Friday, January 23, 2015

Decline in papers' coverage of congressional races has left readers less informed, less likely to vote

A decline in local coverage of congressional races  in recent years has led citizens to be less informed about federal issues and less likely to become engaged in those issues, says a study by researchers at George Washington University and American University in Washington, D.C., GWU political-science professor Danny Hayes writes for The Washington Post.

"Our analysis, based on a large-scale study of local coverage and citizen behavior in every congressional district across the country, demonstrates that the fading of two-newspaper towns is not the only problem," Hayes reports. "When the content of local news deteriorates—as has happened nationwide in an era of newsroom austerity—so do citizen knowledge and participation."

Researchers looked at the newspaper with the largest circulation in each congressional district, examining the number of stories about House races in the month leading up to the November 2014 election, Hayes writes. Of the 6,000 stories analyzed, researchers said that the most competitive races received the most coverage, while races thought to be less competitive received little coverage.

"When we merge our newspaper data with survey data from the 2010 Cooperative Congressional Election Study, we find that voters in districts with less news coverage know less about the candidates running for the House," Hayes writes. "For instance, as the volume of news coverage declines, citizens are less able to identify candidates as liberals or conservatives. They are also less likely to say that they will cast a ballot in the House contest. We find that this is true not only for the least politically engaged voters but also those who are typically more attentive to politics. Where the news environment is impoverished, engagement is diminished for all citizens." (Read more)

"It's not surprising that there is less news coverage of House races in newspapers, because most papers have reduced staff, but there could be another reason," says University of Kentucky journalism professor Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes The Rural Blog. "As partisan redistricting has reduced the number of competitive districts and competitive races, that has probably resulted in less coverage."

Battle in Iowa about who is to blame for water pollution could affect farmers nationwide

An impending lawsuit in Iowa about who is to blame for water pollution could have a major impact on farmers throughout the country, Donnelle Eller reports for The Des Moines Register. "The federal government now considers water from farmlands as surface runoff and exempts it from oversight." But Des Moines Water Works, which says three northwest counties are to blame for polluting central Iowa's water supply, "contends the underground tiling widely used by farmers bypasses the natural filtering soil provides, acting as 'a continuous mechanism for transporting nitrates to streams.'"

Experts and environmentalists say the suit could lead to a "decades-long national fight over who is responsible for water pollution that originates from cropland that often is hundreds of miles away," Eller writes. "They say the outcome could, for the first time, indirectly require farmers to meet federal clean-water regulations that limit nutrients such as nitrates and phosphorus that enter U.S. waterways." (Register graphic)

The utility says drainage districts in Sac, Calhoun and Buena Vista counties have siphoned groundwater laden with nitrates into the Raccoon River, a source of drinking water for central Iowa, along with the Des Moines River, Eller writes. "Testing since March shows nitrate levels in one drainage district were nearly four times the amount the federal government says is safe for drinking water. Infants younger than 6 months are particularly at risk with high nitrate levels, potentially becoming seriously ill without treatment."

"The high levels have forced the Des Moines utility to treat the water to reach acceptable nitrate levels, a cost that approached $1 million in 2013," Eller writes. "The utility argues that drainage districts, and ultimately farmers, should be responsible for curbing nitrate pollution. It contends that districts should be required to obtain permits under the federal Clean Water Act, which would bring to bear limits on nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous."

Agriculture leaders contend that a lawsuit would be costly and might not even lead to the water problems being resolved, Eller writes. "They also say it deflects from work currently underway that is reducing pollutants, such as building wetlands, terraces and buffer strips." (Read more)

Kansas official links surge in earthquakes to disposal of saltwater from fracking practices

For the first time a Kansas official has said that disposal of saltwater from hydraulic fracturing could be to blame for a recent increase in earthquakes in the south-central part of the state, Karen Dillon reports for the Lawrence Journal-World. Rick Miller, geophysicist and senior scientist for the Kansas Geological Survey, told Dillon, “We can say there is a strong correlation between the disposal of saltwater and the earthquakes."

