun sales soaring, Georgia is receiving record amounts of conservation money from Washington," Dan Chapman reports for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Georgia, which has received more than $221 million since the program's inception, got more than $15 million from the program last year, a 300 percent increase from five years ago.

Mike Worley, president of the Georgia Wildlife Federation, told Chapman, “You see spikes in gun sales every time you have a horrible event anywhere in the country. You don’t know if they’re first-time buyers or gun enthusiasts who want to add to their collection before any restrictions are put in place. And any increase in guns and ammunition sales indeed benefits wildlife and wildlife habitat production across this country.”

The funds pay up to 75 percent of cost approved projects, such as improvement of wildlife habitat, introduction of wildlife into suitable habitat, research into wildlife problems, surveys and inventories of wildlife problems, acquisition and development of access facilities for public use, and hunter education programs, including construction and operation of public target ranges. (National Shooting Sports Foundation graphic)
Hunters mainly benefit from the program, Chapman writes. "Earlier this month, for example, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources set aside a few million dollars to buy 3,400 acres of prime deer-hunting land along the Flint River an hour south of Atlanta. "Yet nothing prohibits Atlanta hikers or birders from enjoying an expanded Sprewell Bluff Wildlife Management Area. The public property will also serve as critical green space in a state woefully lacking publicly owned and accessible land."

Mississippi has received more than $116 million from the program, reports Mississippi Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources announced last week that funds from the act partially helped pay to acquire 2,900 acres of mostly forested land that will be used for hunters, anglers and wildlife watchers.

Company looks to launch ride-hailing service resembling Uber in rural areas

Screenshot of Liberty app
A company patterned after Uber hopes to launch a similar system in the rural western panhandle of Nebraska. Liberty, a company created through the U.S. Department of Transportation Small Business Innovation Research program, is a "24-hour ride-hailing service—one that would complement the region’s public transit rather than compete with it," reports The Atlantic. Like Uber, the services will be provided by independent contractors.

"Liberty will partner with local transit agencies, picking up where buses leave off," The Atlantic reports. "Rides can be requested via an app or through the company’s call center, for instance, when buses stop running overnight or when appointments run long. Lefler says they’ll try to keep the fare close to a dollar per mile, and drivers will get to keep 80 percent of the total charge. Liberty is also working with the medical community so that hospitals and other health facilities can book rides on behalf of their patients."

Liberty, which is still waiting for approval from the Nebraska Public Service Commission to operate in the state, hopes to launch the service by Thanksgiving with 25 drivers in Scottsbluff, The Atlantic reports. Valerie Lefler, who heads Liberty, told The Atlantic, "We focus on working with schools, police departments, and the Veteran Administration [to hire drivers. It’s all about community from start to finish. That’s why we can make it work—we’re able to operate and function at the local level.” (Read more)

EPA targets methane coming from landfills

The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday announced new rules that "solid waste landfill operators must begin capturing methane emissions from their sites at levels one-third lower than current standards permit," Devin Henry reports for The Hill. EPA said the new standards "will reduce landfill emissions by up to 334,000 tons a year by 2025 and produce climate benefits worth $512 million annually by then."

The rule, finalized Friday after being proposed last year, "updates 20-year-old standards for methane emissions at landfills," Henry writes. "The rule comes as the Obama administration works to crack down on emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas with 25 times the global warming power of carbon dioxide. Officials have committed to cutting methane emissions from the oil-and-gas sector by between 40 percent and 45 percent by 2025, an EPA push that has prompted resistance from the drilling sector." (Read more)

Washington's Farm to Food Pantry program delivering locally grown products to food banks

Washington state's Farm to Food Pantry program was launched in 2014 to contract food banks with local farmers for fresh produce. The program, which began with six communities, expanded to 12 communities in 2015, Sheila Hagar reports for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin.

The 2015 Farm to Food Pantry Purchasing Report says "one in six Washington residents used their local food pantry last year, meaning about 140 million pounds of food went to roughly 8.5 million clients through 500 of the charitable sites." (Purchasing report graphic: Totals from the 2014 pilot program)
In 2013 Gov. Jay Inslee created Results Washington, a program designed "to make the state’s communities healthier," Hagar writes. "The initiative created statewide goals spanning economy, education, environment, safety, effective government and public health. Specific to Farm to Food Pantry, Inslee’s blueprint called for a 5 percent increase in healthful food options offered to low income families through pantries, farmers markets and meal programs by 2017."

"The plan was financed with existing state food assistance dollars diverted to sustain the new concept," Hagar reports. "Not only does the program benefit low-income families without requiring additional state money, it benefits farmers and supports agricultural conservation practices, state officials say. Washington, however, didn’t want to administer the new program, so it teamed with Rotary First Harvest, the nonprofit offshoot of the Seattle-area Rotary district."

In Walla Walla, Jeff Mathias, director of Blue Mountain Action Council Food Bank "said he took the $2,500 received from the state, pledged $1,500 in hoped-for donations and split the total of $4,000 among four Walla Walla Valley farmers," Hagar writes. "In return for their $1,000, each farm has committed to give BMAC at least that much back in produce at under wholesale prices, Mathias said." (Read more)

Nation's largest proposed wind farm expected to be approved 30 miles off end of Long Island

The nation’s largest offshore wind farm could soon be built in eastern Long Island, Frank Eltman reports for The Associated Press. Thomas Falcone, CEO of the Long Island Power Authority’s board of directors, said the utility is expected on Wednesday to approve the proposed 90-megawatt, 15-turbine wind farm east of Montauk. Falcone said Long Island customers could begin receiving power by the end of 2022. (Flickr image: An offshore wind energy farm)

"The turbines would be placed about 30 miles offshore, putting them over the horizon and out of view of land," Eltman writes. "The project would produce enough energy to power approximately 50,000 homes in the Hamptons. Deepwater’s proposal also includes plans to build two new battery energy storage facilities. The facilities will consist of lithium-ion battery technology designed and installed by General Electric; they will be used when LIPA is facing peak demand for electricity." (Read more)