Friday, February 24, 2023

Rail-borne hazardous materials moving through American communities are 'often invisible' until they leak or explode

East Palestine, Ohio (Photo by Gene J. Puskar, The Associated Press)
What do crude oil, ethanol, vinyl chloride or methane have in common? They are hazardous chemicals moving coast to coast on U.S. railroads. On the heels of the early-February train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, "Communities alongside rail lines had two more close calls this week as freight trains carrying hazardous materials derailed in Houston and Detroit," reports Saul Elbein of The Hill. "Where this week’s wrecks took place, the damage was less severe than symbolic: a reminder of the importance of rail-borne hazardous materials to every part of the economy just after the crash in Ohio."

The additional derailments amplify "the risk posed by hazardous materials moving through the nation’s towns and cities. . . . That is a risk that is often invisible until, suddenly, it explodes." Elbein writes. "Last year also saw a spill of 19,300 gallons of hydrochloric acid from a derailment in Oklahoma and 20,000 gallons of nervous system-distorting methyl methacrylate monomer. Since 2015, the U.S. rail system has been responsible for 106 derailments in which hazardous materials were released, according to Federal Railway Administration data analyzed by The Hill."

“Local communities don’t know what’s in these trains,” said Kristen Boyle, an attorney with public interest law firm Earthjustice, told Elbein. “Local communities can’t find out. They can’t stop the trains from going through, and they have been unable to get safety regulations. . . . And then they’re the ones left with, you know, the explosion."

The potential for problems is large. "Trains also carry far more cargo than trucks — making the risks of a spill far more severe. And the sheer volume of U.S. rail travel means that even a failure rate of 0.1 percent can lead to a lot of damage," Elbein reports. "For example, about 20,000 rail shipments of vinyl chloride — the highly explosive and carcinogenic chemical that Norfolk Southern contractors poured in a ditch and burned off in East Palestine — cross the country each year, according to the American Chemical Society. . . . That 99.5 percent success rate would still allow for 100 possible releases of a hazardous chemical — such as crude oil, ethanol, vinyl chloride or methane." 

Iowa editor sees a coalition to pass Farm Bill that has more for conservation and avoids cuts in nutrition programs

By Art Cullen
Storm Lake (Iowa) Times Pilot

A new five-year Farm Bill could be one of the rare accomplishments this year from an otherwise deadlocked Congress. Talks are just beginning as House Republicans and Senate Democrats organize their respective agriculture committees. They are starting amicably enough.

Art Cullen
It was not so last time around, when the bill was delayed a couple of years, mainly by House radicals trying to burn down the food-stamp program [officially the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP]. House Agriculture Committee Chair G.T. Thompson, R-Pa., and Ranking Member David Scott, D-Ga., both come from purple districts. Thompson is defending nutrition programs against Republican assaults, and last week brushed off suggestions of new restrictions on SNAP benefits. He did criticize a Biden administration expansion of benefits.

Thompson said his priority is to strengthen crop insurance, as half the corn growers in his state don’t buy in. He’s looking to sweeten that pot.

Senate Ag Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., puts conservation at the center of the discussion and, of course, defending nutrition program from cuts. Their common interests may result in one of the best farm bills in history for conservation and food security.

The main rap on Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is that he is too cozy with agribusiness. But he managed to assemble a “climate-smart ag” coalition that includes titans like Cargill, ADM and Tyson alongside the Farmers Union and Practical Farmers of Iowa. Vilsack doled out several billion last year in pilot projects designed to promote sustainable production and resiliency, with many of those corporate players leading projects.

Critics call it greenwashing. Call it what you will. You could call it smart politics. The ag supply chain understands that change is underfoot. Farmers get that the climate is changing — if you’re growing corn in Western Kansas, you should be highly interested in how you can convert to grassland grazing.

Vilsack bringing in the corporate players helps reminds House Republicans that conservation programs might play a role in sweetening crop insurance — for example, a generous spiff for planting cover crops that actually could get something seeded.

There will be money for carbon pipelines to protect the ethanol industry, for manure digesters that interest the livestock industry, and “smart fertilizer” programs to keep Koch Industries at bay.

In return, Thompson makes kind remarks about nutrition programs. Of course, there will be a lot of rhetoric about welfare queens feeding at the USDA trough. There also will be whispers to keep a rein on it if you want to keep the climate spigot open to the big boys.

This will be Stabenow’s legacy bill, as she intends to retire. She also wields tremendous influence in energy legislation that draws the interest of these same corporate players. Michigan’s interests are in many ways Pennsylvania’s.

Vilsack has claimed that the next Farm Bill could be “transformative” for rural America through conservation and renewable energy. Armed with $20 billion for climate and agriculture in the Inflation Reduction Act, Vilsack has been deferential to Congress in marching forward. So far, the administration has taken baby steps in addressing food security and sustainable agriculture in a rapidly changing environment. You would have to squint hard to see transformation.

There is unquestionably an openness to conservation agriculture that there was not before. Thompson and his colleagues insist on voluntary programs. Regulation is their red line, as it is with the corporate lobby. Vilsack has enough sugar cubes in his pocket to keep the horses from nipping. The Farm Bill is supposed to be finished by September. It may get held up a couple months, but not a couple years. It should be good for crop insurance and conservation, and food stamps [SNAP] will get protected.

The coalition has been assembled. It’s hard to fight the most powerful players in world food markets. It is better politics at the moment to dance with them. As Thompson said, “The Farm Bill is always bipartisan, always bipartisan. At the end of the day, final votes are fairly bipartisan, and my goal is to keep it that way from the very beginning.” Go along to get along.

Texans block Chinese billionaire's wind farm, citing security; 18 states mulling limits on foreign farmland ownership

Sun Guangxin (Photo by Zhang shi, Imaginechina)

Before curious rural Montanans reported a glowing orb high in the sky and the Chinese spy balloon was shot down, "Texas ranchers were worried about billionaire Sun Guangxin’s close connections with the Chinese state," reports Blake Schmidt of Bloomberg. "The former People’s Liberation Army captain . . . made a fortune by turning failing factories into lux real estate developments. . . . Critics have alleged that state connections are the backbone of Sun’s wealth, estimated at $2.8 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. And that’s precisely why ranchers in southern Texas are worried."

