Friday, October 14, 2016

Vermont asst. attorney general says cash payments to get residents to vote for wind farm were legal

Area proposed for the wind farm. (Map by
Meadowsend Timberlands Ltd., which owns the land)
Developers have found a legal way to pay Vermont residents to cast votes on Nov. 8 in favor of approving the state's largest wind project, Katharine Seelye reports for The New York Times. "The project would consist of 24 turbines, each nearly 500 feet tall, and generate 82.8 megawatts of power, enough to light 42,000 homes for a year if the wind kept blowing, though the houses could be in Connecticut or Massachusetts."

Concerned that the results of the gubernatorial election could dampen future wind projects in the state, Spanish energy developer Iberdrola Renewables offered to dole out cash to residents of Windham and Grafton to get their votes, Seelye writes. Iberdrola offered to give Windham $1 million a year for 25 years and that "it would also set aside $350,000 each year for direct payments to Windham’s 311 registered voters—$1,125 apiece annually, or $28,135 over 25 years, which a voter could accept or not. In Grafton, the company set aside $215,000 for voter payments. The town’s 504 registered voters would each receive $427 a year, or $10,665 over 25 years."

"Many residents called the offer an attempt at undue influence, if not an outright bribe" and opponents of the project accused the company of buying votes, Seelye writes. "But Michael O. Duane, senior assistant attorney general, said the payments did not violate state law." He said "the proposal 'doesn’t say that the funds go only to those people who signed a sworn statement that they had voted for it.'"

When asked if the company was trying to buy votes, Iberdrola spokesman Paul Copleman said the company "was merely responding to what residents had said they would need to win approval, and that the developer would abide by the result," Seelye writes. In fact, the cash idea came from residents, not the company, said Kathy Scott, a Windham resident who helped negotiate the package.

Scott "said her group saw them as a way to 'level the playing field' with second-home owners, many of whose homes have high assessments and who would benefit more from the tax cuts. (Although second-home owners pay 60 percent of the town’s taxes, they cannot vote here, a sore point for them.)," Seelye writes.

Critics of the project fear it will have negative environmental effects, and that "turbines, roadways and infrastructure are destroying habitats, increasing flood risks and scarring the landscape much the way mountaintop mining has scarred West Virginia," Seelye writes. "They also complain about noise, lower property values and blighted views."

674,044 students in K-12 attend classes within one mile of fracking sites, says study by liberal group

A total of 674,044 students in K-12 in the nation's nine most heavily fracked states attend school within one mile of fracking sites, says a study by Environment America, a liberal state-based environmental advocacy group. The study, which focused on Arkansas, California, Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and West Virginia from 2005-2016, found that there are 1,947 child care facilities, 1,376 schools, 236 nursing care providers and 103 hospitals within a one-mile radius of fracked wells.

In West Virginia 8 percent of children—24,172 overall—go to school within one mile of a fracked well, while 9 percent of Texas day care centers—1,240 overall—are within one mile of a well. In Texas, 436,690 students go to school within one mile of a well, well above the next highest state, California, at 74,566. (Environment America map: hospitals, nursing homes, schools and day care facilities within one mile of a fracked well)

Federal agency that killed 3.2 million animals last year reaches settlement with animal rights group

In 2015 Wildlife Services killed 380 gray
wolves (National Geographic photo)
A little known federal agency that kills about 4,000 animals per day, many of them invasive species, has reached a settlement with an animal rights group that "might one day dramatically lower these numbers," Darryl Fears reports for The Washington Post.

The agency, Wildlife Services, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, last year killed 3.2 million animals and has killed 35 million over the past 10 years, Fears writes. Conservationist claimed that the agency was not just killing invasive species, but also "native animals such as beavers, bears, wolves, bobcats, alligators, prairie dogs, otters and owls."

Animal rights group WildEarth Guardians filed a lawsuit against Wildlife Services arguing that the science "in the analysis used by Wildlife Services, which often kills animals such as coyotes and weasels at the request of farmers and ranchers, is 80 years old and does not reflect how foresters and biologists view wilderness today," Fears writes.

The settlement, reached in a Nevada federal court, will lead to Wildlife Services updating its policies, a move that could take two years, Fears writes."Until the new analysis is drafted, debated in public forms and finalized, Wildlife Services will not operate in 6 million acres of Nevada wilderness—remote areas where no roads exist."

More homes being built in potential wildfire areas, but few fire departments prepared to fight blazes

Results of a fire in Yarnell, Ariz. (AP photo)
More than one-third of new homes built since 2000 are in areas where the potential for wildfires is greater, Eric Sagara, Emmanuel Martinez and Ike Sriskandarajah report for Reveal, part of The Center for Investigative Reporting. While more people are living in these areas, often called wildland-urban interface (WUI), few fire departments are trained, or prepared, to fight the growing number of wildfires.

Since 1990, 8.5 million more homes are in WUI areas, reports Reveal. "The major reason is that the border between nature and urban development is constantly shifting as new homes push out into the wilderness." In South Carolina, for example, 63 percent of residents live in WUI areas. The state had more than 78,000 wildfires from 1992-2003.

