Friday, June 30, 2017

Study: South to be hit hardest economically by climate change

Data: Hsiang, Kopp, Jina, Rising, et al. (2017); Map: Lazaro Gamio/Axios
Climate change will make the U.S. poorer and will further inequality, with the South hit hardest, a new study shows.

"The study, published Thursday in the journal Science, calculates probable economic harms and benefits for the more than 3,100 counties in the United States under different possible scenarios for worldwide emissions of heat-trapping gases," writes Seth Borenstein of the Associated Press. Researchers looked at agriculture, energy costs, labor costs, coastal damage from rising seas, crime and deaths. They then estimated the effect on average local income by the end of the century.

The team created an interactive map of their findings. "The county hit hardest if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated is tiny and impoverished Union County in Florida, where median income would take a 28 percent hit. And among counties with at least 500,000 people, Polk County in central Florida would suffer the most, with damages of more than 17 percent of income. Seven of the 10 counties with the highest percentage of projected county income losses from climate change are in Florida, along with two in Texas and one in Georgia. Half of these are among the poorest counties in the country," Borenstein reports.

The poorest third of U.S. counties could sustain economic damage that costs as much as 20 percent of their income if warming proceeds at its current rate, writes Doyle Rice of USA Today. For each degree rise in the Earth's temperature, scientists believe the U.S. might see damage equal to 0.7 percent of the Gross Domestic Product annually by the 2080s, Rice reports. Researchers analyzed production of four different crops: soy, wheat, corn and cotton. Much of the Midwest could endure "the type of productivity losses we saw during the Dust Bowl," said Solomon Hsiang, lead author of the study.

Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann told AP that it's "a fascinating and ambitious study." However, because many extreme weather factors weren't or can't yet be calculated, he said the study "can at best only provide a very lower limit on the extent of damages likely to result from projected climate changes."

A solution for the population drain in rural America?

Why is Appalachia losing population, and how can the trend be reversed?

An editorial from The Roanoke Times notes that it's tied to both economics and demographics: young people are moving away to find jobs elsewhere, especially in coal country where there are fewer jobs than in years past.

When young adults leave rural areas, the median age of the remaining population goes up. Because coal counties now have some of the highest median ages in the country, that means that more people are dying than being born. For example, "In 2015, there were about 1,800 babies born in Virginia's coalfields. But about 2,400 people died," the editorial reports.

This gap will only grow in coming years as Baby Boomers begin to die off in greater numbers and young people continue to move away. According to demographer Hamilton Lombard of the University of Virginia, rural Southwest Virginia's population goes down by about 600 people a year just from locals giving birth or dying, without even accounting for anyone moving away. That deficit is likely to increase.

Proposed improvements to infrastructure, such as a proposed $5.1 billion highway through Southwest Virginia, might only serve as a stopgap solution, says Lombard. "It was hard to convince [community leaders] that the expressway would only likely slow population loss rather than by itself generate a boom in growth," he says.

So how does coal country create a baby boom? In terms of pure numbers, Lombard says young adults need to stay put, and women would need to have 3.5 to four children each over the next decade. If people could not be convinced to stay put, the birth rate would need to be markedly higher.

Such an outcome is simply not feasible, the editorial notes, advocating instead for a possibly less-palatable strategy: encouraging immigration.

"One of the great ironies of our current political situation is that anti-immigration sentiment runs highest in rural areas," the editorial says. "Yet it's rural areas that logically should be the loudest champions for increased immigration."

In some rural Canadian towns, reports Alia Dharssi for The Calgary Herald, community leaders are aggressively encouraging immigrants to settle down. Their approach is noteworthy because they are actively seeking large numbers of blue collar workers to increase their tax base; traditionally immigrants are more easily admitted when they are highly skilled "white collar" workers.

Some Canadian immigrants have chafed at blue collar work, though; in another story for The Calgary Herald, Dharssi writes about highly educated immigrants who took rural restaurant or retail jobs simply as a way to get into Canada. Once there, many try to get accreditation and find jobs in their profession, often in more urban areas where those jobs are readily available. Because of language barriers and bureaucracy, not many succeed.

One question to consider then, is how many blue collar jobs immigrants would attract to rural America and whether enough immigrants would stay put to create a net population gain.

More accountability needed for rural judges without law degrees

It's a little-known fact that around 2,000 judges in mostly-rural New York are presiding without a law degree or any legal training whatsoever.