Their worries stem from the sheer size of Sun's landholdings and its location: "They are trying to stop Sun’s foray into the Lone Star State on national-security grounds after his firm amassed 140,000 acres of farmland worth about $100 million along the Mexican border," Schmidt writes. "When he tried to develop part of it as a wind farm, Texas lawmakers sounded alarms because of its proximity to the state’s electric grid and a U.S. Air Force base. ... Spurred by neighboring landowners who oppose the wind farm, state officials passed a law protecting state infrastructure from foreign entities, and are now considering an even more contentious proposal to ban Chinese companies and individuals from owning rural land entirely."

The Texas resistance was local, but it "snowballed into a national movement. The issue of restricting ownership of farmland by entities linked to China and other foreign powers has popped up in at least 18 states, according to the National Agricultural Law Center," Schmidt reports. "It’s another way in which geopolitical tensions are simmering between the world’s two largest economies."

Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that "foreign entities or individuals control less than 3% of the nation’s farmland, and, within that subset, those with ties to China control less than 1% or about 384,000 acres," Schmidt points out. Despite those details, "In Montana, the suspected spy balloon has breathed new life into a bill to restrict foreign ownership. A city council in North Dakota this month voted down plans for a Chinese company to build a corn mill near an Air Force base. . . . . Virginia’s Democrat-led state Senate approved a ban on land ownership by foreign governments after Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin rejected an effort by Ford Motor Co. to build a plant partnered with a Chinese battery maker."

Texas landowners first opposed the wind farm due to its scenic impact, but over time, they became more focused on national security. “We don’t care if you’re Elon Musk, Tom Hanks or a Chinese oligarch,” Randy Nunns, a board member of the landowner group Devils River Conservancy told Schmidt. “We don’t want the wind farm here.” Schmidt reports, "Nunns said that he didn’t expect his group’s not-in-my-backyard battle to go global, and that while the state’s proposal to ban Chinese ownership is 'too broad,' Sun’s investment activity was particularly concerning."

News-media roundup: Gannett back in black, closing more papers; how to ask audiences to help shape coverage

Gannett Co. made money in the last quarter of 2022 "after a series of cost-cutting measures," reports its flagship, USA Today. "The company reported a net income of $32.77 million in the quarter compared with a loss of $22.45 million a year earlier. The results benefited from a nearly 30% rise in digital-only circulation revenues and lower operating expenses. It was the company’s first quarterly profit since the third quarter of 2021. Gannett had 2.03 million digital-only paid subscriptions at the end of the quarter, up 24% year over year."

Gannett is closing six free-distribution weekly newspapers published by the Akron Beacon Journal. The final editions of the Twinsburg Bulletin, Aurora Advocate, Stow Sentry, (Cuyahoga) Falls News-Press, Tallmadge Express and the News-Leader in Nordonia Hills are schduled for March 22 or 26. The Hudson Hub-Times will continue print publication on Sundays.

A Nebraska judge has ruled that the state Department of Environment and Energy violated state law by requiring Flatwater Free Press to pay $44,000 for emails about nitrates, nutrients, fertilizer and nitrogen, which are sources of water pollution. The agency tried to charge FFP for the labor involved, but the state law says fees for records "shall not exceed the actual added cost of making the copies available," Courthouse News reports. FFP is published by the Nebraska Journalism Trust, which was created in 2021 to address the decline in local news across the state and is supported by the American Journalism Project.

Stephanie McCrummen, who has written many deeply reported stories on rural phenomena, is moving from The Washington Post to The Atlantic. Her latest on The Rural Blog was on a Georgia man who was an example of a narrow slice of voters who have abandoned and rebelled against Donald Trump. Other examples: A Muslim doctor in Minnesota, a newly stronger liberal's return to her hometown, the moxie of a marginalized Black Belt town, and other stories from Georgia.

Jon Allsop of Columbia Journalism Review looks at various types of threats to news-media freedom in the U.S., finds them "relatively common" and sees "concentric circles," starting with the arrests of two journalists covering a homeless encampment in Asheville, N.C., to the murder of a Las Vegas investigative reporter and "political meddling" with West Virginia Public Radio.

Many newsrooms invite audiences to help shape coverage, but Joy Mayer of Trusting News says they often use their own language, not the community’s language, "and make it seem like a lot of work to participate. She suggests that instead of asking for story ideas, ask questions like, “If you could be in charge of our reporting team for a day, what would you assign them to do?” Or, instead of seeking “feedback,” ask for specific insights, such as “What else do you want to know about this topic?”

If a study says it proves something, it doesn't. Unless it's about mathematics, in which case it's highly unlikely to be news anyway. Denise-Marie Ordway of Journalist's Resource at Harvard University has a new tip sheet on how to cover academic research.

Flora/fauna quickies: Watching hybrid hogs from Canada, snaring pythons in Florida, protecting pets from coyotes

A long-exposure image shows Phacelia flowers waving in the wind. (Photo by Justin Benttinen, National Geographic)
Super. Fantastical. Fabulously. Epic. California is about to bloom! The state has received abundant rains and Mother Nature is planning a luscious “sea of flowers” this spring. Here’s how to soak in this increasingly rare phenomenon. California is also having an epic 'supershroom' season. These mushrooms are breaking records.

Invasive and "highly intelligent," a hungry, hybrid breed of pigs, created by matings of wild boars and domesticated sows, has gone feral. They are making their way from Canada, where they were bred for cold-hardiness and released when the hog market fell, and have been found in North Dakota.

As we ease into spring, it might be time to think about honey bees. You know, those highly social insects with a work ethic that makes even the most industrious human look lazy. Want to know how to become a beekeeper? Try a Cooperative Extension Service website. Want to read a wryly humorous book on beekeeping? Pick this one up.

Pythons are an invasive predator in the Florida Keys that have proved difficult to catch; however, researchers devised a way. They began "strapping GPS collars to opossums and raccoons. When one was eaten by a python, researchers programmed the device to notify them from within the snake’s stomach," reports Kyle Melnick of The Washington Post. "After roughly six weeks of searching for the python that activated the alarm, research technicians located the 66-pound snake hiding underground. . . . In her stomach, researchers discovered the collar — confirmation their plan worked."