"More than half the wildfires between 1992 and 2013 occurred in Southern states, including Texas, Georgia, Florida and North Carolina," reports Reveal. "Fires there typically are smaller, with an average size of 27.6 acres. Fires in Western states are roughly six times larger. In California, the Sand Fire tore through more than 41,000 acres of land in a matter of days in late July, destroying 18 buildings and killing one man."

"As climate change continues to bring warmer, drier conditions to most of the country, many experts agree that wildfires will be both larger and more frequent," reports Reveal. At the same time, "only about a third of fire departments that cover WUI areas have the specialized training and 30 percent have the necessary equipment, according to a 2011 study from the National Fire Protection Association. Most of these departments must rely on help from other state, local and federal agencies during a wildfire." (Read more)

Colorado using outreach programs, recruiting trips to address rural teacher shortages

Like many states, Colorado is suffering from a teacher shortage in rural areas. In response to the crisis a series of outreach programs have been launched to introduce future teachers, or ones looking for a change, to rural areas in the hope that those teachers will fall in love with not only the areas, but the freedom and flexibility of teaching in a rural environment, Ann Schimke reports for Chalkbeat.

What makes a Colorado
school district rural?
Colorado State University Pueblo conducts a series of all-expenses paid trips for teachers to rural areas, Schimke writes. "The immersion trips, launched last spring with a trip to the 548-student Huerfano district, and wrapping up later this month with one to the 133-student Manzanola district, are among a raft of recent initiatives aimed at beefing up rural teacher recruitment and retention in Colorado."

"Other efforts include day-long bus trips to rural districts for students in teacher preparation programs, stipends for student teachers in rural districts and for rural teachers who want additional training and 'teacher cadet' programs to get rural high school students interested in teaching careers," Schimke writes.

Colorado also last year hired the state’s first rural education outreach coordinator, Schimke writes. "She serves as a connector of sorts between Colorado’s 147 rural districts and teacher preparation programs across the state." The position and the rural teacher immersion trips are paid for with federal grant money.

Robert Mitchell, academic policy officer for teacher preparation at the Colorado Department of Higher Education, said one problem is that the state "has seen a 30 percent decline in the number of college students attending teacher preparation programs in Colorado over the last six years," Schimke writes. Another problem is that rural teaching jobs tend to pay less than urban ones. Mitchell told her, “Any given year when people are looking for elementary teachers, there’s a good chance our rural districts will get zero applications for those jobs."

Thursday, October 13, 2016

County-level maps show in local detail the lack of behavioral health providers in many rural areas

More than 80 percent (1,069 of 1,331) of "non-core" rural counties—ones without a city of 10,000 or more people—lack psychiatrists, says a study by the Rural Health Research Center and the Rural Health Research & Policy Centers. Non-core counties average 3.4 psychiatrists for every 100,000 people, compared to 17.5 psychiatrists per 100,000 in metropolitan areas. The U.S. average for all counties is 15.6 per 100,000. (Map: Number of psychiatrists per 100,000 in rural counties)
The study found that 91 percent of non-core counties are without psychiatric nurse practitioners (0.9 per every 100,000), 61 percent don't have a psychologist (9.1 per 100,000), 35 percent lack social workers (29.9 per 100,000) and 24 percent are without counselors (67.1 per 100,000). (Map: Psychiatric nurse practitioners per 100,000 in rural counties; click on maps for larger versions)
The study used data from the National Plan and Provider Enumeration System and the National Provider Identifier from October 2015.

Mentoring, training by veteran teachers could help retain young teachers in isolated rural areas

Small towns like Circle, Mont., struggle
to keep young teachers (Best Places map)
A key to retaining young teachers in rural areas is to keep experienced teachers who can offer guidance and mentorship, Bronte Wittpenn reports for the Billings Gazette. "For some rural teachers, the professional isolation of being one of only a few teachers in a school, or the only one teaching a certain subject, can drive them toward districts that can offer more support—or out of the profession all together."

John Demming, who teaches science in rural Circle, Mont., told Wittpenn, “You can gain a lot of knowledge in your educational classes. But wisdom comes from combining experience with knowledge. A good teacher that’s been teaching 30 or 40 years is impossible to replace." Montana State University professor Rob Petrone, who trains English teachers, said former students teaching in ruraloften call seeking advice. He told Wittpenn that teachers "would say, 'I’m all by myself. I’m the whole English department."

One solution could be mentoring and training programs, Wittpenn writes. While information is scarce, a 1995 study limited to 12 Montana teachers, "found that pairing experienced teachers who volunteered as mentors with their rookie counterparts resulted in more than 90 percent of teachers staying in the profession after two years, compared with 73 percent of teachers without mentors."