Joe Sexton of ProPublica surveys the recent repercussions of this practice in a new piece prompted by the recent resignation of Justice Gary M. Poole of the Rose Town Court in Wayne County. Poole, who is not an attorney, agreed to resign effective July 1 and never again seek judicial appointment after the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct began investigating claims that he screamed at and threatened a former girlfriend and her new boyfriend in court.

In 2006, state officials promised reform after The New York Times published a series condemning the practice of allowing non-attorneys to preside as judges.

"The examination found overwhelming evidence that decade after decade and up to this day, people have often been denied fundamental legal rights," writes William Glaberson of The Times. "Defendants have been jailed illegally. Others have been subjected to racial and sexual bigotry so explicit it seems to come from some other place and time. People have been denied the right to a trial, an impartial judge and the presumption of innocence."

This week, in reviewing recent commission reports, Sexton reports that non-attorney judges are still being frequently disciplined for unprofessional conduct. One justice, for instance, was ordered to be removed from office in May after trying to have his daughter's traffic ticket removed, as well as trying to influence the decisions of the judge who was handling appeals of his decisions.

The practice of appointing non-attorney judges arose from the high cost to small communities of hiring qualified judges and lawyers, as well as frequent rural anti-lawyer sentiment, reports Glaberson, noting also that non-attorney judges tend to be powerful players in local politics.

To reduce misconduct and increase accountability, the Commission has recommended several reforms. "The court system has supplied every town and village court with laptops that have audio capability," commission administrator Robert Tembeckjian writes to ProPublica. "And a rule of the Chief Administrative Judge requires all proceedings to be recorded and maintained, and more extensive ethics training for judges."

Americans turn to chickens to keep ticks at bay despite little scientific support

(AP photo)
With fears of Lyme disease high, some Americans are flocking to chickens to save the day, albeit with little evidentiary support.

"Two American traditions are colliding this summer," writes Anupreeta Das of The Wall Street Journal. "One involves people . . . keeping yardbirds for their eggs or meat as part of a move toward local and organic food. The other is a nation convulsing with fear of Lyme disease. The chick people think they have the solution to the tick problem—even if there is little science to support it."

A mild winter and growing populations of deer and mice have led to one of the worst tick seasons in years, scientists say, particularly in the Northeast. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate there are more than 300,000 new cases of Lyme disease in the U.S. each year, three times the rate two decades ago, Das notes. "Public attention around tick-borne illnesses, including one that leaves victims allergic to red meat, is mounting. The CDC advises people to take lots of precautions to avoid getting bitten by ticks, from staying away from tall grass to creating a barrier of wood chips between lawns and wooded areas. The CDC declined comment on the use of chickens, saying that was out of its 'area of expertise,'" Das reports.

"We don't need a study if we know experientially it works," said Steven Bibula, a Maine farmer. However, not every is on board with the anecdotal method of tick control. "To say I have a chicken and therefore won’t get Lyme, that is dangerous," said Lee Ann Sporn, a biologist at Paul Smith’s College in the Adirondacks.  Sporn told Das at least one study has found that wild birds can host Lyme-disease-causing bacteria and said she has no reason to believe that chickens would be any different.

(WSJ photo)
Timothy Driscoll, assistant professor at West Virginia University who studies tick-borne microbes, said there are few scientific studies on the subject, and they all focus on guinea fowl, a noisier alternative to chickens, Das writes. However, guineas are easily startled and squawk loudly. Guineas "don’t get along with the UPS man or guests or the dog," Bibula said.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Conservative news and opinion media are focusing less on health debate in Congress

Recent actions by conservative media and politicians, who tend to hold sway in rural areas, seem to reflect ebbing voter interest in repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, writes David Weigel of The Washington Post

Fox News and conservative talk radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh largely ignored Senate Republicans' decision to delay voting on an ACA replacement, Weigel reports: "The lack of 'Obamacare repeal' coverage, unthinkable just six months ago, reflected a general decline of conservative interest in what united Republicans for seven years. Conservative grass-roots groups have either ignored the latest health-care details, like Americans for Prosperity, or lobbied against the bill, like the Club for Growth."

To the extent that Fox covers the issue, the network frames it as President Trump himself, and not necessarily Republicans in Congress, waging war against Democrats. Some on the network have criticized Congress for failing to get the job done. 