A nuisance-animal bill aims to make farmers "honest folks," or at least that's what Iowa Rep. Dean Fisher thinks. House File 118 would allow farmers to trap and kill wild animals — such as groundhogs, opossums, raccoons, and skunks — without first contacting the Iowa Department of Natural Resources if they are a “nuisance.” Of course, there's controversy, “Because there’s a culture of breaking the rules or the law, we change the law?” said Rep. Elinor Levin, D-Iowa City." Story by Iowa Capital Dispatch here.

"Goran the bull escaped from his barn one Easter Sunday," chaos ensued, and everybody came to watch. Read selections from The Fearless Little Farm Boy by Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Marit Törnqvist.

Coyotes are on the move. (Photo by Carolyn Cole, Los Angeles Times)
If you have pets, perk your ears up and prepare to protect them from coyotes. "Wildlife officials warn people to protect their pets during coyote mating season, which lasts from January to March. During that period, the males are particularly bold and aggressive," Sandy Banks of the Los Angeles Times reports, The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources warns, "Coyotes roam more to search for suitable partners and to establish territory, and as such, they find themselves in rural and urban areas."

Falco the Owl update: he will remain free and under observation. Falco is the Eurasian eagle owl that escaped from the Central Park Zoo in New York City after his enclosure was vandalized. Zookeepers tried to capture him "but Flaco eschewed the bait, and instead adeptly navigated the park and supped on the park’s many rats," reports Dina Fine Maron of National Geographic.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

'We've run the table this week,' rural editor-publisher writes after documentary premiere and tentative decision to close

The Canadian Record's front page this week; click to enlarge.
Has a newspaper ever been the subejct of a freshly premiered documentary and announced its plan to suspend publication, all in the same edition? Surely not, but that is the remarkable case of The Canadian Record in the Texas Panhandle, one of the best weeklies we know.

"We'll just call it what it is. This is the Navel-Gazing edition of The Canadian Record," Editor-Publisher Laurie Ezzell Brown says in her "Field Notes" column. "I’m not proud of that, but we have made the news, and we are determined to give The Record and its staff the same treatment we would any other newsmakers—good, bad and otherwise. Frankly, we’ve run the table this week."

The other news about the Record was a long-touted lawsuit filed against it and other local news media by the family of a high-school student who disappeared in 2016 and whose body was found three years later. Events in the case "have been accurately, fairly and thoroughly covered in these pages for over six years now," Ezzell Brown writes. "News of the lawsuit followed our difficult decision at midweek to walk away from the sale" of the paper, which has been in her family since 1947.

"That decision was preceded by a series of delayed contract signings and requests by the buyer for key changes to the contract, which we ultimately rejected. The outcome was both unexpected and quite frankly, a relief. The sale was not meant to be. However, it has left us in the difficult position of deciding what this newspaper’s ultimate fate will be. After three decades and counting under our ownership, we are 30 years older, 30 years wiser, and 30 years more tired. We cannot continue to work at the pace we have, or to shelve our personal lives to meet the demands of this community newspaper that we love. . . . At the risk of appearing to concede defeat, which we do not, my staff and I have agreed to suspend publication of The Record following our Thursday, March 9, edition. This will allow us time to notify our readers and subscribers and advertisers, to continue to seek a new owner for this newspaper, and to fight a toxic lawsuit meant to impugn the reputation of this newspaper and its publisher. We have arrived at this decision with great difficulty, having tried for at least the last two years to find someone who will take over this job. There is no way to adequately express our sadness in closing these doors. We can only assure you that we have chased every lead, walked down every dead end, and knocked on every door in an attempt to find an alternative to quitting."

In the documentary by Heather Courtney, "For the Record," filmed over the last five years, Ezzell Brown talks about those efforts – "Newspapers with small circulations in rural communities aren’t exactly the hot ticket;" Canadian has 2,649 people, Hemphill County 3,382 – the tribulations that preceded them, and possible outcomes: “No one else is gonna tell the stories that we’re tellin’, nobody . . . What happens if nobody’s doing this?”

The 37-minute film premiered at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in Missoula, Montana, Saturday. In the story about the premiere, Ezzell Brown says,  “For The Record feels like a very personal story about our lives and work here in Canadian, and that of my parents, Ben and Nancy Ezzell, who established such a strong legacy with this newspaper before us. It also conveys a more universal message, though, and one I hope many will hear and heed: that community newspapers like this one play an essential role in protecting and celebrating democracy from the ground up, in small rural towns that otherwise might have no voice, no visibility, and certainly no one holding public officials accountable for their decisions. Without strong community newspapers, we are risking the health and vitality of the rural communities they have nurtured and protected for so many decades.”

Deaths in rural jails: Stories from Ala. and W.Va. highlight broken systems that seem not to protect the incarcerated

Photo by Walker County Sheriff's Office, Alabama
"Your son died in jail." Alongside the pain of taking that in, the human response is, "How? Why?" Nationwide, an unknown number of people die in jail. Relatives of those who have died in West Virginia jails "have similar stories of languishing in heartache and confusion while desperately seeking answers to what happened to their loved ones behind bars," reports Dan Lawton of Mountain State Spotlight. "Of the 52 people who died in West Virginia’s jails and prisons last year, the state hasn’t finished the investigations into 17 of them, going back as far as March."

Lawton introduces Kimberly Osborne, whose son, Ryan Scott Smith, died in his cell at Southwestern Regional Jail in December. "Over that time, she has pleaded with correctional officials, the Medical Examiner’s Office and the State Police for any scraps of information that shed light on his final moments. . . . They haven’t told her anything, except that the case is under investigation. . . . She doesn’t know when — or if — she’ll get a complete account of what happened in the hours before the jail’s warden called to tell her that her son was dead. Osbourne told Lawton, “I’m just trying to get justice for Ryan."

Like Osbourne, "The families of those who have died in jails have been met with similar responses. They make fruitless calls to agency after agency. They wait in limbo for investigations that never end, are denied records that might provide clarity and receive little to no sympathy from public officials, including Gov. Jim Justice, about their losses," Lawton reports. "While there is pending legislation intended to make what happens in the state’s jails more transparent, it may not be forceful enough to provide many families with the information they need."