The Montana Office of Public Instruction recently created the Teaching Learning Hub, which provides free learning for the state's K-12 educators in an effort to minimize the time teachers spend away from their classrooms to attend training. So far, more than 3,000 users have registered for the site, with about 1,400 educators from 298 schools having completed courses, Wittpenn writes. Most of the participants are from small schools. (Read more)

Historically significant town in rural N.C. may be swallowed by flooding from hurricane

Best Places map
Residents of a historically important town North Carolina town that had to be rebuilt after being decimated by Hurricane Floyd in 1999 fear that history is repeating itself, Anne Blythe reports for The News & Observer. Chico Harlan, of The Washington Post, reports that flood water levels in Princeville, believed to be the first U.S. town settled by freed slaves, have reached within a foot of the dike that protects the town, and are climbing.

"Officials in Edgecombe County say they think Princeville will escape without major damage, but water began entering one section of the city Wednesday morning," Harlan writes. "The specter of a new disaster is particularly troubling because the town is only slightly better fortified against flooding than it was two decades ago."

"In the aftermath of Floyd, President Bill Clinton created a new council to draw up a plan to better protect the town, citing its 'unique historic and cultural importance,'" Harlan writes. "The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers made a few modest and immediate improvements, but a more extensive construction plan—detailed in a December 2015 feasibility report—is still awaiting funding from Congress. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says the dike protecting Princeville is no higher than it was in 1999, when the Tar River crested at 41.5 feet."

Dogs had to be rescued from flooded homes.
(AP photo by Chris Seward)
"After Floyd, up to 20 feet of water covered the town for 10 days. Coffins were dredged up from the soil and floated across the water like canoes," Harlan writes. "Nearly every home was destroyed. The town remained uninhabited for months, with people relocating to FEMA trailers, and residents briefly debated whether to accept a government offer to federalize the property and tear everything down. But they decided not to, and the population rebounded."

Rural patients less likely to go to trauma centers, more likely to die in first 24 hours, says study

Triage sensitivity and specificity estimates for rural
patients (OHSU chart; click on it for a larger version)
Critical trauma patients from rural areas in the Pacific Northwest are far less likely than urban patients to be taken to a major trauma center. That's not surprising, but an apparent effect is more important: Rural trauma patients are more likely to die within the first 24 hours, says a study by Oregon Health & Science University published in JAMA Surgery.

Researchers found that 29.4 percent of rural patients needing critical care were initially transported to a trauma center, compared to 88.7 percent of urban patients. When accounting for transfers, 39.8 percent of rural patients were cared for in trauma centers, compared to 88.7 percent of urban patients. While overall mortality rates were similar, 89.6 percent of rural deaths occurred in the first 24 hours, compared to 64 percent of urban deaths.

Not only do rural patients have longer distances to travel to a major trauma center, they may choose to be hospitalized closer to home, OHSU doctor Craig Newgard, the lead author of the study, Sue Vorenberg of the Portland Business Journal. Many high-risk rural patients “never make it to a major trauma center. And the explanation for that is kind of complicated. There’s no one easy thing to point to, Newgard said. “We may need a culture change by providers, recognizing that seriously injured patients in rural areas need to be transferred to a major trauma center more quickly.

The study looked at 2011 data from 67,047 people (1,971 of them rural) transported by EMS to 28 hospitals in Oregon and Washington. "Among the 53,487 patients transported by EMS, a stratified probability sample of 17,633 patients (1,438 rural and 16,195 urban) was created to track hospital outcomes (78.9 percent with in-hospital follow-up)."

Teen driving fatalities rose 10% in 2015; are leading cause of death among teenage drivers

Teen driving fatalities increased 10 percent in 2015, the first increase since 2006, says a study from the Governors Highway Safety Association. The study, which analyzed fatal crash data from 2005–2014 involving drivers aged 15-20 from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, found that teen drivers are 1.6 times more likely to be involved in a fatal crash than adults. The national fatality rate rose 7.2 percent in 2015. (GHSA chart: Teen drivers in fatal crashes)
National Teen Driver Safety Week is Oct. 16-22. Vehicle fatalities are the leading cause of death among Americans aged 15-19, according to Traffic Safety Marketing, part of the National Center For Rural Road Safety. In 2014 fatal crashes claimed the lives of 2,679 teens 15-19 and resulted in 123,000 injuries. (GHSA chart: Teen drivers in fatal crashes per 100,000 licensed drivers)
The study reports ventures that the rise in teen fatalities in 2015 can be linked to a greater number of teens driving. "Analysis of teen and adult drivers found that while teens, as a proportion of all insured drivers, dropped during the recession and bottomed out at 3.8 percent in 2012, that rate is once again on the rise, climbing to 4.1 percent at the end of 2014. (The adult insured rate also dropped during the same time period, but the drop was significantly less than that of teens.)"