Republicans in Congress may be acting cautiously in light of reduced voter interest and support, Weigel suggests. A recent Quinnipiac University poll shows 37 percent of Republican voters favor the ACA repeal. A USA Today poll released today shows only 12 percent of Americans in general support the Senate's health-care plan, while 53 percent say "Congress should either leave the law known as Obamacare alone or work to fix its problems while keeping its framework intact."

The proposed health-care bills from both the House and Senate would negatively impact many rural Americans, since the subsidy cuts would fall disproportionately on older and lower-income populations, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation. A set of maps by the Post illustrates the various impacts; here's an example (click on it to enlarge; click on link for the rest):

Research finds Clinton lost rural voters in 2008, presaging 2016 result

Hillary Clinton did well against Barack Obama in urban areas in the 2008 primary election, but failed to secure the nomination in large part because of her failure to win a majority of rural voters, according to research recently released by the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire.

The results proved prophetic for her loss to President Trump in the general election of 2016. In 2008, Clinton lost rural America to Obama by 2.1 million votes, the research shows. The Atlantic reported that in 2016 Trump beat Clinton by roughly 11.5 million votes in rural areas.

"Through the last five presidential elections voting patterns were consistent along a rural-urban continuum," the researchers state. "Democrats did best at the urban end of the continuum and Republicans at the rural end. What is distinctly different in 2016 is that Hillary Clinton did far worse across the entire rural end of the continuum than any Democratic candidate in the previous four presidential elections."

Politico speculates that Clinton didn't believe she needed rural voters, noting that her campaign did not name a rural council as Obama had or build a solid rural campaign infrastructure.

Virginia approves re-purposing abandoned coal mines to generate hydroelectric power

Dominion Energy has received a green light from the Virginia General Assembly to repurpose abandoned coal mines as pumped hydroelectric storage facilities, reports Robert Sorrell of the Bristol Herald Courier.

One such facility, the largest in the world, has been operating in Bath County, Virginia, since 1985, and can power 750,000 homes. As the coal industry shrivels, rural lawmakers and utility companies have sought ways to use coal mines to generate power in a different way.
Hydroelectric storage facilities work like this: two reservoirs at different elevations are connected by large pipes. When water runs from the upper reservoir to the lower reservoir, it goes through turbines, which spin generators and produce electricity. At night when the public uses less electricity, the turbines function as pumps that pull water back up to the upper reservoir.

Dominion spokesman Dan Genest says it is too soon to estimate the cost of a reclaimed coal-mine hydroelectric storage facility, or how much power one could generate.

The editorial board of the Herald Courier is optimistic about the project, saying it "presents bright prospects for the area's economy, potential job market benefits and energy production. Potential tax breaks, offset electricity prices, available power stored for on-demand usage and new jobs from the construction and maintenance of the facility all push the region toward prosperity."

Teachers share experiences teaching about climate

Teaching about climate change can be difficult in rural areas where the topic is highly politicized. Amy Harmon of The New York Times published a follow-up Wednesday to her original piece, which ran earlier this month. Both pieces get at the interaction between teachers, students and parents, and provide ideas for how the story can be told in other places. The follow-up, though, includes perspective from actual teachers who wrote to Harmon after reading her original piece.

"Climate change, of course, is a politically fraught topic in the United States, where Republican politicians and representatives of the fossil fuel industry have sought to cast doubt on the established science of human-caused global warming," Harmon writes in Wednesday's piece. "Even most states that have adopted the scientific consensus as part of their education standards — and many have not — so far do not require assessments of whether students understand it. And one recent survey suggests that some science teachers simply skim over the topic. But many of the teachers I heard from, including those in conservative strongholds, described efforts to impart the reality of climate change whether or not it was an official part of the curriculum."

Here's what teachers told Harmon about their experiences teaching climate change:

Jenny Pye, a home-school teacher in Greenville, N.C., writes, "There's strong evidence to support the theory that humans are contributing to climate change, so I teach that, and I also teach the controversy surrounding it to my kids. We live in a rural, conservative area, and especially as home-schoolers, we have lots of friends who have reached different conclusions. It's important to teach the difference between good and bad science."