In Alabama, the story of Anthony Mitchell echoes jailhouse cruelty and a code of silence, reports Sarah White-Koditschek of "Mitchell, 33, alarmed his cousin Steve Mitchell when he showed up at his house, acting psychotic, and insisting he must enter a 'portal to hell' in his mother’s attic to retrieve the body of his long-ago stillborn brother. After a 911 call, Mitchell was picked up by sheriffs’ deputies . . . . The Sheriff’s Office spokesperson, according to the suit, told the family they’d get him medical help in Walker County Jail. Instead, guards tased Mitchell and locked him in a freezer, killing him, the suit alleges. The suit filed Monday also contends jail leadership began a cover up of Mitchell’s death hours before he died. . . 'This case,' the suit says, 'therefore presents an appalling question: how does a man literally freeze to death while incarcerated in a modern climate-controlled jail, in the custody and care of corrections officers?'”

It did not end there, "A former deputy also filed a separate, but related lawsuit. Former Corrections Officer Karen Kelly sued the Walker County Sheriff’s Office and multiple officers for being fired and for retaliation after she shared videos with Mitchell’s family of him being abused in the jail."

"Security footage from 4 a.m. that morning showed Mitchell lying naked on a pile of trash on the cement floor of his cell as officers laughed at him, according to the suit," Whites-Koditschek reports. "Video also showed jail nurse, Alicia Herron, enter the cell and spend a couple of minutes inside, appearing to give no medical treatment, according to the suit."

Whites-Koditschek adds, "Jon Goldfarb, attorney for Mitchell’s estate said the videos show correctional officers laughing as Mitchell lay naked and dying. Goldfarb told Whites-Koditschek, “This is the worst case of inmate abuse I have ever seen . . . . People who have seen these videos think they are watching something in Russia or Abu Ghraib . . . . but this happened in our own backyard in Walker County, Alabama."

Rural schools in forest areas plead for renewal of special federal funding; program helps 742 counties in 41 states

Rep. Jared Huffman, left, meets with rural California superintendents
in his Capitol Hill office. (Photo by Kent Nishimura, Los Angeles Times)
For rural schools, a little can go a long way, and those in national-forest areas again fear a loss of special federal funding. "Anmarie Swanstrom a school superintendent from impoverished Hayfork, Calif. along with three other rural Northern California superintendents went to Washington this month to look their legislators in the eye and tell them just how desperate they are," reports Hailey Branson-Potts of the Los Angeles Times. "In Hayfork, pop. 2,300, where timber crashed and legal marijuana is now doing the same — students have little access to medical care. Mental health support comes through the schools, which are also evacuation centers when the mountains burn." Swanstrom told Branson-Pitts, “We serve as the heart of the town, and if the schools go, the town will go completely."

Historically, "schools like Swanstrom’s, surrounded by national forest land that cannot be taxed, have depended upon modest payments through the U.S. Forest Service to stay afloat. . . .That money has come primarily from logging," Branson-Pitts notes. "Counties with national forests — mostly in the rural West — received 25% of what the federal government made from timber sales off that land. . . . But by the early 1990s, the once-thriving logging industry cratered. So did the school funding. In 2000, Congress enacted the Secure Rural Schools & Community Self-Determination Act. Congress never made the program permanent, instead reauthorizing versions of it by tacking it onto other bills — nine times." Those have used "increasingly bizarre funding sources," saidBill Imbergamo, executive director of the Federal Forest Resource Coalition, a timber trade group that supports increased logging on federal land. 

The funds needed are "what lawmakers call 'budget dust' in a federal budget that is trillions of dollars," Branson-Pitts writes. "Last year, the Secure Rural Schools program gave $238 million to 742 counties in 41 states and Puerto Rico. The latest version of the rural schools program is set to expire in October. . . . Calls for permanent funding abound. From Republicans and Democrats. From environmentalists and the timber industry. A solution inevitably falls victim to partisan bickering. Liberals don’t want to cut down trees. Conservatives want to slash spending."

Atfter meeting privately with the superintendents, Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., said the program has "become a political football . . . kind of been used as a prop for folks with a different agenda, folks who want to roll back environmental protections, who want to do mandatory logging quotas in national forests. . . . I’d like to see the federal government just embrace this as an ongoing financial responsibility."

Ohio derailment and chemical burn 'upended' farm and rural life and businesses, and left big questions about future

Pam Mibuck is thinking about leaving her 14 acres.
(Photo by Brian Kaiser, The New York Times)
What is it like to return your home, your farm, your animals, wildlife and the creek, all perhaps chemically altered by a controlled burn of toxic liquids? The Norfolk Southern train derailment East Palestine, Ohio, "upended an area where generations of families could afford to buy acres of land, raise horses and plant gardens, hunt deer and birds, and build lives undisturbed by the chaos of bigger cities nearby," writes Emily Cochrane of The New York Times. "Although farming provides only a small number of jobs in the immediate area, many residents say that raising livestock and working the land are profoundly important to their way of life."

Farmer Pam Mibuck's land was blanketed by post-burn chemical film. "After the chemicals were released, Tina, the amiable white turkey that Milbuck bought less than a year ago for $3, was put on antibiotics for respiratory problems, and her chickens laid eggs with an unsettling purple hue," Cochrane writes. "Her son in California is urging her to move away, offering to build a barn on his land for her two horses, Samuel and Razor. Mibuck, who works as a custodian at a university, is seriously thinking about leaving the 14 acres that she considers a slice of heaven."

Despite state and federal assessments and testing, "Farmers determined to weather the unknown remain fearful about whether their customers will continue to trust their product," Cochrane reports. Greenhouse operators Dianna and Don Elzer "had predicted that this would be their first normal Valentine’s Day. Even when they were required to evacuate for a few days, driving to Pittsburgh, they came back daily to water and care for their plants — the palms, the herbs, the succulents — and returned as soon as they could. On Feb. 14, they had one customer: a man who bought a single red hibiscus tree. Mr. Elzer, 67, told Cochrane, “No one wants to come here. There’s no way to counterattack the publicity and perception.”

The explosion has permanently altered futures. "Michael McKim had a business dream he shared with his wife: an affordable destination winery in East Palestine. . . . The winery’s grand opening is still set for St. Patrick’s Day. . . .Yet the family business has been rattled by the derailment: Most of the bridal showers, wedding receptions and events scheduled for this year have canceled. Mr. McKim told Cochran, "It’s a tragedy. I could make the best wine in the United States, in the world, and someone could say, ‘Hey, isn’t that where the train derailed?’"