From 2005-2014, fatal crashes dropped 56 percent among divers aged 15-17 and 44 percent among those 18-20. Blood-alcohol content above the legal limit played a role in 28 percent of deaths for drivers 20 years old, 24 percent among 19-year-olds, 19 percent among 18-year-olds, 18 percent among those at age 17 and 8 percent for those 15 or 16.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Methane emissions from coal, oil, natural gas are 20-60% higher than previously thought, says study

Methane emissions from coal, natural gas and oil are 20 to 60 percent higher than previously thought, says a study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado. The study, published in Nature, analyzed thousands of air samples between 1984 and 2013 at 84 sites on every continent that are part of NOAA's Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network.

An oil drilling rig in North Dakota; methane emissions underestimated by global databases.
(InsideClimate News photo)
The study found that "methane escaping from natural gas, oil and coal production accounts for 132 to 165 million tons of the 623 million tons emitted by all sources every year," Bob Berwyn reports for InsideClimate News. "That makes fossil fuel industries responsible for between 20 and 25 percent of the global methane problem," one-fifth higher than estimates from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the science body whose assessments influence climate action around the world, and "as much as 60 percent higher than the estimates in the European Joint Research Centre's Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research."

"The study also found that biological sources—including flatulent cows and rotting landfills—are to blame for the ongoing massive methane spike first detected by NOAA in 2007," Berwyn writes.

12,500 Patriot Coal beneficiaries told health care money to run out by end of year

About 12,500 bankrupt Patriot Coal beneficiaries received letters this week informing them that funds for health care benefits will run out of money by the end of the year, Jeff Jenkins reports for West Virginia Metro News. Phil Smith, spokesman for United Mine Workers Union, told Metro News, “We’ve been working very hard not to have to send this letter out to retirees. It’s unfortunate that we’ve gotten to this point but here we are.”

Jenkins writes, "Congress is considering the Miners Protection Act to fund the programs. It was approved by the U.S. Senate Finance Committee two weeks ago. As proposed, annual transfers in additional funds would come from unspent money in the Abandoned Mine Land Fund until the benefit programs reach actuarially sound levels"

"Eligibility for health benefits would be extended to UMWA retirees who’ve lost those benefits following bankruptcy or insolvency of a coal company," Jenkins writes. "Supporters are hopeful the lame duck Congress will take up the bill. The possible insolvency affects 120,000 miners and their families including about 22,000 West Virginians. First up are the 12,500 beneficiaries of the Patriot fund, Smith said."

Flooding from Hurricane Matthew leading to mass drownings of chickens, hogs in North Carolina

A flooded poultry operation in Duplin, N.C.
(Waterkeeper Alliance photo by Rick Dove)
Hurricane Matthew's destruction has led to flooding that has decimated livestock in rural eastern North Carolina, one of the top pork producing regions in the state, Kirk Ross and Daryl Fears report for The Washington Post. "Conservationist organizations and government agencies that dispatched surveillance helicopters over Cumberland and Robinson counties on Tuesday reported that waters from swollen rivers and creeks had reached at least a half-dozen poultry houses and possibly some hog houses at animal feed operations."

Brian Long, a spokesman for the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said they were aware of poultry farms being flooded, but had no confirmation of hog losses, Ross and Fears write. Rick Dove, an environmentalist for the Waterkeeper Alliance who claimed to have seen thousands of floating carcasses, estimated the number of dead chickens “is probably in the millions" and “there could be tens of thousands of dead hogs.”

Another concern is animal waste getting into fresh water, Ross and Fears write. "The state doesn’t disclose the amount of waste the animals produce, but some organization estimate it at more than 15 million pounds of manure annually." (Read more)

20% sugar tax would decrease soda consumption, lead to lower obesity rates, says WHO report

Nutrition facts in a can of Coke
A 20 percent tax on sugary drinks would decrease obesity by 20 percent, says a report by the World Health Organization. The report also said reducing prices for fruits and vegetables would increase consumption of those products.

WHO officials say "drinking fewer calorific sweet drinks is the best way to curb excessive weight and prevent chronic diseases such as diabetes, although fat and salt in processed foods are also at fault," Stephanie Nebehay writes for Reuters. WHO states that obesity rates "more than doubled worldwide between 1980 and 2014, with 11 percent of men and 15 percent of women classified as obese—more than 500 million people."

Michael Bloomberg, former New York mayor and a WHO ambassador for noncommunicable diseases, said in a statement: "Smart policies can help to turn the tides on this deadly epidemic, especially those aimed at reducing consumption of sugary drinks, which is fueling obesity rates."

Francesco Branca, director of WHO's nutrition and health department, said an estimated 42 million children under age 5 were overweight or obese in 2015, an increase of about 11 million over the past 15 years, Nebehay writes.

Kansas seeing increase in pot seizures from Colorado, says state attorney general's report

Since Colorado legalized marijuana in 2014 Kansas has seen a marked increased in pot seizures believed to have originated from The Centennial State, says a report from Kansas Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt.

