Wednesday, December 07, 2016

W.Va. coal county thrilled with Trump, but not with his Commerce choice, who owned deadly mine

Donald Trump and Wilbur Ross
West Virginians concerned about the decline of the coal industry say they're thrilled with the election of Donald Trump, but are casting a wary eye toward some of his personnel choices, including a businessman who owned a Mountain State coal mine where 12 people died in 2006, Marc Fisher reports for The Washington Post.

Wilbur Ross, Trump's choice for commerce secretary, was the primary owner of the Sago Mine, having bought it only two months before the disaster. "I always felt the company was responsible" for the deaths, Vickie Boni told Fisher, who writes: "Boni’s ex-husband, John Boni, was the fire boss, in charge of checking safety at the Sago Mine. Five days before the explosion, he alerted superiors to a leak of dangerous methane gas. A freak lightning strike ignited the methane, investigators later said. Right after the explosion, John Boni retired, after 36 years in the mines. A few months later, he put a bullet in his head."

Buckhannon Mayor David McCauley told Fisher he was taken aback when Trump named Ross: “The whole history of West Virginia is exploitation by outside influences. Now the guy 80 percent of us voted for turns around and nominates one of the least favorite names in Upshur County. If he brings in more billionaires and Mitt Romney is secretary of state, people will say, ‘Well, wait a minute now.’ But if the economy turns around, he’ll get the credit.”

Fisher reports, "Ross told ABC that he knew the mine had been cited with 208 violations, that he accepted responsibility for the disaster, that he had not made a personal contribution toward a fund for the miners’ families, and that his company 'never scrimped on safety expenditures.' Several investigations concluded that the mine’s owner, International Coal Group, was responsible for the safety violations, but that the violations did not cause the explosion."

Helen Winans, who lost a son at Sago, told Fisher that she didn't blame Ross and thinks Trump will be good for coal. McCauley said Trump’s appeal in West Virginia "is stylistic as well as policy-driven," Fisher writes. "It’s about coal, but also about being ornery and oppositional." It’s about coal, but also about being ornery and oppositional. “Trump was just what people here have always been — skeptical of government, almost libertarian,” McCauley said. “He’s a West Virginia pipe dream: He’s going to undo the damage to the coal industry and bring back the jobs, and all of our kids down there in North Carolina are going to come home.”

Two Tennessee teenagers charged with igniting fire in Great Smoky Mountains and Gatlinburg

National Guard video of fire damage around Gatlinburg, via Knoxville News-Sentinel

Tennessee officials have charged two teenagers with starting the fire that burned 17,000 acres in and near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, killed 14 people, injured nearly 150 others and destroyed more than 1,700 structures.

The pair are in custody, charged with aggravated arson, and could be tried as adults, said Jimmy Dunn, the district attorney general. Dunn "refused to give any details about the case, including the teens' ages or genders, except that 'They are not from Sevier County … they are residents of Tennessee'," Tyler Whetstone reports for the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

"Agents of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have worked around the clock since last week on the case," Whetstone writes. The National Park Service, which said all along that the fire appeared to have been "human-caused," set up a tip line that helped break the case, said Steve Kloster, the park's chief ranger.

“I want to thank everyone who responded to the National Park Service’s tip line. The public was critical in responding to that tip line and giving the investigators something to work with,” Kloster said.

The fire started near the Chimney Tops in the park and was swept into Gatlinburg by winds that sometimes exceeded 80 miles per hour after months of drought had turned the forest into a tinderbox. The city is allowing residents and property owners to re-enter permanently tomorrow and will be open to the public Friday.

Trump picks Oklahoma attorney general Pruitt, foe of EPA on three fronts, to lead the agency

Scott Pruitt (AP photo)
"In a move signaling an assault on President Obama’s climate change and environmental legacy, President-elect Donald Trump is expected to nominate Scott Pruitt, the attorney general of the oil-and-gas-intensive state of Oklahoma, to head the Environmental Protection Agency," The Washington Post reports. "Pruitt has spent much of his energy as attorney general fighting the very agency he is being nominated to lead. . . . On his Linked In page, Pruitt boasts of being “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda."

Pruitt has said the debate on climate change is “far from settled.” He is a leader of the largely Republican group of attorneys general suing to block EPA's Clean Power Plan to cut greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants, arguing that it is not authorized by law; to block the agency's bid to limit the emissions of methane by oil and gas operations; and against its re-interpretation of the phrase "waters of the United States" in the Clean Water Act.

"Environmental groups reacted with alarm Wednesday at the nomination. And New York state attorney general Eric Schneiderman vowed to 'use the full power' of his office to wage a legal battle to 'compel' enforcement of environmental laws under Trump," report Chris Mooney, Brady Dennis and Stephen Mufson of the Post. Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), told the newspaper, “Scott Pruitt would have EPA stand for Every Polluter’s Ally.” Meanwhile, "Industry groups expressed satisfaction with the choice," the Post reports.

Feds ban strip mining on 75,000 acres of ridgetops in Cumberlands of East Tennessee

Mountaintop mining, in process and reclaimed (
"The federal government on Wednesday banned mountaintop coal mining from more than 500 miles of ridges in East Tennessee’s Cumberland Mountains, handing a victory to the state and to conservationists who have long sought to protect the region’s forests and streams," Michael Collins reports for the USA Today Network.

The 1977 federal strip-mine law allows the Department of the Interior to designate land as unsuitable for mining, "in essence barring a controversial form of mining known as mountaintop removal," Collins notes.

A petition for the declaration was filed in 2010 by Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, three months before his last term ended. He said mining would damage to cultural, scientific and aesthetic values or natural systems. "The area is an important wildlife corridor, providing habitat for black bear, elk and numerous songbirds like the cerulean warbler, the Interior Department said. The New and Emory rivers also run through the designated area and provide clean drinking water to thousands of Tennesseans," Collins reports. It includes a wildlife management area and a conservation easement.

Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, "an opponent of mountaintop removal mining, said the decision will help safeguard the state’s mountains without affecting mining operations in other parts of the impacted counties or elsewhere in Tennessee," Collins reports. "The National Mining Association, however, called the Interior Department’s announcement 'another unwarranted blow to our ability to responsibly utilize this nation’s domestic resources'." The NMA said those who wrote the law didn't contemplate such large areas being designated unsuitable for mining.

The designation "makes a limited exception for re-mining activities, which will be restricted to proposals that will provide environmental benefits, such as reclaiming abandoned mine lands, and reducing the impacts of acid mine drainage and residual sedimentation," Collins reports.

Hospitals warn of big hit if Obamacare repeal leaves many uninsured; rural hospitals at more risk

The two big lobbies for hospitals are telling Congress and President-elect Donald Trump, who are planning to repeal and replace President Obama's health-reform law, that "the government should help hospitals avoid massive financial losses if the law is rescinded in a way that causes a surge of uninsured patients," Amy Goldstein reports for The Washington Post.