Last night on CNN, in a conversation with a few East Palestine residents, Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw pledged "apologized and vowed to make it right through proper cleanup and reimbursing residents," as well as helping rebuild the town's reputation.

A conservative county in Michigan gives a glimpse of what it's like when ardent social conservatives try to govern

UPDATE, March 1: Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has admonished the county board for its "lack of transparency and good governance," The Bulletin of the Michigan Press Association reports. Nessel said the state open-meetings law should be changed to require public bodies to set an agenda 48 hours before the meeting and allow them to modify it only in "exigent circumstances," and include in the definition of "public official" someone who has been elected but not sworn in.

Board meetings have drawn crowds and hours of
public comment. (Photo by David Siders, Politico)
When ardent conservatives took control of a county government in Western Michigan, its meetings were more heavily attended, but the focus strayed from management to ideologies, reports David Siders of Politico: "Ottawa County governing board’s most recent meeting addressed a roof repair and resurfacing contract . . . . but over the course of a meeting that ran over four hours, public speaker after speaker in three-minute increments were debating something else entirely, something far more spiritual — to what extent their government should, or should not, pursue Judeo-Christian values. . . . Lots of people spoke in favor. They warned of the 'tyranny' of mask mandates, the 'sexualization of our children.'"

Since January, the meetings have a new focus, "after an upstart band of far-right Republicans unseated seven more traditionalist Republican incumbents, seizing a majority on the 11-member board," Siders writes. "The hardliners, members of a group called 'Ottawa Impact,' had signed a 'Contract with Ottawa' promising to 'respect the values and faith of the people of Ottawa County.'. . . They’d pledged to 'recognize our nation’s Judeo-Christian heritage.' . . . Roger Bergman, the sole incumbent Republican commissioner the group failed to oust, had attended one of those forums last year, and as he sat in the audience, he grew concerned. But even Bergman, who at 76 has decades in local politics, wasn’t sure what it would all mean when it came time for a new, far-right majority to actually govern."

Given the chance to govern, the new board made sweeping changes."They fired the county administrator and replaced him with John Gibbs, a former Trump administration official, Christian missionary, failed congressional candidate and election denier. They closed the county’s office of diversity, equity and inclusion. They picked for their new public health officer — pending state approval — a safety manager at an HVAC service company. . . And they rewrote the county motto from 'Where You Belong,' to 'Where Freedom Rings.'"

“Oh, my God,” Bergman said to Siders after a commission meeting where a young man in a hoodie, Caden Hembrough, thanked the board majority for standing against 'forces of darkness.' Bergman told Siders, “It’s becoming more and more evident that these people are Christian nationalists. . . .They have chosen to weaponize Christianity."

Ottawa County, Michigan (Wikipedia map)

County government "may not strike you as the likeliest place for a spiritual crusade. It wasn’t in Ottawa County, either, before Covid," Siders writes. "But public health mandates related to the pandemic infuriated a group of parents who complained — and litigated, unsuccessfully — about 'government overreach' in schools. . . . Sylvia Rhodea, a co-founder of Ottawa Impact and, now, vice chair of the county commission, described the election as one that “will decide whether we are going to save America, and that starts local.” America, she said, is a place of opportunity 'built on the Constitution, Christianity and capitalism.' The office of diversity, equity and inclusion, she said, was promoting 'woke ideology.'”

Not everyone agrees with the changes. "The fallout has seemingly come from everywhere. In an email to the board, the county’s outgoing attorney warned that firings of multiple senior county officials would jeopardize the county’s bond rating, saying, 'stable counties don’t fire their corporation counsel and administrator,' Siders reports. "In The Holland Sentinel, it’s been headline after headline, like 'Ottawa County’s prospective health officer has no experience. Here’s why that could be a problem.'. . . then there are the hourslong public comment sessions at the board’s regular meetings. There are supporters, and there are critics — people who call the board members 'fascist,' or 'troglodytic.''

Field Reichardt, a longtime observer of politics in the county, told Siders what he thought was going on: “This is a microcosm of what is happening nationally, the changes that are threatening American democracy. This Christian nationalist movement truly frightens me. . . . They think they are doing God’s work, and they truly believe it. They are beyond right-wing. They are Proud Boys-ian. Clearly, that’s what they are, when they refer to diversity, equity and inclusion as being ‘divisive.’”

Moonshine goes legal, but daughter of famous moonshiner says illegal form of the beverage still exists in Appalachia

Moonshine sample at Ole Smoky Distillery in Pigeon Forge,
Tennessee (Photo by Keith Roysdon, The Daily Yonder)
First-aid kit? Grab some moonshine; it's better than hydrogen peroxide anyway. Home-brewed alcohol, known for its powerful kick, "has always been the stuff of Appalachian legends. For some, it was a way of life," reports Keith Roysdon of The Daily Yonder. "And it’s now a big business. Stills have been brought down from the hills, figuratively speaking, and set up along the Parkway in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, Tennessee," neat the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, once the private land of moonshiners. "But not all the stills are out of the hills. Is moonshine – the unregulated, untaxed 'shine – still made by liquor renegades in hollers throughout the land?"

"Of course it is!" said Sky Sutton, daughter of the late Marvin 'Popcorn' Sutton, who was probably the best-known moonshiner in the region.

"The history of the product of corn distilled into powerful liquor is long and colorful and goes back beyond society’s image of a hillbilly tending a copper still in a thick stand of trees," Raysdon writes. "The Encyclopedia of Appalachia book notes that in the 1700s, immigrants from the British Isles and Northern Ireland imported their knowledge of distilling using copper pots and condensing coils, 'introducing a craft and eventually illegal enterprise that became a central element of the region’s identity.' The Encyclopedia notes that the production of moonshine boomed during the Prohibition years, 1920 to 1933."

The trickle of moonshine into mainstream liquor began when Tennessee "was making changes to its liquor laws, particularly in relation to the production, sales, and service of liquor and what’s branded as moonshine.  . . . With manufacturing overseen by the state, the federal government overseeing taxes and local municipalities deciding through referendums if they want to be dry or wet," Roysdon reports. "In the wake of changes in liquor laws, Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery entered the scene. In 2010, the distillery became the first federally licensed distillery in East Tennessee. The company’s original distillery opened in 2010 in Gatlinburg and the Pigeon Forge location opened in 2014."