Miller and his students in Prince William Sound
(Credit: Josh Miller)
As a marine technology teacher in Valdez, Alaska, Josh Miller has a unique opportunity to not only teach about climate change, but demonstrate it. "We’re an oil town that voted two-to-one for Trump, but when the sea level rises and you live on the coast, you need to be aware that the world is changing and consider what you can do about it," Miller writes. "My students learn about climate change by taking a boat ride up a fjord, which until very recently was a glacier. The massive Columbia Glacier has retreated (melted) 12 miles since my first boat trip in 1983. Where recently was land, today is ocean. The day of our 2015 class trip, the last of the ice washed out of West Arm, and our vessel was the first boat in our planet’s history to navigate this new sea. Not all teachers are so lucky to have such dramatic evidence of climate change to prove the case."

Elizabeth McClearly, a teacher in Lawrence, Mass., uses humor to teach about how agriculture impacts climate change. "My eighth grade students are most surprised to see how agricultural farming plays a role — they enjoy hearing how 'cow farts' are a leading contributor to an increase in greenhouse gases. Ha! Like I said: eighth graders."

Beef processor's 'pink slime' lawsuit against ABC is settled with a confidential agreement

(National Public Radio photo)
ABC News and Beef Products Inc. on Wednesday settled a $5.7 billion lawsuit over 2012 news reports on a beef product the news outlet dubbed "pink slime."

The terms of the settlement, which ended a trial in a small town in South Dakota, are confidential, reports Kate Taylor of Business Insider.

Dan Webb, attorney for the beef firm, said the said the settlement "vindicated" the company and its "lean finely textured beef," the beef product at the center of the "pink slime" controversy. "They ignored the proper name," Webb said. "When you have a major news organization that is calling the product 'slime,' witnesses will say they can't imagine anything worse. It connotes something disgusting, inedible."

The beef company had to close three plants and lay off 700 workers because of backlash from the reports, Taylor reports. "ABC's attorney argued that the 'pink slime' reports brought to light that BPI and other ground-beef producers were using a beef product that most customers were unaware they were eating," she writes.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Resentment of elites a root of rural-urban divide

The recent outrage over a Central Park rendition of the play "Julius Caesar" as President Trump is more than a simple dust-up, Alissa Quart argues in the The Guardian. It's the latest salvo in a war between mostly liberal urban "elites" and mostly conservative rural Americans.

The president, Quart says, is a "masterful populist" who has "manipulated this very real bitterness" that rural Americans feel toward wealthy urban dwellers who, they believe, seem to be the only ones deciding what tastes and values are acceptable. 

Political scientist Kathy Cramer of the University of Wisconsin, author of The Politics of Resentment, says that rural people she's talked to feel they've become caricatures in popular culture, and that their voices have been ignored in policy discussions. But they see themselves as living less stressful, more meaningful lives that place value on relationships with family and neighbors.

Because the schism is divided along lines of cultural tastes rather than economics, wealthy, urban politicians such as Trump are still able to connect with rural voters, Cramer says.

Damon Linker of The Week expounds on what he calls the "socio-cultural chasm pitting the city and the countryside against each other" around the world. He notes that rural voices and resentment have lately driven policy decisions all over the world, from England's Brexit decision, to an anti-democratic referendum in Turkey, to France's recent presidential election. 

"Cities tend to be more dynamic, marked by rapid change, with the people who live there assuming that such changes make things better over time," says Linker. "The countryside, by contrast, is less dynamic, with changes happening more slowly, along with the assumption that changes often make things worse. These clashing sensibilities contribute to political differences between the different regions."

Bill to aid Appalachian coal communities passes House committee over industry objection

(Lexington Herald-Leader photo)
A bill that would accelerate $1 billion in federal spending to aid struggling coal areas in Appalachia passed a U.S. House committee Tuesday, over the opposition of the National Mining Association.

The RECLAIM Act, which would speed up the release of funds to reclaim abandoned mine lands, is now set to go before the full House, writes Bill Estep of the Lexington Herald-Leader.

"One goal would be to reclaim sites in ways that could boost economic development in places that have seen job losses in recent years," Estep reports. Eastern Kentucky alone has lost half its coal jobs since 2011, he notes.

"This bill represents a real investment in coal country — one that will provide much-needed resources to clean up the environment, create jobs and strengthen these communities from the ground up," Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), who sponsored the bill, said in a release.

The House Natural Resources Committee approved an amendment to the bill that was backed by more than 40 national or regional environmental and citizens' groups, according to Estep. "The groups said in a letter to the committee that the change was needed to make sure spending would give top priority to projects that tie reclamation to long-term economic development," he writes. Sarah Bowling, a member of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, which backed the amendment, was pleased with the vote. "This is a victory for Appalachia and a big day for Kentucky and those communities suffering from the decline of coal," Bowling said in a news release. 