Joann Anderson (Photo by Rose
Hoban, North Carolina Health News)
Warning of "an unprecedented public health crisis," the Federation of American Hospitals, representing investor-owned facilities, and the American Hospital Association called a press conference to go with their letter, Goldstein reports. "Joann Anderson, president of Southeastern Health, "a financially fragile rural hospital in Lumberton, N.C., one of that state’s most economically depressed areas, said the prospect of repealing the health law without a replacement to keep people insured is 'gut-wrenching . . . We cannot take additional cuts.'" At least 76 rural hospitals have closed in the last seven years.

Hospitals are "the first sector of the health-care industry to speak out publicly to try to protect itself from a sharp reversal in health policy that Trump is promising and congressional Republicans have long favored," Goldstein notes. "When it was enacted in 2010, the health-care law was a product of a delicate balancing act among various parts of the health-care industry. Each essentially agreed to sacrifices in exchange for the prospect of millions of Americans gaining insurance to help cover their medical expenses."

The balancing act includes rural hospitals, which have special provisions in the law and other federal statutes. For example, the law expanded special funding for hospitals with relatively few patients, but that provision is scheduled to expire in October 2017. That would have a significant negative impact on rural hospitals, says a study just published by the Journal of Rural Health.

The exact nature of the repeal-and-replace strategy is unclear because Republicans will be in a position to make laws on their own after Trump replaces Obama Jan. 20. Until now, they have passed repeal bills with no replacement, knowing Obama would veto them. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have said they favor phasing out Obamacare and phasing in a replacement, but the time frame for that is uncertain.

McConnell backs temporary fix to preserve miners' health benefits; Manchin wants final, broader law

Kentuckians for the Commonwealth members
Eric Dixon, Katie Dollarhide and Brad Shepherd
brought petitions to Sen. Mitch McConnell's
London, Ky., office seeking passage of a bill
to help coalfield communities. (KFTC photo)
"After months of uncertainty, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he wants to rescue retired union coal miner health care benefits in Congress' forthcoming stopgap spending deal," Dylan Brown reports for Environment & Energy News. "The Kentucky Republican, however, is mum on whether he supports adding a coal-mine-cleanup bill focused on Appalachian economic development."

McConnell said he has "insisted" to House Speaker Paul Ryan that the end-of-year continuing resolution to keep the government open include a provision to extend 12,500 miners' health benefits beyond Dec. 31, when they would otherwise expire. But such a move would be a temporary fix, and that doesn't satisfy Democrats and the United Mine Workers of America, which opposed McConnell's 2014 re-election.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) threatened to hold up action on the resolution unless McConnell grants a floor vote to his bill to permanently guarantee pensions and retiree benefits for more than 100,000 coal workers and dependents, to be funded by fees coal companies pay to the Abandoned Mine Land Fund. "The Congressional Budget Office has said offsets, including Customs and Border Protection fees, would pay for the spending. But Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) has called the pay-fors a 'budget gimmick'," Brown notes.

Another bill, by House Appropriations Chair Hal Rogers of Kentucky, would accelerate spending from the fund in areas that have been most hurt by the loss of coal jobs. The main roadblocks are "politicians from Wyoming who insist that their state should be able to keep building sports arenas, roads and other non-mine related projects" with money from the fund, which was created to clean up mine lands abandoned before federal strip-mine law took effect," the Lexington Herald-Leader says in an editorial.

Read more here:

"McConnell spokesman Robert Steurer told the Herald-Leader there is no version of the bill in the Senate, but that his boss supports other funding streams for distressed coal communities," Brown reports. "When asked whether the legislation might end up in the spending bill, Rogers said yesterday: "I'd like to see that, but it may or may not happen."

Older Americans happiest in Hawaii, Ariz., least happiest in W.Va., Ky. says Gallup well-being index

Older Americans are happiest in Hawaii and least happy in West Virginia, says the annual index of well being by The Gallup Organization. Following Hawaii, other states with high well-being scores for people 55 and older were Arizona, New Hampshire, North Dakota and Colorado. At the other end of the spectrum, Kentucky was next to West Virginia, with Oklahoma, Ohio and Indiana nearby.

The data come from 115,000 interviews are are based on five categories: Purpose (liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals); Social (having supportive relationships and love in your life); Financial (managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security); Community (liking where you live, feeling safe and having pride in your community); and Physical (having good health and enough energy to get things done daily).

Hawaii was No. 1 for Purpose, Community and Physical; Arizona was tops for Social, and North Dakota led for Financial. West Virginia was last for Purpose, Social and Physical. Mississippi had the lowest score for Financial and New Jersey was lowest in Community.

"There is one cluster of states with high rankings in a section of the Midwest, but for the most part, the high- and low-ranking states are evenly distributed," Tara Bahrampour reports for The Washington Post. Dan Witters, research director for index, told her, “The 55-and-over crowd in those top states … report always making time for regular trips and vacations with family and friends, reaching their goals in the last 12 months, using their strengths and aptitudes as a human being, in other words, doing things that are a natural right fit for them." (Post graphic showing states colored by quintiles, or fifths of 50)

Weekly editors seek entries for annual editorial-writing contest; winner gets conference trip

The International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors is accepting entries for the 57th annual Golden Quill editorial writing contest. All newspapers published fewer than five days per week are eligible. Entries must be published in 2016. Each newspaper is allowed up to four entries; two is the maximum per person. The entry fee is $25 per person; checks should be made payable to ISWNE.

To enter, complete the PDF form at (under Contests) and send a tearsheet with the Golden Quill entry clearly marked. Send two copies of each entry to Chad Stebbins, Missouri Southern State University, 3950 E. Newman Road, Joplin MO 64801-1595. Entries must be postmarked by Feb. 1, 2017.

Entries should reflect the purpose of ISWNE: Encouraging the writing of editorials or staff-written opinion pieces that identify local issues that are or should be of concern to the community, offer an opinion, and support a course of action.

The Golden Quill winner will receive a scholarship and travel expenses up to $500 to attend ISWNE's annual conference June 28-July 2 at College Park, Md. Runners-up (called the Golden Dozen) will receive conference scholarships if they have not previously attended an ISWNE conference. Grassroots Editor, ISWNE's quarterly journal, will reprint the Golden Quill and Golden Dozen editorials in the Summer 2017 issue. For questions, email Stebbins.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Trend seen as Austria's election mirrors U.S. and Brexit votes, with similar rural-urban divides

What do last month's U.S. presidential election, last weekend's Austrian presidential election and Britain's earlier vote to leave the European Union have in common? All three elections had a significant rural-urban divide, Jonn Elledge reports for CityMetric, part of the British political and cultural magazine The New Statesman. Map: Austria's rural voters (blue) favored the conservative presidential candidate, while urban ones (green) backed the liberal candidate, who won.
"There are no doubt all sorts of reasons for this phenomenon," Elledge writes. "Some of them will be economic (well-paid jobs are increasingly concentrated in cities). Some of them will be cultural (the countryside is more likely to be white). Indeed, these are two sides of the same coin: As young or educated people move to cities in search of opportunity, the places they leave behind will become older, less diverse and more conservative."