Sky Sutton told Roysdon, “I think that over-the-counter moonshine and mountain-made likker are two different beasts. The over-the-counter kind now has its place on the shelves of liquor stores. The mountain-made kind is still elusive, mysterious, and much stronger. . . . I think the government and the black market – booze, betting, etc. – are both as old as dirt and will both stay around for a long time."

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Slaughterhouse-cleaning firm paid $1.5 million in fines after feds found minors using chemicals to clean equipment

Department of Labor map
In the fall of 2022, the Labor Department got an injunction from a federal judge in Nebraska requiring Packer Sanitation Services Inc. to stop 'employing oppressive child labor' and to comply with the department's investigation of the firm.

The department has now ended its inquiry saying it found "102 children as young as 13 working hazardous overnight jobs cleaning slaughterhouses in eight states in what it called a 'corporate-wide failure” by one of the largest food sanitation companies in the country," report Laura Strickler and Julia Ainsley of NBC News. "The Labor Department says the children who were working overnight shifts used 'caustic chemicals to clean razor-sharp saws."

Michael Lazzeri, regional administrator for the division in Chicago, told NBC, “Our investigation found Packers Sanitation Services’ systems flagged some young workers as minors, but the company ignored the flags. When the Wage and Hour Division arrived with warrants, the adults — who had recruited, hired and supervised these children — tried to derail our efforts to investigate their employment practices.”     

PSSI has paid a $1.5 million fine for the violations, "dictated by the Fair Labor Standards Act, which allows a penalty of $15,138 for each minor who was employed in violation of the law, according to the Labor Department," NBC explains. "Advocates and lawyers for the children say some of the child workers for PSSI were unaccompanied minors who recently came across the southern border. . . . The company signed a consent decree in December with the Labor Department and agreed to abide by child labor laws after federal investigators documented 50 children working at slaughterhouses for it."

The company issued a statement: "We are pleased to have finalized this settlement figure as part of our previously announced December resolution with the DOL that ends their inquiry. We have been crystal clear from the start: Our company has a zero-tolerance policy against employing anyone under the age of 18 and fully shares the DOL’s objective of ensuring full compliance at all locations."

The company is based in Kieler, Wiscomsin, and contracts with at least 700 facilities and employee over 17,000 people nationwide, its website says.

The East Palestine train: How did it travel through towns without a warning label that it was highly hazardous?

How could a train with at least 20 cars of potentially explosive material not have a warning label? "In a press conference following the catastrophic derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, Gov. Mike DeWine expressed difficulty grasping one particular aspect of federal rail regulations," reports Reid Frazier of The Allegheny Front. DeWine said, “This train … was not considered high-hazardous material train. Frankly, if this is true – and I’m told it’s true – this is absurd, and we need to look at this.”

The reason for the accident is being looked at first. "The National Transportation Safety Board – the federal agency investigating the crash – says it is looking at a damaged wheel bearing on one of the cars in the Norfolk Southern train as a possible cause for the Feb. 3 crash," Frazier writes. "The derailment, which released toxic chemicals into the streams and air around East Palestine, [has left] many wondering how the country’s regulations around rail traffic could have allowed a train with 20 cars of hazardous material not to be considered a 'high hazard.' And could stronger regulations have prevented it from happening? . . .  All four U.S. senators from Ohio and Pennsylvania say they’ll push for new rules to prevent a similar disaster in the future."

"The rules federal regulators wrote a few years ago regarding hazardous train cargo will likely need to be revisited, experts say. These rules were written during a period of high-profile rail accidents involving crude oil trains, including the Lac-Mégantic, Quebec disaster in 2013 that killed 47," Frazier reports. "The final rules, published in 2015, mandated tighter regulations for 'high-hazard flammable trains.' But the government defined these as trains carrying crude oil and other liquid fuels. Flammable gases like vinyl chloride were excluded from the regulations, against the recommendations of the National Transportation Safety Board. . . . Regulators allowed exemptions in the rules that the Norfolk Southern train was operating under when it derailed," Frazier writes. A 2015 regulation defines high-hazard train as one "comprised of 20 or more loaded tank cars of a Class 3 flammable liquid in a continuous block or 35 or more loaded tank cars of a Class 3 flammable liquid across the entire train."

Frazier reports, "The NTSB also recommended these trains have electronically controlled pneumatic braking systems, which studies have shown are better than the kinds of air brakes that were on the Norfolk Southern train. The rules originally mandated that these trains have electronic brakes. But after lobbying by the rail industry, the Trump administration rescinded those rules. So far, the Biden administration has not yet signaled an appetite to revisit them."

Rural homelessness increased over the past two years; addressing the causes takes regional understanding

An emergency tent shelter in Arcata, a town in Northern California, helped unsheltered people get medical and other services early in the pandemic. (Photo from Arcata House Partnership via The Daily Yonder)

Inflation, transportation and affordable housing are troublesome for many Americans right now, and these stresses have a deeper impact on rural residents. "The number of people overall experiencing homelessness in the U.S. rose by less than 1% from 2020 to 2022," reports Kristi Eaton of The Daily Yonder. "But those in rural continuums of care, local planning bodies responsible for coordinating the full range of homelessness services in a geographic area, which may cover a city, county, metropolitan area, or an entire state, saw an increase of nearly 6%, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. . . . Causes of the increase include housing stock shortage, lower wages, and lack of public transit."

Reasons for rural homelessness are regional. “Every community is different. The housing markets are different, the access to health care and behavioral-health services are different. Wages as compared to housing are different," Jeff Olivet, executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, told Eaton. "So it’s likely that if you go to one rural part of the country, there might be one story to tell about the loss of economic opportunity and jobs to pay a livable wage. In another area, maybe there’s a dramatic increase in the cost of housing."

Because rural homelessness is multifaceted, it requires different safety nets. Eaton writes, "Steve Berg, chief policy officer at the National Alliance to End Homelessness, said rural homelessness is distinct from homelessness in other regions, and it’s imperative to have systems in place to respond to those unique needs." Berg told Eaton, "For example, outreach providers often have to canvas much larger geographic territories, and people will sometimes live in more remote areas where it is more difficult to identify and serve them . . . . It’s also important to know that wages tend to be lower in rural areas and the total inventory of housing also tends to be limited. Even in a region with lower rental prices, this creates enormous strain on people’s abilities to stay in their homes.”