State-by-state rural roads fatality report released

(Oregon Public Broadcasting photo)
A state-by-state report of traffic fatalities on rural roads released Tuesday finds that deaths on rural roads are about 2.5 times higher than on urban roads.

The study, prepared by the nonprofit traffic research group TRIP, shows that South Carolina, California, Kentucky, Mississippi and Montana are the top five states, respectively, with the deadliest rural roads. Researchers measured fatalities as a rate for every 100 million miles traveled on rural, non-interstate roads.

Some states, particularly in the West, have large populations that are heavily centered in cities, which leaves vast, sparsely populated rural areas. One such example is Nevada, which ranks sixth in the report. "Statistics can 'appear skewed when the majority of Nevada roads lie outside of urban areas,'" Nevada Transportation Department spokesman Tony Illia told Ben Botkin of the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

"Clark County (Las Vegas) now accounts for two-thirds of the state's population," Illia told Botkin. "As a result, one or two fatal crashes along rural roads can suggest a disproportionate trend. However, there is a great distance between major urban areas across the state, which covers a whopping 110,577 square miles. Nevada is the country’s seventh-largest state by real estate but ranks 42nd in density. Rural drivers are subsequently susceptible to weather, wildlife and fatigue, among other things."

The report also warned that the nation's rural transportation system needs improvements to boost safety and increase economic opportunities, Botkin writes.

EPA following through on Trump move against Obama's 'waters of the U.S.' definition

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt says he will scale back the agency's authority to regulate “the pollution of wetlands and tributaries that feed into the nation's largest rivers,” report Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post. Trump had indicated the move was coming, but “this is the first clear signal of how the EPA will act.”

When he was attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt sued the EPA over its definition of the Clean Water Act's key phrase "waters of the United States" on the grounds that it was too costly for landowners to adhere to, unlawfully broadened the definition of "waters" and trumped state authority. Pruitt says he plans to recuse himself from working on active litigation in the matter, but testified before Congress that the EPA would withdraw the rule and revert back to standards as they stood in 2008. Because courts have muddied the definition of the rule, EPA will have to write a new one, which is likely to prompt more court action, Mufson and Eilperin write.

"The existing regulation covers wetlands adjacent to either traditional navigable waters or interstate waters, as well as streams serving as tributaries to navigable waters," the Post explains. "The rule says that wetlands and tributaries must be 'relatively permanent,' a phrase used in previous court opinions, which means they can be intermittent. Defining it this way extends federal jurisdiction to 60 percent of the water bodies in the United States."

Trump called rule "destructive" and "horrible" in February when he asked the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers to look into repealing it. Trump argued that the agencies should rely on the opinion of the late Justice Antonin Scalia to define what kind of waters fall under federal jurisdiction. In the Supreme Court's 2006 Rapanos v. United States decision, Scalia's dissenting opinion was that the federal government's authority under the Clean Water Act only applies to "navigable waters."

Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, says EPA's move "strikes directly at public health" because it "would strip out needed protections for the streams that feed drinking water sources for one in every three Americans." But House Speaker Paul Ryan said, “This regulation would have been a disaster for rural communities in the West and across the country, giving Washington near-total control over water resources.”

Two days left to sign up for Census of Agriculture

Are you a new farmer or rancher? Sign up by June 30 to make sure you're counted in this year's Census of Agriculture.

Visit the Census of Agriculture's site to watch an informational video, see FAQs, view data or try a demo of the new and improved census questionnaire. The new questionnaire saves time by calculating totals automatically and skipping questions that aren't relevant to you. If you are registered, you'll receive a census questionnaire in December.

The census is seeking responses from those who have produced and sold (or normally would have sold) more than $1,000 in agricultural products during the year 2017.

"The definition includes millions of farmers, ranchers and producers--rural and urban--and it is vital that all are represented in this complete count endeavor every five years," says Barbara Rater of the National Agricultural Statistics Service. "Their voices show the nation the value and importance of agriculture, and help influence decisions that will shape the future of American agriculture for years to come."

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

New safety guidelines released for kids working in agriculture

The National Children's Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety has announced a new set of Agricultural Youth Work Guidelines to help ensure that children and teens stay safe when helping out on the farm.