"Whatever the explanation, though, it looks increasingly like that is the new political fault line in western countries," Elledge writes. "If you believe in progressive politics, there's a fair chance you live in a city." Map: U.S. presidential election by county

Many rural counties that supported Trump could stand to lose from his vowed repeal of Obamacare

Many of of the counties—most of them rural—where Donald Trump scored big victories in this year's presidential election could suffer the most if he repeals federal health reform, Philip Bump reports for The Washington Post. That includes large areas of Appalachia, the Rust Belt and the upper Midwest and several longtime blue counties that this year turned red. (Post map: Change in vote margin since 2012)
Some of Trump's biggest support was from working-class white voters, a demographic helped greatly by the drop in the uninsured rate from 25 percent to 15 percent since Obamacare was launched, Bump writes. Trump scored victories in many of the states that have seen the biggest drop in rates of uninsured residents—Arkansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, all of which expanded Medicaid under the reform law. Trump has said he supports the longtime Republican goal of returning Medicaid management to the states and limiting federal funding through block grants. (Post map: Change in percent of uninsured from 2013-2016)
"Nationally, there's no correlation between the change in insurance coverage in a county and the results of the 2016 election," Bump writes. "But it's certainly the case that much of the swath of states around the Great Lakes that went for Trump in 2016 also had big decreases in the number of uninsured since 2013." While it's too early to speculate how Trump's plans will affect newly-insured Americans, "those places that had the biggest changes in coverage are likely to see larger increases in the number of uninsured. In many cases, those shifts will occur in places that voted for it to happen."

EPA chief: Agency hasn't done enough for rural areas; Congress should OK Obama aid for coalfields

Outgoing Environmental Protection Agency chief Gina McCarthy acknowledged Monday that the agency hasn't done enough to support rural areas, but also took a shot at Congress for not approving President Obama's proposal for more funds to coal-dependent communities, Jack Fitzpatrick reports for Morning Consult, a Washington D.C.-based research firm. McCarthy told reporters, “I think we have not done as well as we could developing a rural strategy in cooperation with other agencies and certainly have more presence in rural communities."

Despite acknowledging the agency’s shortcomings, "McCarthy said she was proud of the EPA’s controversial work on greenhouse gases, calling the Clean Power Plan 'a signature item for the United States','' Fitzpatrick writes. "She also defended the Obama administration’s attempts to shore up the economy in coal country, where Republicans including President-elect Donald Trump, have blamed environmental regulations for reducing demand for coal."

McCarthy noted that Congress has failed to take up Obama's $3 billion aid package for coal communities affected by his climate-change policies: “I think Congress needs to take that up. If they need to do it in the next administration because they don’t want to call it an Obama initiative, I’m very happy with that.” (Read more)

Native Americans' opioid use is soaring, but many reservations lack funding for treatment

Drug addiction rates—especially use of opioids—are high among Native Americans, many of whom live in a world of poverty where "chaotic family lives, suicide, mental illness, addiction, domestic violence and other trauma are the norm," Christine Vestal reports for Stateline. "Compounding the problem, the majority of the nation’s 2.9 million Indians living on and off reservations have little to no access to health care, much less mental health and addiction services."

"Native Americans are at least twice as likely as the general population to become addicted to drugs and alcohol, and three times as likely to die of a drug overdose," she writes. A 2014 study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that use of heroin among Native Americans who are seniors in high school is double the national average, while 61 percent of sophomores have smoked marijuana, compared to 33 percent of the general population. (PBS graphic: Overdose deaths by race in 2014)
Some of the more affluent tribes in the Northwest, mostly near major cities, have used money from casinos and other businesses "to build world-class health care systems on their reservations that include addiction treatment program," Vestal writes. It also helps that states with large Native American populations, such as Washington—where Native Americans die of drug overdoses at a rate of 29 per every 100,000, compared to rates of 12 for whites, 11 for blacks, 3 for Hispanics and 2 for Asians—expanded Medicaid under federal health reform.

"But the lifelong nature of addiction and the increasing availability of heroin and other illicit opioids demand more investment every year, particularly for recovery housing and support services, said Dr. Anthony Dekker, an addiction specialist and expert on Indian health," Vestal writes. "He addressed a gathering of 25 tribes from Idaho, Oregon and Washington here in November to discuss the opioid crisis in Indian country." Nearly all the tribes "provide some level of addiction services, needle exchange and naloxone distribution programs, and recovery housing on their reservations, though funding is limited for many." (Read more)

Language in controversial EPA study on fracking was tempered after White House meeting

Language in a controversial 2015 Environmental Protection Agency study on horizontal hydraulic fracturing was added after a meeting with White House officials, Marketplace and American Public Media say in a jointly reported story by Scott Tong and Tom Scheck.

The executive summary of the EPA study said that while fracking has the potential to harm drinking water, researchers found no evidence of "widespread, systemic impacts" to drinking water supplies. An EPA panel in August said the report, which they called inconsistent, should be revised.

The story says the phrase "widespread, systemic" was added after the White House meeting. Originally, the summary and press release originally "made a bland but contrary point — that scientists had found 'potential vulnerabilities'," notes Mike Soraghan of Energy Wire.

"Earlier draft versions emphasized more directly that fracking has contaminated drinking water in some places," the story says. "In a conference call with reporters about the study on the day it was released, the EPA’s deputy administrator, Tom Burke, highlighted the lack of widespread, systemic impacts as the agency’s top finding. In fact, scientists had found evidence in some places that fracking activity had polluted drinking water supplies," in "more than two dozen instances."

Tong and Scheck write, "It’s not clear precisely who inserted or ordered the new phrasing. But emails acquired via the Freedom of Information Act show EPA officials, including press officers, met with key advisers to President Obama to discuss marketing strategy a month before the study’s release. The emails also show EPA public relations people exchanging a flurry of messages between 4 and 11 p.m. on the eve of the study’s release."

Moving away from agriculture-based economy hurts rural areas, says series on rural Minnesota

Of the 360 people in Milan, Minn., 28.7 percent
are Pacific islanders, mostly from Micronesia, and
11.8 percent are Hispanic. (City of Milan photo)
The biggest challenge facing rural Minnesota is not a lack of economic opportunities or young people migrating to cities, but its continued move from an agriculture-based economy, Jay Walljasper reports a series about rural Minnesota for The McKnight Foundation. The series is based on reports that Walljasper, an urban consultant and strategist, wrote after compiling reports from each region of the state.

"Ever-larger farms employ fewer people and buy fewer supplies locally. Among Minnesota farm operators, 55 percent work primarily off the farm and 93 percent depend on some off-farm income," Walljasper writes. In 1969 farming accounted for at least 20 percent of earnings in about half of Minnesota counties. By 1999, "after three decades of farm consolidation, it had shrunk to just a few spots on the map bordering the Dakotas."

Kelly Asche, program coordinator of the Center for Small Towns, based at the University of Minnesota-Morris, said "expanding livelihoods in farming to include more people means looking beyond large-scale agricultural commodities to farmers' markets, local food production and the production of prepared foods." Walljasper writes, "For example, the University of Minnesota-Morris is working to make regionally produced food a growing share of meals served on campus."

"Another change sweeping the nation is apparent in rural Minnesota: the rising percentage of Americans who are not white," Walljasper writes. "Thirteen of the 15 Minnesota counties that experienced population growth from 1990 to 2010 because of increasing numbers of people of color are outside the metro area. Mexican restaurants are becoming a staple of small-town main streets across the state."