Eaton reports, "Olivet also said transportation barriers can also be a factor in rural areas. He said he’s worked in areas like western Massachusetts or rural Pennsylvania, places that people don’t always think of when they think of vast rural areas like Appalachia or in the West." Olivet told Eaton, "But even in those kind of smaller geographies in the northeast, a transportation barrier of 10 miles, 20 miles to get from a place that’s affordable to live to a job that pays a living wage, if you don’t have a vehicle, there’s just not the public transportation infrastructure, or any way to get there. And so even a 10 or 20 mile distance can be a huge barrier. That could mean the difference between a job and no job for somebody.”

Oil and gas industry has failed to keep pledges to limit methane emissions; 'There's no excuse,' world agency says

Screen grab from thermographic video shows what appears to be
methane leaking from stacks. (James Turitto, Clean Air Task Force handout)
"In 2022, the global energy industry released into the atmosphere some 135 million tons of methane," report Gloria Dickie and Kate Abnett of Reuters. But "The fossil-fuel industry is failing to tackle methane emissions despite its pledges to fix leaking infrastructure, according to a report by the International Energy Agency. 'There is just no excuse,' IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol said, adding that 'emissions are still far too high and not falling fast enough, especially as methane cuts are among the cheapest options to limit near-term global warming.'" Methane has much more greenhouse-gas effect than carbon dioxide, but dissipates in the atmosphere much more quickly.

Methane is the main component of natural gas, so if captured it can be sold as fuel. "The IEA said methane emissions from oil and gas alone could be reduced by three-quarters with existing technologies and modest investment of less than 3% of the $4 trillion windfall income gained by oil and gas companies worldwide last year," Reuters reports. "The economic incentives to make those reductions were huge last year," IEA's Chief Energy Economist Tim Gould told Reuters. "We had record natural-gas prices in many markets around the world. There was an extremely strong economic incentive to bring methane to market."

Over 100 companies "have pledged to cut global methane emissions by at least 30% from 2020 levels by the end of this decade . . . although major emitters, including China and Russia, have not," Reuters notes. "Dozens of oil companies have also voluntarily committed to reduce emissions." Georges Tijbosch, CEO of MIQ, which offers a methane-emissions certification standard, told Reuters, "There are a lot of pledges around, but what you need is a forcing mechanism."

"National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration physical scientist Lori Bruhwiler said rapid cuts to methane emissions are important, but deep carbon dioxide emission reductions must accompany them if the world is to avoid global warming exceeding 1.5 Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) and unleashing more severe impacts," Reuters reports. Should the industry fails to address methane release, Bruhwiler added, "Will this make it tougher for us to meet 1.5? Absolutely."

SNAP benefits will end in 32 states; food pantries aim to fill the gap; it may not be possible to meet the demand

Photo by Erin Schaff, The New York Times
Across 32 states, emergency Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits will end in March. The drop in assistance has local food pantries gearing up to feed more families and hoping they will have enough. "Food bank managers fear that demand will spike further in March, when officials roll back pandemic-era increases to SNAP benefits," reports Jazmin Orozco Rodriguez of Kaiser Health News. "The program, administered by the Department of Agriculture, provides monthly stipends to people with low incomes to spend on food. Before 2020, those payments averaged a little more than $200 and were hiked by a minimum of $95 during the pandemic."

"Friends in Service Helping food pantry is known in rural northeastern Nevada as FISH," writes Rodriguez. "The food pantry is one of a few in this city of about 20,000 people. In January, FISH provided food boxes to nearly 790 people. . . Officials estimate FISH families will see a 30% to 40% decrease in SNAP payments as emergency allotments tied to the public health emergency halt in 32 states, including Nevada." Georgia, Indiana, Montana, Kentucky, and South Dakota, have already ended the emergency allotments.

Andrew Cheyne, managing director of public policy for GRACE, a nonprofit run by the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, focused on reducing childhood hunger, told Rodriguez, "We have so many households who simply aren’t going to know that this is happening. They’re going to go to the grocery store and expect to have money in their account and not be able to buy the food they need to feed their families. . . .There’s just no comparing the scale of SNAP to the charitable food sector. It’s simply not possible to make up that difference.”

Rodriquez reports, "In Montana, the expanded SNAP benefits were cut in summer 2021. Brent Weisgram, vice president and chief operating officer of the Montana Food Bank Network, said that reporting from the network’s partners shows a 24% increase in the number of households seeking assistance from emergency food pantries from July 2021 to July 2022. Weisgram said food pantries are not prepared to absorb the impact of the cut to the largest federal nutrition assistance program and are strictly a supplemental resource."

Tammy King, a volunteer at FISH, told Rodriquez, “I feel that everybody who has the power to help is doing everything they can to help us. You just gotta look at your food and say, ‘OK, how long can I make this last and make a difference in someone’s life?’”

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

'Staggering increase' in opioid-fentanyl deaths, study finds

Graph from University of Illinois research paper; for a larger version, click on it.

The recent surge in deaths from opioid overdoses has been accompanied by a related increase in deaths caused by methamphetamine. "The U.S. methamphetamine mortality rate increased 50-fold between 1999 and 2021, with most of the added deaths also involving heroin or fentanyl, researchers report in the American Journal of Public Health," reports the University of Illinois, where the research was conducted. 

“We looked at trends from 1999 to 2021 and we saw this staggering increase in methamphetamine mortality accompanied by a proportional increase in those deaths that also involved heroin or fentanyl,” said Rachel Hoopsick, the UI professor who led the research.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 608 deaths were attributed to methamphetamine use in 1999; "that number increased to 52,397 in 2021," the UI news release says. "Hoopsick and R. Andrew Yockey at the University of Texas found that 61.2% of the methamphetamine overdose deaths in 2021 co-involved heroin or fentanyl."  Much of the increase in meth-related deaths occurred from 2010 to 2021 and shows no sign of abating, Hoopsick said.

"We knew from behavioral studies that the use of stimulants, in general, as well as the use of stimulants with opioids has been increasing over the past decade or two," Hoopsick said. "But we didn’t know how deadly it was becoming. I think what is different now versus 10 years ago is we have a much more toxic unregulated drug supply here in the U.S. . . . Methamphetamine by itself can be deadly, but its toxicity does not appear to have increased in recent years. The potency of illicitly manufactured fentanyl, however, has skyrocketed."