The guidelines were released on the first day of the International Society for Agricultural Safety and Health annual conference.

Every three days in the U.S., a youth under the age of 16 dies in an accident while working in agriculture. The number of fatal injuries to youth working in agriculture is higher than in all other industries combined. Though the number of agriculture-related deaths has steadily declined since 2001, the coalition of parents and agricultural organizations wants to make sure the mortality rate continues to decline.

"Too many of these injuries and deaths are associated with children performing agricultural work that does not match their developmental level/abilities," says Marsha Salzwedel, project leader and youth agricultural safety specialist at the National Children's Center.

The first such voluntary guidelines were formulated in 1999; the new guidelines are built on those along with the latest scientific research on child growth and development, agricultural practices and safety and child injury prevention.

Find more data on childhood agricultural injuries and labor regulation here.

Interstate traffic brings commerce to rural areas, legal and illegal

Interstate highways bring more commerce to rural areas, not all of it legal. Keith Huffman of The Anniston Star in East Alabama highlights the problem in a piece Sunday that focuses on I-20 between Atlanta, Georgia, and Birmingham, Ala.

Though only a few thousand residents live near that stretch of I-20, the road carries between 60,000 and 70,000 people through the area every day, and with them comes big city crime.

The most common crimes are drug-related, with one to five taking place in an average week. Illegal firearms seizures are also frequent. In fact, local police officer Danny Turner seized more guns and ecstasy than any other officer in the U.S., working a seven-mile stretch of I-20. Local police also report seeing about 200 cases of identity theft per month, and sometimes even human trafficking.

Oklahoma doctor faces murder charge after patients overdose

Dr. Regan Nichols
Oklahoma doctor Regan Nichols was charged with second-degree murder following the deaths of five of her patients by prescription medication overdose, Justin Juozapavicius reports for The Washington Post. Nichols was arrested Friday and released on $50,000 bail.

In three of the five deaths, the prescriptions were a lethal mix of opiod painkillers, benzodiazepine anti-anxiety drugs, and muscle relaxants: the addict's so-called "holy trinity." Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter says that Nichols, a pain management doctor at the Sunshine Medical Center, prescribed patients "a horrifyingly excessive amount of opioid medications."

One patient died six days after being prescribed 450 doses of pills; another died one month after being prescribed 240 doses. Investigators allege that Nichols prescribed more than 1,800 medically unnecessary pills and, in at least one case, did not properly examine her patient before providing the prescription.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that opioids killed more than 33,000 Americans in 2015, with almost half of those deaths involving a prescription medication. Middle-aged rural white women represent a disproportionate number of those deaths, climbing 400 percent between 1999 and 2014.

The charges against Nichols are part of a growing trend of doctors being held responsible for overdoses. According to The Los Angeles Times, LA doctor Hsiu-Ying "Lisa" Teng was found guilty of second-degree murder in 2015 and sentenced to at least 30 years in prison in 2016 for the overdose deaths of three of her patients. In April, a doctor practicing in Tompkinsville, Kentucky, was sentenced to a year and a day in prison for illegally prescribing painkillers to five people, resulting in the deaths of three patients. Another doctor in Albany, Ky., was also indicted in April for irresponsibly prescribing painkillers that resulted in an additional three deaths.

Well owners: register for five free webinars

The National Ground Water Association is offering five free webinars in the coming months to help household water well owners with common issues such as drought, turbid water, disinfection, maintenance and planning.

The one-hour webinars will be presented by experts in an easy-to-understand format for laymen and will include time for questions and answers. Here's a handy list:

Drought and Your Water Well
July 25, 11 a.m. EST.
Presenter: Gary Hix, CWD/Pl, In2Wells LLC, Tucson, Arizona.
Click here to register.

This webinar explores how drought and other unrelated reasons affect water well productivity. The lesson also provides guidance on what well owners can do. Gary Hix is a registered geologist, certified well driller and pump installer and a past president of the Arizona Water Well Association.

Water Well System Components Vital to Water Quality
August 8, 11 a.m. EST.
Presenter: Denis Crayon, CHST, Summit Drilling Company, Bridgewater, New Jersey.
Click here to register.

This webinar describes water well system components that protect water from certain harmful contaminants, and what well owners should do to stay on top of related maintenance. Denis Crayon, a water well system professional, is on the board of directors for the National Ground Water Association.