Thursday webcast will focus on how elections have evolved recently and on the future of voting

The Pew Charitable Trusts on Thursday will conduct a day-long webcast, "Voting in America: How Have Elections Evolved?" The webcast, scheduled from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EDT, will focus on how U.S. elections have changed in the past four years and what the changes mean for the future of voting.

A panel of experts will discuss: How states embraced technology in 2016 and how can it be better used; how voter-registration changes have affected the democratic process; and how better data collection and analysis can improve elections administration. For more information or to register for the webcast. click here.

Monday, December 05, 2016

Lack of regulations and training lead to 4,500 ambulance accidents, 33 deaths per year

A lack of regulations for ambulance-driver training and restraints for passengers has for years led to accidents, injuries, and sometimes death, Jenni Bergal reports for Stateline. Over the last 20 years ambulances have been involved in an annual average of 4,500 accidents, leading to about 2,600 injuries and 33 deaths, according to a 2015 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. About 54,500 ambulances were on the road in 2010, the latest figure available, says NHTSA.

The study found that only 33 percent of patients involved in serious crashes "were secured with both shoulder and lap restraints and 44 percent were ejected from their cots," Bergal writes. At the same time "84 percent of EMS workers in the patient compartments of ambulances that crashed were not using their own restraints."

The main problem is that "unlike school buses, ambulances are not regulated by the federal government," Bergal writes. "While states set minimum standards for how they operate, it’s usually up to local EMS agencies or fire departments to purchase the vehicles and decide whether to require their crew to undergo more stringent education and training. Some agencies demand that crew members in the back of an ambulance use lap and shoulder restraints for their patients and themselves, but many agencies don’t." (NHTSA graphic: Severity of injuries involving ambulances from 1992-2011)
"In some places, ambulance drivers don’t receive any special training before they get behind the wheel, even though they must speed through traffic under tremendous pressure," Bergal writes. Bruce Cheeseman, Idaho’s EMS operations manager, told her, “One agency will make them take a course before they can drive. Another will just say, ‘here are the keys.'" Many rural areas are served by volunteer EMS workers.

Bergal writes, "In the back of a traditional ambulance, which has no airbags, emergency medical technicians and paramedics can sit on one of several seats: a bench that is aligned with the stretcher or cot and faces the patient, a seat on the opposite side, or a rear-facing seat called the captain’s chair, which is in front of the patient’s head. A 5- to 8-ton ambulance filled with heavy equipment can become a deathtrap in a crash. Cots typically are not bolted to the floor. Electrocardiogram monitors, which can weigh 20 to 25 pounds, usually are not tied down, and medical equipment is often stored on countertops or in cabinets that can fly open."

Lack of after hours emergency pet care in some rural areas putting owners in tight spots

Astoria, Ore. (Best Places map)
Some rural pet owners facing an emergency are reduced to either driving to an urban center or waiting until the morning to see a local veterinarian, Erick Bengel writes for The Daily Astorian: "It takes a fairly large population center to support around-the-clock emergency clinics. On the North Coast, there simply aren’t enough pet emergencies to justify keeping an animal hospital open through the night."

Five regional vet offices in Clatsop and Pacific counties, with about 58,000 total residents, have an on-call rotation, with each office deciding its hours, Bengel writes. Some take calls all night, some until 10 p.m., but the clinics usually don't remain open all night. Dr. Brad Pope, founder and hospital director at Bayshore Animal Hospital, one of the five, told Bengel, "To have a 24-hour emergency clinic open, to pay somebody to answer the phone two times a night, would never be economically feasible." Dr. Dannell Davis, owner of Astoria Animal Hospital, added that "The people that have the skills, that are willing to work in the middle of the night—guess what—are expensive. You can’t pay them minimum wage. They won’t do it.”

That means pet owners in an emergency most likely have to drive to Portland, about 97 miles from Astoria. That doesn't work for pet owners such as Erin Anderson, who was unable to reach a vet after her cat had a late-night stroke and her night vision problems prevented her from driving to Portland, Bengel writes. The cat died. Anderson told Bengel, “I like the vets here. All the vets are very nice people. I’m not knocking any one of them. I admire what they do. I know it’s tough on a rural area. But it’s tougher on us whose pets die in our arms.” (Read more)

Experts warn of latent mental health concerns following fires like the ones in Smoky Mountains

Trevor Cates stood amid the ruins of the fellowship hall of Banner
Baptist Church, which he attends, at Gatlinburg. (Getty Images)
Survivors of fire, in addition to facing the long road to recovery from structural damage, are often in need of mental-health services, experts tell Jeff Martin of The Associated Press. "In some ways, escaping a fire-filled forest as thousands did recently in and around Gatlinburg, Tenn., can be more traumatic than hurricanes, floods or earthquakes," Martin reports. "One reason: Flames spread so rapidly that people had no time to prepare."

Becky Stoll, vice president of crisis and disaster management at Centerstone, one of the nation's largest behavioral health care providers, told Martin, "To have your life turned upside down is much more difficult than if you had time to brace for it, and in this case I don't think people had time to brace for it." Also, the visual image of seeing the flames causing damage can be hard to shake, said Valerie Cole of the American Red Cross.

Cole said that while some possessions can be salvaged from disasters such as earthquakes and tornadoes, a fire usually leaves nothing behind but ashes, Martin writes. She said after a fire survivors typically are thankful they are alive and focus on basic needs, but down the line, maybe six or nine months later, is when people begin to get frustrated or disillusioned. That can cause post-traumatic stress, leading to increased rates of suicide, depression, anger and substance abuse. (Read more)

Warming temperatures cause soil carbon loss, which increases climate change, says study

Predicted changes in soil carbon
per pixel by 2050 under the
‘no acclimatization’ scenario
"Rising temperatures will stimulate the net loss of soil carbon to the atmosphere, driving a positive land carbon–climate feedback that could accelerate climate change," says a study by worldwide researchers published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature. The study consisted of 49 field experiments in North America, Europe and Asia.

The "feedback" researchers are referring to "involves the planet’s soils, which are a massive repository of carbon due to the plants and roots that have grown and died in them, in many cases over vast time periods (plants pull in carbon from the air through photosynthesis and use it to fuel their growth)," Chris Mooney reports for The Washington Post. "It has long been feared that as warming increases, the microorganisms living in these soils would respond by very naturally upping their rate of respiration, a process that in turn releases carbon dioxide or methane, leading greenhouse gases." Researchers said that is happening.

"Our analysis provides empirical support for the long-held concern that rising temperatures stimulate the loss of soil C [carbon] to the atmosphere, driving a positive land C-climate feedback that could accelerate planetary warming over the 21st century." Mooney notes,"This, in turn, may mean that even humans’ best efforts to cut their emissions could fall short, simply because there’s another source of emissions all around us. The very Earth itself."

Jonathan Sanderman, a climate scientist with the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts, said the study gives “strong support to the hypothesis that soils will release a substantial amount of carbon in response to rising air temperatures," Mooney writes. Sanderman told Mooney, "This is really critical, because if the additional release of carbon is not counterbalanced by new uptake of carbon by plants, then it’s going to exacerbate climate change and increases the urgency to immediately reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

But Sanderman "also noted studies have suggested that better management of agricultural soils could sequester large amounts of carbon, perhaps enough to offset the losses projected in the study."