Kansas, which didn't have a single reported earthquake in 2012, had 120 last year, Dillon writes. Neighboring Oklahoma led the lower 48 states in earthquakes last year with 564, after averaging three earthquakes of magnitude 3 or higher per year from 1975 to 2008. (Kansas Geological Survey graphic: In January there has been nine earthquakes of magnitude 2.0 or higher and four of 3.0 or higher)
"In other states with a surge in earthquakes, including Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas, scientific studies and government officials concluded more than a year ago that the temblors were likely the result of injecting saltwater into disposal wells," Dillon writes. "But in Kansas, experts have said they were unsure what was causing the earthquakes."

But Rex Buchanan, director of the Kansas Geological Survey, said that many people wrongly believe fracking causes earthquakes, Dillon said. Buchanan said he does not consider disposing of the leftover saltwater to be part of fracking. He told Dillon, "That distinction is tough for some people, and some people see it as semantic distinction. I like to be technically precise about what is going on here. If someone were to say these earthquakes were caused by fracking, there might be one or two, but there is no evidence for it. The issue of saltwater disposal is completely different.” (Read more)

Louisiana farmers say some restaurants are falsely claiming to serve farm-to-table products

Some Louisiana farmers say area restaurants are falsely claiming to be participating in farm-to-table by advertising that they use local products when they are not or are only using small amounts, Megan Wyatt reports for Daily World in Opelousas, outside Lafayette. Farmers say restaurants have latched onto farm-to-table as a buzzword to trick customers into believing they are eating local products and supporting local businesses. (Advertiser photo by Paul Kieu: Marguerite Constantine checks goats on her farm in Moreauville, La.)

In fact, some farmers argue that farm-to-table is a meaningless notion, Wyatt writes. Acadiana farmer Brian Gotreaux said that McDonald's or Burger King could be considered farm-to-table restaurants "since they source their food from some kind of a farm and it ends up on a table." Restaurant owner Ryan Trahan—who every two days buys 120 pounds of chicken, 80 pounds of turkey, 40 tilapia filets, 20 dozen eggs and about 100 pounds of fresh winter produce from local farms—told Wyatt, "All food really comes from a farm, whether it be a commercial farm or a local farm or whatever. Everything can be farm-to-table."

Either way, most area farms don't receive enough business from local restaurants that it significantly impacts their revenue, Wyatt writes. Gotreaux told her, "I can't say one way or another that it would make or break us. It's a small movement here in Lafayette. A lot of people think it's bigger than it really is."

Farmers in other parts of the state agree, Wyatt writes. Anthony Yakaboski, who grows peaches, purple hull peas, melon, okra and other local produce on his farm in Farmerville in north Louisiana, said "he does not see any real difference in business from the local foods movement." He told Wyatt, "Everybody says local, fresh is the way to go, but they don't really practice what they preach." Marguerite Constantine, who raises goats in Moreauville, told Wyatt, "We've been very disappointed in some of the restaurants that we thought would embrace the ability to purchase locally." (Read more)

Workshops help coal-reliant communities grow and diversify their economies

The NADO Research Foundation and the National Association of Counties (NACo) have created the “Coal-Reliant Communities Innovation Challenge,” which invites "counties and regional development organizations in areas experiencing economic challenges due to the contraction of the coal industry" to compete in a team-challenge competition designed help grow and diversify these economies, says NACo.

Teams that submit winning applications will be selected to attend one of three hands-on workshops guided by expert facilitators and practitioners, says NACo. The first challenge will be held in April in Pikeville, Ky. Other challenges will be held in Colorado and West Virginia. The deadline to apply for the Pikeville challenge is Feb. 27. For more information or to submit an application, click here.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Access to quality broadband linked to population growth in U.S. counties, study finds

People are more likely to move somewhere that offers good broadband services, says a study by Broadband Communities that found that "counties with better broadband access are adding population at 10 times the rate of counties that lack good broadband connections," Tim Marema reports for the Daily Yonder.