Turbid Well Water and What to Do About It
August 15, 3 p.m. EST.
Presenter: Richard Thron, MGWC, Mantyla Well Drilling Inc., Lakeland, Minnesota.
Click here to register.

Well owners will learn some of the causes for turbid water (water with suspended matter in it), why they should be concerned and what to do to protect or improve the water quality. Richard Thron is a president and owner of his company and a former president of the National Ground Water Association.

Shock Chlorination: What You Should Know
August 23, 3 p.m. EST.
Presenter: Jeffrey Williams, MGWC/CVCLD, Spafford and Sons Water Wells, Jericho, Vermont.
Click here to register.

This webinar explains why shock chlorination is a procedure best done by experienced water well system professionals to achieve effective well system disinfection. Jeffrey Williams is vice president of his company an a former president of the National Ground Water Association.

Planning for a Water Well
September 6, 11 a.m. EST.
Presenter: Mark Layten, CWD/Pl, Kickapoo Drilling Company, Downs, Illinois.
Click here to register.

This webinar examines important considerations for those getting a water well for the first time or a replacement well. Mark Layten is a member of the Illinois Association of Groundwater Professionals and the National Ground Water Association.

In addition to these webinars, well owners can view other recorded webinars here, and free online well owner lessons here.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Interactive map shows estimated impact of Senate health bill on premiums and tax credits, by county

What effect would enactment of the Senate health-insurance bill have on people who buy plans that are subsidized by the federal government? The Kaiser Family Foundation has created an interactive map that can be adjusted for age (27, 40 or 60) and income (mostly in $10K multiples) to show the estimated effects on premiums and tax credits in each county for a "silver" plan, the most common bought under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. State-by-state maps are available. Here's a screenshot of the national map as an example of the interactivity; to view a larger version, click on the image:
Kaiser says its estimates are based on Congressional Budget Office projections of the House health bill, called the American Health Care Act, "which suggest that the premium for a 40-year-old under the AHCA would be similar to the premium for a 40-year-old under the ACA, before accounting for tax credits and for the same level of coverage. We therefore assume that the premium before tax credits for the lowest cost bronze plan and the second-lowest cost silver plan under the ACA is equal to the premium for a similar plan (with 60 percent and 70 percent actuarial values) under the BCRA for a 40-year-old." BCRA is the Better Care Reconciliation Act, the title of the Senate bill.

Kaiser notes, "We use the projected premium for the lowest cost 'bronze' plan in each county as an equivalent for the BCRA benchmark plan to calculate tax credits under the BCRA. The BCRA makes it easier for states to waive certain provisions of the law, including the essential benefits insurers are required to cover. Such waivers would tend to lower premiums but increase out-of-pocket costs for health care. Our analysis is based on states not seeking waivers.

AP analysis finds partisan gerrymandering benefits Republicans more than Democrats

An analysis by The Associated Press shows that partisan redistricting of congressional and state House districts has given Republicans a significant edge in recent years.

How significant? “The analysis found four times as many states with Republican-skewed state House or Assembly districts than Democratic ones,” reports AP's David A. Lieb. As for the U.S. House, “Among the two dozen most populated states that determine the vast majority of Congress, there were nearly three times as many with Republican-tilted U.S. House districts.”

The analysis comes in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s announcement that it would hear a case this fall challenging the legality of Wisconsin’s legislative districts. A lower court ruled that the districts violated Democratic voters’ right to equal representation because the percentage of seats won by Democrats was much smaller than the percentage of votes cast for Democrats. If the Supreme Court upholds the decision, it could cause drastic changes in the way districts are drawn across the US. Other cases are also under consideration.

Voting districts are redrawn every 10 years following the U.S. Census. According to AP's analysis, partisan gerrymandering became rampant in recent years, peaking in 2012.

The analysis was based on a formula that computes the “efficiency gap”, which quantifies gerrymandering far more accurately than the traditionally used metric of “partisan bias.” The formula was developed by University of Chicago law professor Nick Stephanopoulos and nonpartisan researcher Eric McGhee.

Arkansas would be 1st state to ban weedkiller used with GMO crops, citing drift to non-GMO crops

Arkansas Department of Agriculture
map shows complaints by county
(click on map for larger version)
"Arkansas's pesticide regulators have stepped into the middle of an epic battle between weeds and chemicals, which has now morphed into a battle between farmers," Dan Charles reports for NPR. The Arkansas Plant Board voted 9-5 Friday to impose "an unprecedented ban" on dicamba, a weedkiller used in conjunction with crops that have been genetically modified to resist it. "It drifts easily in the wind, and traditional soybeans are incredibly sensitive to it," and 242 farmers have complained about it, Charles reports.