Corps denies Dakota pipeline crossing, but builder sticks to plan, anticipating approval by Trump

InsideClimate News graphic
Native Americans protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline scored at least a temporary victory Sunday when the Army of Corps of Engineers announced it "would not approve an easement to allow the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross under the Lake Oahe section of the Missouri River," Caroline Grueskin reports for The Bismarck Tribune. The Standing Rock Sioux tribe said they feared a spill could leak into the river, their main source of water.

Despite the disapproval, Energy Transfer Partners, the project's builder, "is under no legal obligation to stop construction on the Dakota Access project and hasn’t voluntarily agreed to do so," Tim Loh writes for Bloomberg. Loh adds, "It has finished 84 percent of the project and is pushing ahead with construction wherever it’s permitted, including in Iowa."

President-elect Donald Trump, who has had stocks in Energy Transfer Partners and Phillips 66, which owns one-quarter of the pipeline, said Thursday he supports the project, reports BBC News. After his election, ETP said it expected to complete the pipeline; after the Corps announcement, it said there would be no detours. Monday, a Trump spokesman said the president-elect still supports the pipeline and after taking office "will make the appropriate determination at that time."

Army Assistant Secretary for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy said the decision "merits additional analysis, more rigorous exploration and evaluation of reasonable siting alternatives and greater public and tribal participation and comments. Accordingly, the Army will not grant an easement to cross Lake Oahe at the proposed location based on the current record."

"Darcy recommended the corps conduct an environmental impact statement with 'broad public input and analysis' before determining any appropriate route," Grueskin writes. "Among the considerations would be more information on the alternative routes, including the one crossing north of Bismarck, details on potential spills and impact on the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's water intake and the extent of the tribe's treaty rights in Lake Oahe."

While protesters applauded the decision, Republican Gov. Jacky Dalrymple called it a "serious mistake," Grueskin writes. He said in a statement: "It does nothing to resolve the issue, and worst of all it prolongs the serious problems faced by North Dakota law enforcement as they try to maintain public safety. It’s unfortunate that this project has become a political issue rather than one based on engineering science." (Read more)

In Appalachian Ohio opioid epidemic soars, while state funds for treatment remains sparse

Columbus Dispatch graphic
A report released last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that Ohio in 2014 led the nation in most opioid overdose deaths (2,106) and was fifth in highest rate of opioid deaths, at 24.6 per every 100,000 people.

The epidemic has been especially problematic in the state's southern Appalachian region, where it has flourished in areas with high poverty, high unemployment and scant public resources, Rita Price reports for The Columbus Dispatch. Joe Gay, executive director of the Athens County-based addiction and mental-illness-treatment agency Health Recovery Services, compares the opioid epidemic in Appalachian Ohio to Ebola in Africa. He told Price, “The places where the treatment system was least adequate was where it hit. And it spread and spread and spread.”

Gay said that state budgets for counties, as recently as 2010, "show that Appalachian counties with the highest rates of overdose deaths still were receiving far less non-Medicaid treatment money per capita than suburban counties with much lower overdose rates," Price writes. Gay told her, “It’s hard to convey how much worse things were before the Medicaid expansion. The whole system was broken. Now, the system is working but still has weak spots. But a lot of damage was done.” Medicaid was expanded in Ohio in 2014.

"Still, addiction remains rampant, with supply routes for heroin now firmly established in place of 'pill mills' dispensing painkillers," Price writes. "Many county officials wonder whether they ever will be able to respond to all the need. And in communities without tax-levy funding for mental-health and addiction services, there aren’t any local dollars to be 'freed up' as a result of the Medicaid expansion, said Robin Harris, who heads the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board for southeastern Ohio’s Gallia, Jackson and Meigs counties." (Read more)

Friday, December 02, 2016

Researchers use video game to educate college and high-school students about farm safety

Hazard Ridge screen shot
Researchers at the University of Kentucky are using a video game to educate young people about the dangers of agriculture, a line of work that has one of the highest rates of workplace fatalities in the U.S., Olivia McCoy reports for UKnow.

Since 2013 researchers at the UK College of Education and the Southeast Center for Agricultural Health and Injury Prevention, in UK's College of Public Health, have been teaching agriculture students and high-school students ag safety using a 3-D game called Hazard Ridge, which "simulates an injury that has occurred in a small rural town where teens are disappearing and the town is going bankrupt," McCoy writes.

"Players serve as the investigator of this issue and learn how agricultural injuries have negative effects on the town’s economy and citizens," McCoy writes. "The game teaches investigative skills and educates on how to conduct a financial analysis of injury." To play the game, click here.

Jennifer Watson, research coordinator for the Southeast Center for Agricultural Health and Injury Prevention, "said one of the goals for the game is to 'overcome the culture of comfort'," McCoy writes. Watson told McCoy, "Spending their entire lives around dangerous equipment lulls those working and living on farms into a false sense of safety and lessens their belief that they are at risk for injury." She said preventive measures, such as the game, reduces the risk of injury or death. (Read more)

Trump deportation plan could snag in immigration-court system; cases often take years to be heard

President-elect Donald Trump's plan to deport as many as 3 million immigrants who he says have criminal records could hit a roadblock in a cluttered U.S. immigration-court system, Julia Preston reports for The New York Times. "Many of those deportations—at least hundreds of thousands—would have to be approved by immigration judges."

The immigration-court system is weighed down by a backlog of more than 520,000 cases and is failing "to deliver timely, fair decisions to people fighting deportation or asking for refuge, according to interviews with lawyers, judges and government officials," Preston reports. "With too few judges, overworked clerks and an antiquated docket based on stacks of paper files, many of the 56 courts nationwide have become crippled by delays and bureaucratic breakdowns." The backlog leads to cases sometimes taking years to be heard.

Trump's plan to freeze federal hiring would only make matters worse, preventing courts from bringing in new judges and clerks, who are federal employees, Preston writes. "Without significant new resources, the courts would probably slow Trump’s deportations to a stall. Unlike other federal courts, which are part of the judiciary, immigration courts are run by the Justice Department, making them subject to shifting political priorities in Washington."

The backlog was created by a combination of President Obama increasing immigration enforcement and Congress clamping down on spending, Preston writes. "In the past two years, the administration won increases for the courts from Congress, and the number of immigration judges rose by 65 to about 300 today. But the hiring of judges is glacially slow. With each judge completing an average of 750 cases a year, the courts would need at least 520 judges to eliminate the backlog within one year, according to an analysis by Human Rights First, a watchdog group in New York." (Ohio State University map: U.S. immigration courts)

Trump's victory and pick to lead health services could end free birth control under ACA

Donald Trump's presidential victory and his announcement that he has tabbed Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) to lead the Department of Health and Human Services could lead women to lose free birth control under federal health reform, Lesley Clark reports for McClatchy Newspapers. While running for president Trump said he would repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. He has since said he would keep certain popular features. But Price, who has 100 percent anti-abortion-rights voting record, "would be able to revoke the contraceptive measure, which is unpopular with foes of abortion rights, without engaging Congress."