The report, which used data from surveys of the Kansas Highway Patrol, local law enforcement officials and prosecutors, found that overall marijuana seizures in Kansas has remained steady—243 in 2013, 247 in 2014, 216 in 2015—but pot seizures from Colorado increased. Last year's Colorado weed seizures accounted for 69 percent of all seizures in Kansas, up from 52 percent in 2013. Through the first six months of 2016 KHP made 102 seizures believed to be from Colorado. (Green counties reported marijuana seizures believed to be from Colorado)
The report also found 32 edible seizures in 2015, up from 25 in 2014 and none in 2013. The report states: "Overall, the KHP data suggests that large amounts of Colorado marijuana are flowing into and through Kansas, with Colorado being by far the number one suspected source of marijuana seized by KHP."

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Major providers turning focus to rural areas to gain new customers with free or cheap internet

Major providers such as Sprint, Comcast and Facebook are beginning to turn their focus to rural and other under-served areas, Cecilia Kang reports for The New York Times. "The companies are among those that have set their sights on bringing free or cheap high-speed internet service to low-income and rural populations in the U.S., spurred by philanthropy and, for some, the hope of turning Americans who are not online today into full-paying customers in the future."

Sprint "announced that it plans to give 1 million low-income high school students a free device and a free high-speed data plan until graduation," Kang writes. "Facebook is also working to bring to the U.S. a service known as Free Basics, which gives people free access to certain websites, including Facebook. Comcast recently loosened requirements for its low-cost broadband service, expanding it to anyone in public housing."

About 20 percent of Americans "do not have a mobile data plan or broadband at home because the services are too expensive or they live too far from the networks, among other reasons," Kang writes. Offering those residents free or low-cost internet is nothing new. "But the new initiatives could reach much larger populations and are directed toward specific digital divide problems, such as the struggle for children without broadband at home to complete their homework."

"While telecom and web companies cite altruism as propelling free or low-cost broadband programs, what is often left unsaid are the benefits the services bring to the companies," Kang writes. "It’s part of a textbook business strategy known as 'loss leaders,' when a company provides discounted or free goods to get customers to buy more once they are in the store. The strategy is increasingly important for the telecom industry, where growth has slowed and new broadband customers are harder to find." (Read more)

Urban journalists miss the mark in trying to explain Trump's success in rural areas, says rural writer

Donald Trump hasn't won over rural America as much as urban reporters say he has, Bill Bishop writes for the Daily Yonder. Trump's success in rural areas is nothing new for Republican nominees. In 2012, Mitt Romney won 58 percent of votes in rural areas, compared to 39 percent for President Obama. It remains unclear if Trump will perform as well as Romney did, Bishop notes; a Reuters poll has Trump leading Hillary Clinton 41 percent to 28 percent outside urban areas.

"Still, there is a growing fascination with poor white voters, which, among writers living on the coasts is equivalent to rural," Bishop writes. "Several writers have cast off from their urban offices in search of the mysterious and wily 'hillbilly.' We say hillbilly because of the popularity of J.D. Vance’s recent book, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. Vance’s book about the cultural deficiencies of white, working-class families is all the rage in Washington, D.C., and the book is on the best-seller lists. It is being used as a guide (by both the political left and right) to understanding why Trump has the support he has."

The problem, Bishop writes, is that stories focused on Trump's success in rural areas, such as ones by The Guardian and The New Yorker, share a similar faulty approach: "to discover the mind of the Trump by recounting a string of individual stories. We are asked to understand a society through profiles of a handpicked group of people."

"The problem isn’t that these Trump voters who have attracted such recent attention are crazy or maladjusted or filled with hate," Bishop writes, paraphrasing a review of Vance's book by Bob Hutton, an American Studies professor at the University of Tennessee: "The problem in poor communities is that people are poor. At no point, Hutton writes, does Vance allow that his 'hillbilly' relatives 'might benefit from higher wages, better health care, or a renewed labor movement.' And, in fact, these kinds of big picture issues don’t fit a worldview that sees the country as a collection of individuals."

University of Virginia researcher Carl Desportes Bowman, who polled Trump supporters to see if "they fit the profile of the white voter who is angry at those of other races, religions and ways of life, said that Trump voters see a nation in decline," Bishop writes. He said "if they are phobic at all, 'it may not be homophobia or xenophobia that best characterizes them, but instead some new blend of elitophobia and governmentophobia... Indeed, it may be the country’s established leaders, experts and government officials that they fear more than anything.'” (Read more)

Undocumented immigrants leading fight to get legal immigrants to vote, affect presidential election

Undocumented immigrant Juan Gallegos
campaigns to get legal immigrants to vote
(High Country News photo: Paige Blankenbuehler
Undocumented immigrants are making their voices heard in the presidential election, despite being unable to vote, Paige Blankenbuehler reports for "Small Towns, Big Change," a High Country News series by seven news organizations in Colorado and New Mexico. Spurred to action by Donald Trump's anti-immigration stance, a group calling themselves "Dreamers,"  named after the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act rejected by the Senate in 2010, are trying to make a difference in swing states like Nevada, Arizona and Colorado.