The study says that counties in the top 10 percent of broadband-access rankings had an average population growth of 3.18 percent from 2010 to 2013, while counties in the top half averaged a population growth of 2.79 percent, Marema writes. Counties in the bottom half averaged an increase of 0.27 percent, but counties in the bottom 10 percent had a population decline of 0.55 percent. From 2010 to 2012, rural counties lost population for the first time.

"The study used data from the Census and the National Broadband Map for all 3,144 U.S. counties plus the District of Columbia," Marema writes. "It ranked counties by broadband access on a percentile basis within each state and then calculated population changes for counties grouped into those rankings." (Yonder map: Percent of population within county with access to at least 25 Mbps download speed. Dots represent all 3,144 counties)

E-cigarette vapors emit high levels of carcinogens that can cause lung cancer, study says

Vapor produced by electronic cigarettes can contain a surprisingly high concentration of formaldehyde—a known carcinogen that can cause lung cancer through prolonged exposure—researchers reported Wednesday in a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Rob Stein reports for NPR. (Getty Images by Dan Kilwood)

Use of e-cigarettes among rural teens has risen in recent years, prompting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to propose rules to give it authority over e-cigarettes, an industry that accounts for about $2.5 billion in annual sales.

"E-cigarettes work by heating a liquid that contains nicotine to create a vapor that users inhale," Stein writes. David Peyton, a chemistry professor at Portland State University who helped conduct the research, told Stein, "We simulated vaping by drawing the vapor—the aerosol—into a syringe, sort of simulating the lungs. That enabled the researchers to conduct a detailed chemical analysis of the vapor. They found something unexpected when the devices were dialed up to their highest settings."

The e-cigarette industry dismissed the report, saying they found formaldehyde only when e-cigarettes were cranked up to their highest voltage levels, Stein writes. Gregory Conley of the American Vaping Association told him, "They clearly did not talk to [people who use e-cigarettes] to understand this. They think, 'Oh, well. If we hit the button for so many seconds and that produces formaldehyde, then we have a new public health crisis to report."

"If you hold the button on an e-cigarette for 100 seconds, you could potentially produce 100 times more formaldehyde than you would ever get from a cigarette," Conley said. "But no human vaper would ever vape at that condition because within one second their lungs would be incredibly uncomfortable." (Read more)

Scheduling lunch after recess may lead to less food waste and better nutrition, study says

According to a new study conducted at seven schools in Utah, scheduling school lunch later in the day could help children to eat more nutritious foods and reduce food waste. Researchers found that children threw away more food when they ate lunch before recess instead of afterward. Much of the food they threw away was fruits and vegetables, Roberto A. Ferdman writes for The Washington Post.

Cornell and Brigham Young University researchers spent 14 days studying the behavior of school children during lunch at the seven schools. Three of the schools served lunch after recess, and the other four severed it before recess. The researchers kept track of how many fruits and vegetables children discarded and how many they ate.

"Students who ate lunch after recess ate 54 percent more fruits and vegetables than those who ate it before," Ferdman reports. The number of students who ate at least one serving of fruit and vegetables was 45 percent greater at the schools that served lunch after recess than the schools who served it beforehand. This is because students are hungrier for lunch after playing, and if they have already had recess, they will not rush eating their lunch so they can go play.

"If recess is held before lunch, students come to lunch with healthy appetites and less urgency and are more likely to eat their fruits and vegetables," David Just, one of the study's authors, said in a statement, Ferdman writes.