"Price, who, like the president-elect, has championed repealing the ACA, would not have to wait for the overall law to be targeted by Congress because the contraceptive measure exists due to a rule enacted by the Obama administration," Clark writes. "The ACA provision requires job-based health-insurance plans to provide women with free coverage for all contraceptive services approved by the Food and Drug Administration and prescribed by health professionals. They include diaphragms, birth-control pills and intrauterine devices."

In 2010 Price "questioned the need for health insurers to offer birth control at no cost, saying he didn’t believe there were women who couldn’t afford coverage." He said at the time during an interview with ThinkProgress, “Bring me one woman who has been left behind. Bring me one. There’s not one.”

Trump's victory already has some women flocking to get birth control. Planned Parenthood of Illinois said its online appointments for intrauterine devices in November was up 82 percent—an increase of 200 appointments—over November 2015, Lisa Schencker reports for the Chicago Tribune. "After the election, appointments made online for all kinds of birth control services spiked 40 percent over the same time last year."

Dr. Amy Whitaker, medical director of Planned Parenthood of Illinois, said some women cited Trump's pledge to repeal the ACA for making appointments, Schencker writes. Whitaker told her, "People are legitimately worried that they might lose their insurance."

Humans blamed for rising grizzly bear deaths at Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone grizzly bear (Reuters photo by Jim Urquhart)
Humans are being blamed for an unusually high number of grizzly bear deaths in Yellowstone National Park, Laura Zuckerman reports for Reuters. This year 55 grizzly-bear carcasses have been found, with wildlife advocates expecting the number of dead to grow to at least 61 by the end of the year, compared to 28 in 2014 and 29 in 2013.

"Nearly half the grizzlies were killed by government bear managers for preying on cattle, sheep and the like," Zuckerman writes, but the increase in deaths is being blamed on a "growing number of the bruins harming livestock or challenging hunters over freshly killed game. ... The uptick in bear deaths comes as the Obama administration says the population of roughly 690 bears in and around Yellowstone has come back from the brink of extinction and should be stripped of U.S. Endangered Species Act protections. The plan, proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service earlier this year, opens the way for hunting in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, the Northern Rocky Mountain states that border the park."

Sportsmen and ranchers support the plan, claiming "the number of conflicts will diminish by targeting bears that bounce hunters off freshly shot game or which harm livestock," Zuckerman writes, Conservationists and Native Americans, who consider the grizzly to be sacred, oppose removing the bears from endangered status. (Read more)

Public Notice Resource Center contest to award $500 for top story based on a paid public notice

Good story ideas are often found in the small print of paid public notices, often called legal advertising. The Public Notice Resource Center is holding its annual Public Notice Journalism Contest, which awards a grand prize of $500 and a trip to Washington, D.C., where the winner will be honored at the National Press Club. There is no fee to enter. The entry deadline is Jan. 27, 2017.

Entries are required to be a reported story, or series of stories, based on a paid public notice that was published in a newspaper in 2016. Opinion pieces and editorials will not be accepted. The story must refer to the public notice, which the contest considers to be "an announcement or disclosure the law requires a private party or governmental entity to publish in a statutorily qualified newspaper." For more information or to submit an entry, click here.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

State-level data shows where most opioid deaths occur; Ohio had the most, W.Va. had the top rate

Ohio leads the nation in opioid overdose deaths and West Virginia has the highest per-capita death rate, says a study by the Center For Disease Control and Prevention. The study found that the U.S. had 28,467 opioid-overdose deaths in 2014. The Kaiser Family Foundation used the study to create state-level data that found Ohio had the most opioid deaths with 2,106. California, which has more than three times the population of Ohio, was next, at 2,024, followed by New York (1,739), Florida (1,399) and Illinois (1,205). Ohio accounted for 7.4 percent of all opioid overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2014.

West Virginia had the highest rate of opioid deaths, at 35.5 per every 100,000 people, states the CDC report. New Mexico was second at 27.3, followed by New Hampshire (26.2), Kentucky (24.7) and Ohio (24.6). "States with statistically significant increases in the rate of drug overdose deaths from 2013 to 2014 included Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia."

The Kaiser study totaled state-level data for total deaths and percentage of overdose deaths statewide and nationally for natural and semisynthetic opioids, synthetic opioids other than methadone, methadone, heroin and overall opioid deaths. (Screenshot of interactive Kaiser map: Opioid deaths in the U.S. in 2014, highlighting Ohio)
The opioid epidemic in Ohio has gotten worse since the CDC study's data period, Chris Stewart reports for the Journal-News in Dayton. The Ohio Department of Health reported 2,590 opioid deaths in 2015, a 23 percent increase from 2014. Helen Jones-Kelley, executive director of the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board of Montgomery County, told Stewart, "We still have not peaked yet. That’s the scariest part.”

Farm income to decline for third straight year

Farm income is predicted to decline in 2016 for the third straight year since reaching record highs in 2013, says a report by the Economic Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Net cash farm income is forecast at $90.1 billion, a decline of 14.6 percent, and net farm income at $66.9 billion, a decline of 17.2 percent. Net cash farm income declined 19.8 percent in 2015 and net farm income by 12.7 percent. (USDA graphic: Net farm income from 2000-2016)
While crop receipts are expected to remain mostly unchanged, "animal products receipts are forecast to drop $23.4 billion, about 12.3 percent, in 2016," Spencer Chase reports for Agri-Pulse. "For the second straight year, production expenses are expected to decrease. ERS forecasts a 2.6 percent drop in 2016 after those same expenses fell 8.1 percent in 2015. The 2016 decline is expected to total about $9.2 billion. Expenses peaked in 2014 at $390 billion. Net rent expenses are also expected to drop in 2016 by almost $20 billion, or 1.6 percent."

"Some slight relief looks to be headed to producers as production expenses are predicted to fall while government payments increase," Chase writes. "Those payments are seen rising by $2.1 billion, or just over 19 percent in 2016, pushed by a whopping 159.6 percent jump in payments under the Price Loss Coverage program and a 35.7 percent increase in the Agricultural Risk Coverage program."

Oklahoma regulations could drastically reduce earthquakes linked to fracking, says Stanford study

State regulations in Oklahoma could drastically reduce the number of magnitude-3 or higher earthquakes linked to injection wells used to dispose of drilling waste from horizontal hydraulic fracturing, says a Stanford University study published in Science Advances. Researchers say the regulations—which call for a 40 percent reduction in the volume of saltwater being injected in the seismically active areas—should significantly decrease the number of man-made earthquakes "by the end of 2016 and approach historic levels within a few years."

Oklahoma had more earthquakes in 2015—903 of magnitude 3.0 or higher—than the combined total of every state except Alaska. Prior to the oil and gas boom that began in 2009, Oklahoma averaged two earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or higher per year. The U.S. Geological Survey in March for the first time released maps of earthquakes attributable to human activity. USGS has attributed Oklahoma's increased seismic activity to injection wells. (Stanford map: Oklahoma earthquakes)
The study does have some problems, Mike Soraghan reports for Energywire. The model and prediction "assumes wastewater disposal doesn't increase in earthquake-prone areas. The current decline has been caused both by regulatory restrictions and reduced production because of low oil prices. The model predicts about 250 quakes of magnitude 3 or greater next year and about a 40 percent chance of a quake of magnitude 5 or greater."