About 12 percent of the nation's voters are Latino, with 40 percent of them living in the West, Blankenbuehler writes. There are more than 27.3 million eligible Hispanic voters this year—up from 19.5 million in 2008—and 63 percent say they will vote this year, compared to less than 10 percent who voted in 2008, according to the Pew Research Center. The rise in voters is directly linked to statements by Trump that he will deport illegal immigrants.

Dreamer organization Promise Arizona has increased the state's number of Latinos registered to vote to 1.3 million, up from 800,000 in 2008, Blankenbuehler writes. "In Nevada, home of the largest percentage of undocumented immigrants, nearly 197,000 Latinos registered this year, compared to about 143,000 in 2008. Colorado doesn’t track registered voters by race, but 555,000 Latinos were eligible for this year’s primary, compared to 404,000 in 2008."

Hillary Clinton has embraced the movement, in August launching "a campaign called 'Mi Sueño, Tu Voto' ('My Dream, Your Vote') that solicits the help of young undocumented immigrants to spur registration among eligible Latino voters," Blankenbuehler writes. Juan Gallegos, an undocumented immigrant who moved from Mexico to Nebraska at 12 and earned a college degree in the state, now works as a Dreamer. "At the campaign office recently, he could be heard pleading with a Spanish-only speaker: 'We could really throw away this election if we don’t mobilize. If Donald Trump is elected, will he come after us?'”

4-H National Youth Science Day teaches 200 youth about unmanned aircrafts at 'Drone Discovery'

The 2016 4-H National Youth Science Day, held Oct. 5 in Washington, D.C., featured a "hands-on engineering design challenge that explores the science behind drones and how they are being used to solve real world problems," according to 4-H. "Drone Discovery," developed by Cornell University Cooperative Extension, teaches youth about flight dynamics, aircraft types, safety and regulations and remote sensing and flight control.

Jennifer Sirangelo, president and CEO of the National 4-H Council, said about 200 youth participated in this year's event, Art Silverman reports for NPR. She told him, "Drone Discovery engineering challenge has different levels of activities, from unmanned flight to the coding behind remote sensing."

Some of the participants are already familiar with drones, Silverman reports. Emma Brown, 10, said her family has drones at its Maryland farm. She told Silverman, "At my dad's house, I have a really big drone, and it has a camera on it. And when my dad goes over to the farm, I get the drone out and fly it over there and spy on him and see what he's doing."

Others are new to drones, Silverman reports. Josh Renko, 11 told him, "Drones are probably going to take over the world." Lydia Eskeland, 15, from Virginia, said, " I mean I think a lot of good can come out of them, but it's kind of scary to think about at the same time that, like, 10 years from now, like, everything could be run by drones."

Native Americans prepared to dig in for harsh winter to continue Dakota Access Pipeline protest

InsideClimate News graphic
As colder temperatures come to North Dakota, Native Americans protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline have pledged to continue their protest throughout the winter, Jack Healy reports for The New York Times.  Protesters have begun building shelters to survive the region's typically harsh winter. Protester Retha Henderson told Healy, "This is where we are, and where we’re staying. We’re not giving up. This is my home now."

On Sunday, a federal appeals court rejected the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s request for an injunction against the pipeline, Healy notes: "The tribe has sued in federal court, arguing that it was not properly consulted about how the pipeline’s route could affect ancestral tribal lands. The appeals court said crews could resume work on private lands, bringing the pipeline closer to the Army Corps of Engineers land straddling the pipeline’s crucial river crossing."

The U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Justice released a joint statement asking "the pipeline company to pause construction within 20 miles of Lake Oahe, the dammed section of the Missouri," Healy writes. "The agencies and the tribes will meet this week in Phoenix to discuss the need for nationwide reform on how Native Americans are consulted on major infrastructure projects like the pipeline."

The $3.8 billion, 1,150-mile pipeline is expected to carry as much as 570,000 barrels of Bakken Formation crude to Illinois. The Standing Rock Sioux fear a leak would contaminate their main source of water, the Missouri River. (Read more)

Aging population creates greater concerns for care, transportation, housing options in rural areas

Like many states with significant rural populations, Kansas is aging. The Census Bureau estimates that by 2030 nearly 25 percent of the state's population will be older than 60, up from the current share of about 16 percent, Jan Biles reports for The Topeka Capital-Journal. "That means more people will be thinking about retirement, elder care and late-in-life housing options in the coming years. And while additional services for older adults will be needed, experts on aging note that fewer dollars likely will be available to pay for them."(Census chart: U.S. population 65 and older estimates)
Jocelyn Lyons, executive director of Jayhawk Area Agency on Aging, told Biles, “We truly have an aging boom that’s coming up on us. The question is how well prepared are we for this aging population. … The basic resources are available, but expansion of those resources are what we really need to be focused on.”