Before the ban can become effective, Gov. Asa Hutchinson must submit it to the executive subcommittee of the Arkansas Legislative Council for approval, notes Pam Smith of DTN/The Progressive Farmer: "Hutchinson has followed this issue closely and has sent a task force to visit farmers in areas with heavy dicamba damage." The main threat to crops is pigweed, or Palmer amaranth, which is increasingly resistant to Roundup, the most popular herbicide used with genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Bob Scott, a University of Arkansas weed specialist, "isn't sure whether dicamba ever will be a good tool for farmers, because it appears to be so difficult to control, Charles reports. "He also doesn't think the problem will be limited to Arkansas. His state just happened to hit this problem first, because Arkansas's farmers adopted dicamba earlier than those in other states."

Asian carp found 9 miles from Lake Michigan, 34 miles closer than ever before

Asian carp (Fish and Wildlife Service photo)
Federal officials report that a live silver carp has been discovered in the Calumet River, only nine miles away from Lake Michigan. That is 34 miles closer to the lake than silver carp have ever been found before, but U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials say they believe the carp was probably a loner.

An electric barrier was installed years ago in a canal connecting the lake to the headwaters of the Illinois River to keep the invasive species out of the Great Lakes, but the lone fish was found by a commercial fisher about two miles below the T.J. O'Brien Lock and Dam in Chicago.

Silver carp are one of four species of Asian carp infesting the Mississippi River system. The fish compete with native plankton-eating species, which hurts local fishing industries. A study from the American Fisheries Society says that Asian carp would "decimate native species like walleye" if allowed to get into Lake Erie and other Great Lakes.

In the wake of the discovery, crews will be sent out to search the area where the carp was found for two weeks with nets and electric stunners. Biologists will examine the specimen to determine its point of origin, its sex, and if female, whether it has spawned.

Some members of Congress in the Great Lakes region want more barriers to keep Asian carp out, but Illinois lawmakers contend that such barriers would disrupt shipping.

National Geographic makes anti-coal documentary available free online through next Monday

"From the Ashes," an anti-coal documentary by Michael Bonfiglio and financed by billionaire and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, debuted last night on the National Geographic Channel. Bloomberg and the National Geographic Documentary Films are making the 100-minute film available for free online through July 3.

"It’s a compelling piece of advocacy journalism, one that looks beyond the sloganeering on all sides of the debate," Sheri Linden writes in a review for the Los Angeles Times. "Crucially, Bonfiglio listens to some of the working people — outraged, mournful and resilient — whose lives have been affected by coal. They include West Virginia miners left high and dry by their bankrupt employers in what were essentially company towns and Dallas residents struggling with pollution-related asthma. He finds strange bedfellows: miners aligned with management against federal regulators, and the 'cowboys and Indians,' as one pleased Montana rancher puts it, who joined forces to defeat a proposal for what would have been the nation’s largest coal mine" in the Otter Creek Valley of the Powder River Basin.

The film opens from miners' point of view, but says the "war on coal was waged primarily by the natural-gas industry," which is providing cheaper fuel for electric generating plants. It notes the long history of mine disasters, mechanization and the dominance of the industry in Central Appalachia: "Coal companies made sure west Virginia never developed an alternative economic base." But now miners' interests are aligned with companies like never before, as the industry is the fight of its life, the film notes.

The primary thrust of the documentary is coal's effect on climate and health, including coal-ash disposal, which it describes as "a ticking time bomb." Like much advocacy journalism, it gives advocates a platform to make assertions that can be exaggerated or unproven. For example, Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club's "Beyond Coal" campaign, mentions "devastating health effects" from large-scale strip mining; studies have shown correlation, but not causation. Still, New York Times reviewer Jaworokowski writes that Bonfiglio "is dedicated to giving a clear-eyed look . . . no business executives are chased down and held to task here, and politicians are blamed but only a few are named." President Trump, who ran on a pro-coal platform, is one.

Hitt utters one of her best lines as she drives through mountaintop-removal areas in West Virginia: "These places are not just physically important to people, they're spiritually important to people, and once they're gone, they're gone forever."