Justin Rubinstein, a research geophysicist heavily involved in the Geological Survey's research into the man-made quakes, "said the Stanford model makes sense but seems optimistic," Soraghan writes. "Rubinstein noted some of the uncertainty in the study. The model is adapted from one used for much simpler scenarios—geothermal or oil and gas operations associated with a single well. And within their broad prediction," the study's authors "allow that isolated areas could continue having unusual quake levels beyond the predicted five to 10 years."

About half of U.S. adults are fatter than they think they are, say Gallup poll and CDC study

One of the biggest problems with the obesity epidemic could be that many Americans think they're not as overweight as they really are, Art Swift reports for The Gallup Organization. An annual Gallup poll conducted earlier this month of 1,019 adults in all 50 states found that 37 percent of adults feel they are somewhat overweight or very overweight, matching the average trend from polls since 2010. Those numbers are down from 41 percent from 2000-2009 and 44 percent from 1990-99.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows that 56 percent of Americans in 1990 were considered obese or overweight and 48 percent of Gallup poll respondents that year agreed, Christopher Ingraham reports for The Washington Post. Today, 70.4 percent of Americans are obese or overweight, nearly twice as many as said so on the most recent Gallup poll.

Also, the ideal weight and actual weight are on the rise, Ingraham writes. The average weight for men has risen from 180 in 1990 to 194 today, with the ideal weight increasing from 171 to 182. For women, the actual weight has increased from 142 to 158 and the ideal weight from 129 to 140. (Post graphic: Percent of overweight adults vs. those who say they are overweight)
Yale University physician and sociologist Nicholas Christakis, who specializes in biological behavior, told Ingraham, "As a person's social contacts gain weight, it seems to change the person’s idea about what an acceptable body size is. This may result in the person him/herself gaining weight, or, even if it does not, it makes the person more accepting of other people’s weight gain."

Twenty-five states have adult obesity rates over 30 percent, according to the 2016 State of Obesity report. Nine of the 11 most obese states are in the South, and 22 of the top 25 are in the South and Midwest. Louisiana has the highest obesity rate, 36.2 percent. Obesity rates are above 20 percent in every state; in 1991, no state had a rate above 20 percent.

Federal court orders N.C. to redraw GOP-friendly legislative districts and hold special elections

"A federal court on Tuesday ordered North Carolina to hold a special legislative election next year after 28 state House and Senate districts are redrawn to comply with a gerrymandering ruling," Colin Campbell reports for The News & Observer in Raleigh. "U.S. District Court judges earlier this year threw out the current legislative district map, ruling that 28 of them were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. They allowed the 2016 election to continue under the old maps, but ordered legislators to draw new districts in 2017." Some states—typically ones controlled by Republicans—have been accused of redrawing district maps to ensure that GOP candidates win races.

Legislators have until March 15 to redraw new maps, Campbell writes. "Every legislator whose district is altered will have their current term shortened. A primary would be held in late August or early September—the legislature is responsible for setting the exact date – with the general election in November, the order says."

State Republicans were critical of the decision, which they are appealing, Campbell report. Legislators said in a release: "This politically motivated decision, which would effectively undo the will of millions of North Carolinians just days after they cast their ballots, is a gross overreach that blatantly disregards the constitutional guarantee for voters to duly elect their legislators to biennial terms."

Top strip-mine regulator says Trump should see abandoned-mine damage before making promises

President-elect Donald Trump, who promised to revive coal, needs to see first-hand the negative effects of abandoned coal mines in Appalachia before continuing to make promises, the director of the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement told Bloomberg News.

Joseph Pizarchik told reporter Stephen Lee, “He doesn’t have to go far. Just go from New York City to northeastern Pennsylvania. He can see thousands of acres of dangerous mines, polluted mine water, destroyed lands, destroyed communities, communities that were abandoned by companies after they destroyed the land and water.”

While Trump says "lifting regulations on the coal sector will bring back jobs and revive struggling communities," experts say the industry's main problem isn't regulations, but cheaper natural gas, Lee writes. Pizarchik told Lee, “I can appreciate his desire to want to help people. But if you mine more coal, you have to have a market for it. Just mining it is not going to create jobs in the long run.”

Not everyone agrees with Pizarchik, Lee writes. Christian Palich, president of the Ohio Coal Association, "said those who question coal’s future 'might be the same people who predicted Trump wouldn’t have a path to 270' votes in the electoral college." Palich told Lee, "With a president that supports coal, I think you definitely could see a rally. Create the right atmosphere and the market will do what the market does. Once you have a president not picking winners and losers, I think coal is going to be in a very good position to thrive.” (Read more)

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Rural areas can help revitalize local economies by training more students in computer science

Gina Green teaches computer science in Bolivar, Mo.(CNN photo)
Computer coding, a fast-growing industry, could help revitalize struggling rural economies if more of those areas concentrated on educating students, Matt McFarland reports for CNN Money. "There are more than half a million open computing jobs nationwide, according to But students growing up in the countryside aren't prepared for them. Rural students are far less likely than their peers in cities and suburbs to gain exposure to rigorous computer science training."

The College Board's Computer Science A course is its fastest growing AP course, with enrollment doubling in the past five years, McFarland writes. Barbara Ericson of Georgia Tech told him that urban students are more likely to enroll in it. 

One problem in rural areas is there aren't enough qualified teachers to train students, McFarland writes. Another problem is funding. "If budget cuts happen, computer science, which generally isn't part of a core curriculum, may land on the chopping block." Also, a 2015 Gallup poll found that 43 percent of rural school boards believe computer science classes are important, compared to 52 percent from urban areas.

Gina Green, who teaches computer science in rural Bolivar, Mo., told McFarland, "It's imperative that in rural America that we say, this is an option for you. All these jobs are disappearing. All across the nation, these traditional jobs are disappearing. I think it's an opportunity for these kids to achieve the American Dream."

Rural America favored Trump, but agendas of many rural residents and farmers are not the same

Many in the agricultural industry cheered Donald Trump's presidential victory as a sign that rural America had made its voice heard loud and clear, Dan Charles reports for NPR. But farmers and non-farmers in rural areas do not all share the same agendas, and are adverse to each other on some key issues.

Many rural residents supported Trump's stance on deportation and tighter border security, including building a wall along the U.S./Mexican border, Charles writes. Farmers rely on immigrant labor—often consisting of undocumented immigrants. They also "favor trade deals that Trump attacked during his campaign, such as the Trans Pacific Partnership, which could expand their exports of pork, beef and grain."

Struggling small towns might not need farmers, who make up a very small minority of rural residents, as much as farmers might need the small town, Charles writes. Chuck Fluharty, president of the Rural Policy Research Institute at the University of Iowa, told Charles that farmers "are worrying about that car dealer, and they're worrying about that bank, and they're worrying about the small insurance company and they're hoping to God that they don't lose their school."

American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall in his post-election statement "referred interchangeably to 'rural Americans' and 'America's farmers and ranchers,' suggesting that those are the same people," Charles notes. Duvall talked about "free trade, environmental deregulation, immigration policies that don't take away farm workers and continued funding for programs that help farmers financially when prices fall or bad weather ruins their crops. But does the rest of rural America care about these issues?"