Transportation is already a problem in many rural areas, creating challenges for seniors to go to the doctor, shop for groceries or participate in social events, Biles writes. Another problem is "making sure those between the ages of 60 and 65 who are too young to qualify for Medicare have access to affordable health care insurance." Also, an increase in older residents will lead to an increase in chronic illnesses, leading to more affordable care needed for those who would rather stay at home than transition to assisted living or nursing homes.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Nearly 1/3 of rural non-citizen immigrants are poor

Poverty levels (Carsey graphic)
"Economic stability is out of reach for many rural immigrants, particularly those without U.S. citizenship," says a study by the University of New Hampshire's Carsey School of Public Policy. The study, which used 2010-14 data from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey, found that the poverty rate among rural non-citizen immigrants is 31.6 percent, compared to 13.7 percent for rural immigrants who are citizens.

Overall, 15.6 percent of rural immigrants are defined as "working poor," meaning they have a job but don’t earn enough to pull their household income above the federally defined poverty level, Tim Marema reports for the Daily Yonder. The number for native-born rural residents is 8 percent. Among full-time workers, 13.5 percent of rural immigrants are considered working poor, compared to 6.1 percent of native-born residents.

Researchers found that 39.4 percent of rural non-citizen immigrants have less than a high-school education, compared to 15 percent of the rural native-born population. About 19 percent of immigrants have at least some college and 18 percent a bachelor's degree or higher.

Poverty levels by immigration status
Most immigrants, 79.3 percent, are of working age (18-65). Only 9.1 percent are under 18, and 11.6 percent are 65 or older. A higher percentage of rural immigrants are married than native-born citizens, 60.1 percent to 53.5 percent, and 35.2 percent of rural immigrants have children under 18, compared to 23 percent of native-born residents. Marema notes, "That’s a switch for rural America, which overall has a higher percentage of children and retirees than urban areas do."

Matthew creates perfect breeding grounds for Zika

Standing water like this pool, left by a hurricane, is a
breeding ground for mosquitoes (Associated Press photo)
One after-effect of Hurricane Matthew could be perfect breeding grounds for the Zika virus, Franco Ordoñez reports for McClatchy Newspapers. From Florida to the Carolinas "high winds broke through screen doors and windows, knocked out power and left behind small and large bodies of standing water that could serve as new breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Scientists raised concerns that the Zika virus that has touched down in South Florida is now a greater threat to expand and move up the coast."

"Most adult mosquitoes won’t survive the gusts of wind, and flooding will wash away young mosquitoes," Ordoñez writes. "Those that survive, however, will lay new eggs near standing water that will hatch over and grow over the next week, likely boosting the bug population."

After Hurricane Katrina there was a spike in neurological-disease cases associated with the West Nile Virus in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas, Ordoñez writes. A 2008 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that "in 2006, the cases of West Nile virus more than doubled in the hurricane affected areas of Louisiana and Mississippi."

Kevin A. Caillouët, who did the study, told Ordoñez, "Hurricanes cause people to change their daily habits, which can make them vulnerable to bug bites by, for example, opening doors because the air conditioning doesn’t work and spending more time outside fixing what was broken." Caillouët told him, “So when you’re out there rebuilding your house, you’re not thinking about the mosquitoes that are biting at your ankles at the time. You’re thinking about getting your house back in order.” (Read more)

Rural journalist James T. Neal dies; his 1965 First Amendment fight made national headlines

James T. Neal
James T. Neal, who was third-generation owner, editor and publisher of the Noblesville Daily Ledger in central Indiana, died Sept. 27. Neal, who spent 36 years as a journalist, 25 of them writing a column for the daily, was inducted into the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame in 1990 for his career-long commitment to freedom of the press and open government. Neal made national headlines in 1965 for his defense of the First Amendment. His granddaughter, Alexandra Petri, an author and blogger for The Washington Post, detailed the 1965 events in a recent story.

Neal was "arrested and charged with contempt of court for a column he had written criticizing a judge’s new policy to crack down on traffic violations," Petri writes. His column so incensed Hamilton County Circuit Court Judge Edward New "that he would issue him a citation for contempt of court. The citation charged Neal with writing 'a disdainful, despicable, scurrilous and contemptuous article about this court' that was 'intended to inflict ridicule and indignity on the image of the Hamilton Circuit Court and embarrass the judge thereof, and all law enforcement officers in the county.'”

In his column "Neal had called the newly announced policy, which would send all traffic violators to Circuit Court, 'an excellent example of shotgun justice,'" Petri writes. Neal wrote: "It isn’t necessary to upset a whole community to get at the handful of motorists who run wild on the highways. If the past proves a good example, what will happen is some kindly old lady will spend the night in jail for driving too slow, while some mad motorist charged with manslaughter will eventually stall his trial right out of court.”

Following the column and the contempt of court charge, the sheriff showed at the paper to arrest Neal, Petri writes. "New recused himself and appointed a special panel of three judges from which a new judge was to be selected for the case. It was perhaps not the most impartial panel that could have been imagined; one of the members was the judge’s brother. New took the further step of removing legal notices—a source of advertising revenue—from the Daily Ledger. (The Indianapolis Star quoted him as saying, 'I am well within my rights. I don’t see how I could honestly approve publication of legal notices in a paper which holds the court in contempt.'"