A 2014 study also concluded that providing lunch before recess led to more food waste for about the same reasons. It is unknown how many schools currently serve lunch before recess, but in 2011, only 4.6 percent of elementary schools reported serving lunch after recess. (Read more)

Tainted water a way of life for Appalachian residents in Southern West Virginia coalfields

For some residents in the coalfields of Appalachian West Virginia whose water systems were installed nearly 100 years ago by coal companies—most of whom have since abandoned the region—water boil advisories are a way of life, Jessica Lilly, Glynis Board and Roxy Todd report for West Virginia Public Broadcasting. (Lilly photo: It's common to see people gathering water from mountain springs in McDowell County)

In Keystone in McDowell County, one of the nation's poorest counties, a water advisory has been in place since 2010, while neighboring Northfork has been on a boil water advisory since 2013, WVPB writes. McDowell County had more than 100,000 residents during the region's coal-boom in the 1950s, but today, because coal is no longer a viable option for employment, there are fewer than 20,000 residents.

"It's common to see folks filing up water jugs and tanks from mountain springs. For many, it's the only source of water they have," WVPB writes. Betty Younger, who grew up in McDowell County, said "she just assumes not to drink it, rarely uses it for cooking and doesn't even count on regular access." She told WVPB, “You never know when you’re going to have water."

The source of the region's water problems are vast and are part of the reason why Southern West Virginia is one of the least healthy areas in the country and has some of the shortest average life spans, WVPB writes. Tainted water can be attributed partially to mountaintop removal, with minerals and metals (like manganese, which has been associated with intellectual impairment in children) found in water supplies.

"But for all of the concerns about water compromised by natural and industrial sources, and the cancer, decay, infection and disease that can come with regular exposure to that contamination, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute Paul Ziemkiewicz said that the biggest threat in water supplies throughout southern West Virginia [and many areas in the state] by a long shot is raw sewage," WVPB writes.

Maggie Nevi, the Project Coordinator for the Waste Water Treatment Coalition in McDowell County, told WVPB, “Right now 67 percent of the county has no form of waste water treatment whatsoever. And they do what’s called straight-piping, which is exactly what it sounds like.”

That has led to "bacteria, parasites and viruses that can cause short-term problems like diarrhea, eye infections, respiratory infection and long-term problems like cancer, Dementia and Diabetes," WVPB writes. "And there are growing concerns about potential illnesses or effects from exposure to pharmaceuticals and synthetic hormones introduced through sewage." (Read more)

County-level maps detail all federally declared disasters from 1964-2014

Disasters are more likely to occur in California and Oklahoma, but no U.S. county is immune to them, according to county-level data of disasters declared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency from 1964-2014, Christopher Ingraham reports for The Washington Post. (Post map: to view county-level data, click here)
The map above details disasters in which a state governor requests a federal disaster declaration applying to one or more counties and the president approves it following review, Ingraham writes. Disasters consist of: Severe storm, flood, hurricane, snow, fire, ice tornado, drought, coastal storm, freeze, typhoon, earthquake, volcano, fish kill, tsunami, mudslide, chemicals, toxic waste, human-caused, terrorism and dam break. Severe storms, fire and flood are the most commonly declared disasters. (Federally declared severe storm disasters from 1964-2014)
Los Angeles County, California, has had the most declared disasters since 1964, at 53, Ingraham writes. San Bernadino County, California, has had 45, followed by Riverside County, California (44), Oklahoma County, Oklahoma (39), San Diego County, California (36), McClain County, Oklahoma (35), Essex County, Massachusetts (34), Ventura County, California (34), Collier County, Florida (34) and Delaware County, New York (33).

Cheaper to preserve old barns as businesses or tourist attractions than to build a new barn

Repairing an old barn or preserving its historic value by altering it into a business or tourist attraction is often more cost effective than tearing it down and building another one, said Steve Stier, former president of the Michigan Barn Preservation Network, Juliana Moxley reports for Great Lakes Echo, a service of the Center for Environmental Journalism at Michigan State University. (Echo photo by Cindi Van Hurk: A sunflower quilt block outside Harrisville, Mich.)

Stier said the cost of legally disposing of a farm can be steep and older barns are most likely taxed at lower rates than newer ones, Moxley writes. And because traditional barns were used for storage and shelter, they are sturdy and easily adaptable because they've been used as churches, restaurants, furniture stores, wineries and event spaces.