A recurring theme in many small towns is a need to keep young people from moving away to ensure the town's future, Charles writes. "This, in fact, is why many Midwestern mayors and county commissioners are no longer quite so focused on getting companies to move to their communities, in order to bring in new jobs. Jobs aren't enough to make their millennials stay." That means investing in youth and the community in ways that make the younger generation want to stay or return home after college. (Read more)

Rural library in northeast Oregon gets creative to boost child participation by 143%

The Pajama Story Time and Stuffed Animal Sleepover
event has been a popular addition to the library
(Union-Bulletin photo by Michael Lopez)
A once struggling rural library in the Northwest has gotten creative to get children through the doors, Sheila Hagar reports for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin. Since Erin Wells took over two years ago as library director at the Milton-Freewater Public Library just across the Washington-Oregon border, child participation has increased 143 percent and circulation by 35 percent.

"Experts say while most libraries around the nation have survived the e-book scare, they’ve had to evolve to stay relevant in a culture that reads digitally more often than print, and buys books online with the click of a button," Hagar writes. "That’s meant developing new ways to serve library patrons, and in rural areas it takes creativity to meet the challenge with what are often bare-bones budgets."

Through grants and community donations the library has been able to triple the size of space dedicated to children’s books and activities, Hagar writes. They also added a no-shush zone so children can be free to make noise and a teen room equipped with black chairs and video games. Wells told Hagar, “It’s no longer focused on how many books are getting checked out, but more about the programs, more about how to serve the community.”

Best Places map
Nationally, about 8,400 public libraries are located in rural areas, says a 2013 study by the Association for Rural & Small Libraries, Hagar writes. "That study found that declining budgets and how people perceive libraries are among the most serious concerns in rural settings." The study's authors wrote: “The aging of the small library workforce, coupled with the financing challenges facing many small libraries and the growing perception that libraries are no longer needed, suggest that small community libraries are facing, over the next decade, a fight for survival."

Potential candidates for agriculture secretary include Kansas governor, former Georgia governor

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (MSNBC image)
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has made a point of pushing rural areas to the forefront during his eight years in office. With a change of administration coming in January, there will be a new agriculture secretary. While President-elect Donald Trump hasn't focused much on agriculture or Vilsack's replacement, there are some names floating around that could take the helm, Dan Nosowitz, reports for Modern Farmer. Nosowitz looks at four potential candidates. He doesn't mention Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp, who earlier this month expressed interest in being agriculture secretary.

Here are four potential candidates:

Kansas Republican Gov. Sam Brownback "was the secretary of the Kansas Department of Agriculture from 1986 to 1993 and while a senator served on the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee," Nosowitz writes. Brownback, who has voted to increase minimum wage and to limit farm subsidies, "supports increasing the number of legal immigrants and was a co-sponsor of the 2005 Kennedy/McCain bill aimed at creating a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. He especially supports more foreign workers in the U.S. for farm work and has worked to establish a guest worker program." He also opposed universal healthcare.

Chuck Conner, former former deputy ag secretary under George W. Bush, "has gone on record supporting improved access to global markets, a substantial safety net for farmers and a reduction in regulations from the EPA," Nosowitz writes. "He has supported a guest worker program and has vigorously supported an overhaul of the immigration system to ensure that immigrant workers can safely and legally take on farm work."

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller reversed "the ban on soft drinks and fried foods in Texas public schools," Nosowitz writes. "Miller has been extremely controversial in Texas, at the center of several firestorms about unethical financial transactions like using public funds to receive a cure-all medical shot and compete in a rodeo, or hiring his closest advisor’s wife, or the repayment of loans with campaign funds. An early Trump supporter, Miller is best known outside Texas for calling Hillary Clinton an extremely bad word on Twitter."

Sonny Perdue, the former governor of Georgia, "did not focus on agriculture in his governorship (2003-2011)," Nosowitz writes. "He won his initial governorship campaign by opposing the removal of the Confederate symbol from the Georgia state flag. He has opposed universal health care and access to welfare and other services for illegal immigrants."

HIV among rural white drug users not falling as urban figure is; areas lack syringe exchanges

HIV infections among people who
inject drugs (CDC graphic)
The number of HIV cases connected to intravenous drug use among rural whites dropped 28 percent from 2008 to 2012, but remained stable in 2010-14, says a study by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The main reason is a lack of syringe-exchange programs, the report states.

While HIV cases among rural whites have remained stable, they decreased 50 percent among rural and urban blacks and Hispanics from 2008 to 2014. HIV cases declined 28 percent among urban whites from 2008 to 2012, but remained stable in 2012-14.

The study, which used National HIV Surveillance System data from 2008-14 and interviews of people who inject drugs in 22 cities, found that syringe-exchange programs have steadily increased, "but most people who inject drugs still don’t always use sterile needles," Lena Sun reports for The Washington Post. In the study area, only 29 percent of Hispanics, 28 percent of blacks and 22 percent of whites got their needles from a syringe exchange.

CDC Director Tom Frieden told the Post, “The big picture here is that we’ve had a lot of progress reducing HIV infections spread by needles and we’re at risk of stalling or reversing that progress. More people appear to be injecting drugs, more people are sharing needles, and there are more places not covered by syringe service programs.”

In June CDC identified 220 counties—most of them rural—that are most vulnerable to an HIV or hepatitis C outbreak similar to last year's epidemic in Austin, Ind., where about 200 people were diagnosed with HIV. The opioid epidemic has been growing in rural areas, especially in Central Appalachia. (CDC map: Pink areas are vulnerable to HIV and hepatitis C infection. Green areas have needle exchange programs; map needs updating)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Media haven't ignored rural, reporter-turned-professor says after researching 50 years' coverage

Alecia Swasy
A common post-election theme has been the supposed failure by the national news media to cover or understand rural America, but evidence over the last 50 years points to the contrary, Alecia Swasy, Donald W. Reynolds Chair in Business Journalism at Washington & Lee University, writes for The Poynter Institute.

Swasy, who wrote for The Wall Street JournalThe Tampa Bay Times and the Lexington Herald-Leader, reviewed articles from 1964 to 2014 in the nation’s largest newspapers, weekly magazines and the leading papers in the Southeastern U.S.  She writes, "The research shows reason for optimism: Reporters and photographers given the chance to travel to remote areas have done a terrific job of putting a face on the plight of the poor. . . . The research shows that, despite the criticism of the biggest newspapers as being out of touch, the best coverage of serious issues facing rural America has been delivered by The New York Times and The Washington Post," She writes. "Both look for stories that put a face on what really happens when policies made miles away in Congress hit small towns."

"The autopsy of the 2016 election must include some tough choices by news organizations on how to do a more consistent job of covering America’s heartland," she writes. "And those of us now teaching future journalists need to work harder to reinforce the basics of quality reporting. We must teach rigorous, critical thinking so young reporters will be more skeptical and dogged to find the best sources, unpack promises, reveal hidden agendas and follow the money trails. We must teach them that Twitter is not a replacement for knocking on doors and going to the picket lines." (Read more)