Hoopsick added, “I was really surprised to hear from the folks at the syringe service program that just as many of them were injecting methamphetamine as they were opioids, and many of them were co-using both types of substances. That got me thinking that the increase in methamphetamine mortality might be driven by the co-use of meth with illicitly manufactured fentanyl, in particular, which we’ve seen in the opioid overdose crisis is driving a lot of the deaths in the United States.”

Push for renewable energy gets rural resistance, which is sometimes driven by misinformation from outside activists

UPDATE, March 2: Peter Sinclair of Yale Climate Connections reports on protests and rejections of renewable-energy projects: "Some of these protests appear to have ties to fossil fuel interests. A major player in the renewable energy opposition in rural Michigan is Kevon Martis, who works for E&E Legal, a D.C.-based lobbying firm that gets funding from the fossil fuel industry."

A project site in Virginia (Photo by Ryan Kellman, NPR)
Ten years ago, the price of developing renewable energy was restrictive. Now that technology has caught up, another formidable form of resistance has moved in: people. "Across the country, a big backlash to new renewables is mounting," reports Robert Zullo of Successful Farming. "In Crawford County, Ohio, Apex Clean Energy had been signing leases with locals for a proposed 300-megawatt wind farm. . . .It was the most contentious thing [County Commissioner] Doug Weisenauer had ever seen.”

“The anti-wind people started converging on our weekly commissioners’ meetings and demanding that we do something,” said Weisenauer, who was in the minority when the commission voted 2-1 last year for a 10-year ban on wind projects. “I said all along I am not telling people what they can and can’t do on their property,” he told Zillo. “It got ugly. Our families have been split, friendships broken. It was bad for our community.”

"Crawford County, of course, is far from an isolated case,” Zullo writes. “Across the country — from suburban Virginia, rural Michigan, southern Tennessee, and the sugar-cane fields of Louisiana to the coasts of Maine and New Jersey and the deserts of Nevada — new renewable energy development has drawn heated opposition that has birthed, in many cases, bans, moratoriums, and other restrictions. . . . With states, corporations, utilities, and the federal government setting aggressive renewable energy goals, as well as big tax incentives . . . Wind and solar developers have been pushing projects that are igniting fierce battles over property rights, loss of farmland, climate change, aesthetics, the merits of renewable power, and a host of other concerns."

It isn't just about being told what you can or cannot do on your own land. Zullo reports, "Debates are often happening in a miasma of misinformation and skewed by political polarization. However, some who have seen the backlash to renewable development up close and personal also say developers need to do a better job of being upfront with communities and convincing them of the benefits of their projects."
Page County, Virginia (Wikipedia map)
In Virginia, a misinformation campaign quashed a solar projects in Page County. "Roger Houser's ranching business was getting squeezed. But Houser found another use for his 500 acres. . . . An energy company offered to lease Houser's property to build a solar plant that could power about 25,000 homes," reports Miranda Green of National Public Radio. "It was a good offer, Houser says. . . . But soon after he got the offer, organized opposition began a four-year battle against solar development in the county. A group of locals eventually joined forces with a nonprofit called Citizens for Responsible Solar to stop the project on Houser's land and pass restrictions effectively banning big solar plants from being built in the area."

CRS founder Susan Ralston "told NPR that Citizens for Responsible Solar is a grassroots organization that helps other activists on a volunteer basis," Green reports. "But her group's rhetoric points to a broader agenda of undermining public support for solar. Analysts who follow the industry say Citizens for Responsible Solar stokes opposition to solar projects by spreading misinformation online about health and environmental risks. The group's website says solar requires too much land for 'unreliable energy,' ignoring data showing power grids can run dependably on lots of renewables. And it claims large solar projects in rural areas wreck the land and contribute to climate change, despite evidence to the contrary."

Many rural states face high suicide rates; Montana governor bucks his party to expand student mental-health screening

Montana Department of Health and Human Services map highlights states with 10 highest suicide rates. (CDC data)

Preventing child and young-adult suicide is a national, uphill battle; in rural states such as Montana, the climb is particularly arduous, reports Keely Larson of Kaiser Health News. "According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2020, 581 children ages 10 to 14 completed suicide in the U.S.  Suicide rates for those between the ages of 5-14 increased 60% between 1981 and 2010." In Montana in 2011-20 the youth suicide (ages 11-17) rate was 11.9/100,000, "more than double the national rate for the same age group (4.98).," Larson writes. "In 2020, 62% of the youth suicides were by firearms."

Montana has the country's third highest suicide rate, and advocates are working for change. Larson writes, "Beth Nyman works with the Rural Behavioral Health Institute, a Montana-based organization that aims to reduce youth suicides by improving mental health care in rural places. She recently testified for a bill that has been twice rejected this legislative session by the Montana House to use state money to fund free mental health screenings in schools, like those that Rural Behavioral Health Institute provides."

Youth are particularly vulnerable, "One in 5 students will develop a significant mental health problem during their school years, and roughly 7 in 10 students who need mental health treatment will not get appropriate care, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration," Larson reports. "Screening for behavioral and mental health issues has become more prevalent in schools and can help identify students at risk or in need of intervention, according to SAMHSA."

Suicide continues to be more frequent in Western states where isolation, vitamin D deficiency and firearms all play a part. Rural dwellers face mental health stigmas and a lack of providers. Funding for programs can stall help. Recently, Montana's legislature rejected additional funding sponsored by a Democrat, but "Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte announced a $2.1 million grant to the Rural Behavioral Health Institute to essentially fund free optional mental health and substance abuse screenings for all schools statewide and same-day care for students flagged as being at high risk for suicide," Larson writes. "Republican Rep. Bob Keenan said suicide prevention has developed into an industry with no results to show for it."

Janet Lindow, executive director of the institute, told Larson that screenings are a key component in identifying students who may be at risk of dying by suicide. “This is a way to find those kids who are basically suffering in silence,” Lindow told Larson. Shawna Hite-Jones, a suicide prevention specialist with the Suicide Prevention Resource Center at the University of Oklahoma, told Larson, it’s important to use screenings as part of a comprehensive approach that includes training teachers to recognize suicide risk." Hite-Jones told Larson, "Screenings are a tool that can be helpful for schools if they have the capacity and relationships with mental health providers to make them useful."