The public outcry, which included a story by Time magazine and action from the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, was swift," Petri writes. The Indianapolis Star wrote in an editorial, “The reaction of the Hamilton circuit judge to newspaper criticism seemed strangely out of place in an American court. It would have been more in the order of things in Castro’s Cuba, Soviet Russia, Red China or other countries where public officials consider themselves, like kings of old, beyond criticism.”

Through the whole process "Neal kept up criticism of the judge’s policies, this time with an editorial pointing out that New was 'issuing court orders to obtain payment of unbudgeted expenses,' which 'denies public scrutiny of the judge’s accounts.'" Petri writes. "Finally, after considerable delays, the special judge chosen from the panel of three announced that he was withholding judgment, on the grounds that he had no jurisdiction." But it took another three years, and a ruling by Indiana Supreme Court, before the charge was finally dismissed.

Study finds soft-drink giants spend $9 million a year to sponsor 96 national health organizations

Ingredients in a can of Coke 
Nearly 100 national health organizations accepted money from the Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo from 2011-15, says a study by researchers from Boston University published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. During that same time period Coke and Pepsi "lobbied against at least 28 public health bills intended to reduce soda consumption or improve nutrition." Soda, which is often high in sugar content, has been partly blamed for a rise in obesity in the U.S., and obesity is more prevalent in rural areas.

Coke spent more than $6 million annually on lobbying from 2011-14, while Pepsi spent $3 million per year. Of the 96 organizations that accepted money, 12 accepted money from both companies, 83 from Coke and one from only Pepsi. Among those companies was the American Diabetes Association and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

Lead author Daniel Aaron, a medical student at BU, said the companies "used relationships with health organizations to develop positive associations for their brands. The soda companies can neutralize potential legislative opposition by invoking reciprocity and financial dependence from national health organizations. Rather than supporting public health, organizations may become unwitting partners in a corporate marketing strategy that undermines public health."

Some of the companies that accepted money released statements defending their actions, Kerry Lauerman reports for The Washington Post. The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation said the “fundraisers in question were individual local initiatives” and not national sponsorships.

"The American Heart Association released a statement saying it "is leading efforts to reduce consumption of sugary drinks. To achieve our goals, we must engage a wide variety of food and beverage companies to be part of the solution. As clearly evidenced by our work, under no circumstances does such occasional funding have any influence on our science and the public policy positions we advocate for."

9-year-old newspaper reporter signs deal to write series of sleuthing books for children

Hilde Lysiak
A nine-year old reporter in rural Selinsgrove, Pa., on whom we have previously reported, could soon add "children's novelist" to her resume, Sean Stroh reports for Editor & Publisher. Hilde Lysiak signed a four-book deal with Scholastic to write a fictionalized series of her own adventures, "Hilde Cracks the Case."

The series will star Hilde and her older sister Izzy as they solve cases based on real news stories that appeared in Hilde's monthly newspaper, The Orange Street News, in the Susquehanna River valley. Every book will end with a news article.

The books will be co-written by her father Matt, a former New York Daily News reporter, and will focus on teaching "younger readers the basic tenets of journalism as part of Scholastic’s illustrated early chapter book line 'Branches,'" Stroh writes. The first book is scheduled to be released in the fall of 2017.

Best Places map
The newspaper has more than 700 paid subscribers, and its website has more than 700,000 views, Stroh writes. Hilde told him, “I just want to keep working on my paper and have it get bigger. I want to be known not as a good young journalist but as a good journalist who happens to be young. I’m working hard to improve and keep getting better. I love reporting the news so I hope I can keep doing that, especially crime.”

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Jim Justice, W.Va. gubernatorial nominee and coal billionaire, owes $15 million in six states

Jim Justice, billionaire owner of Southern Coal Corp. and the Democratic nominee for governor of West Virginia, owes $15 million in taxes and fines in six states, making him the nation's top mine-safety delinquent, Howard Berkes reports for NPR. Justice owes for property and minerals taxes, state coal severance and withholding taxes, federal income, excise and unemployment taxes and safety violations. (NPR graphic: Fines Southern Coal owes by state; click on chart for larger version)
Justice owes $4.71 million in the state where he could be elected governor next month, and $6.81 million in Kentucky. State campaign finance records show that "in the past 16 months, while fines and taxes went unpaid, Justice personally contributed nearly $2.9 million in interest-free loans and in-kind contributions to his gubernatorial campaign," Berkes writes.

In addition to the fines, Southern Coal mines had injury rates nearly twice the national average during years that penalties went unpaid, Berkes reportsMine Safety and Health Administration data also shows "that those mines were cited for 3,657 violations while they were delinquent, including 699 violations that are classified by MSHA as factors in mine fatalities, fatal mine accidents and major disasters. MSHA mine inspectors issued dozens of citations for excessive coal dust, which can feed mine explosions, and roof and wall violations, which can lead to mine collapses." (Injury rates at Southern Coal's delinquent mines)
Southern Coal recently agreed to pay $900,000 to settle water-pollution violations in Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.