Another fad is turning old barns into quilt trails, "where painted wooden squares are displayed on a series of barns as a tourist attraction," Moxley writes. "Many barn quilt trails in Michigan attract tourists who buy gas, food and lodging, Stier said." There are at least 13 quilt trails in Michigan, where hand-painted designs on wood are displayed on nearly 30 barns and other buildings on the trail. (Read more)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

U.S. school system receives a grade of C by Quality Counts report; 10 states given a grade of D

The U.S. school system received a grade of C in Education Week's 2015 Quality Counts reports, and several states with large rural populations were given a grade of D. Grades were based on three categories: "The Chance-for-Success Index provides a cradle-to-career perspective on the role that education plays in promoting positive outcomes throughout a person's life. The school finance analysis assesses spending patterns and equity. The K-12 Achievement Index rates states on current academic performance, change over time and poverty-based gaps."

"To score the states in all three of these areas, the center employs a 'best-in-class' approach," reports Education Week. "For each indicator in a given category, the top state receives 100 points. All other states are awarded points based on their performance relative to that state. Category scores are calculated as the average of scores across indicators. A state's overall summative score is the average of the three graded categories."

Massachusetts had the highest score, 86.2, followed by New Jersey (85.5), Maryland (85.2), Vermont (83.0), New Hampshire (82.4), Connecticut (82.3), Wyoming (80.6), Pennsylvania (80.1) and New York (80). Mississippi ranks last with a grade of D and score of 64.2. Also earning grades of D are Nevada (65), New Mexico (65.5), Arizona and Oklahoma (67.6), Idaho and Alabama (67.7), Louisiana (68.5), South Carolina (68.9) and California (69.2). (Read more) (To view an interactive map click here)

Maps show how demographics are expected to drastically change in U.S. by 2030

The American population is growing at a rapid rate, and it's expected to increase by 49 million people by 2030, says The Urban Institute, Emily Badger reports for The Washington Post. The increase in population, coupled with Baby Boomers retiring, "will dramatically alter the age demographics of many communities, leaving some with larger burdens on social services and fewer workers to help fund them." The Urban Institute has created a series of interactive maps to show expected population changes. (Click on maps for larger versions)
"And nearly every corner of the country will grow more diverse—from rural Wisconsin, where small minority populations could double in size, to metropolitan Houston, which could have more than one million new Hispanic residents by 2030," Badger writes. "These changes will be simultaneous and swift, and they'll affect everything from how we use resources, to where we build new communities, to how we educate our kids." (Projected Hispanic population change by 2030)
The white population is expected "to fall in densely populated parts of the Northeast, on much of the Pacific Coast and through the middle of the country," Badger writes. The Hispanic population is expected to rapidly increase, especially in the South and Midwest, while "the trends for blacks are much more uneven, with population significantly increasing in some parts of the country and declining in others." (Projected black population change by 2030)

Journalist's Resource details quick and easy way to create an agriculture graphic for media use

Graphics are a useful tool to enhance a story. Journalist's Resource has put together a simple step-by-step procedure on how to design a time-series graph, using Chartbuilder and readily-available U.S. Department of Agriculture information on to quickly and easily build a graph on organic farming.

"We went to and searched for 'organic crop,'” John Wihbey writes for Journalist's Resource. "That brought us to a USDA landing page with lots of related datasets. We then hit 'download' on Table 3, which had the acreage estimates, and got an Excel spreadsheet with a bunch of rows and columns relating to all manner of organic certified crops and the extent of their acreage." (Graphic created by Journalist's Resource using and Chartbuilder)
"The first order of business was to look at the data and observe the trends," Wihbey writes. "We’re not doing data science here, and we’re only looking for illustrative data to provide some context around the rise of organic produce. It’s the kind of chart that could plausibly accompany a daily story—nothing too fancy."

"To get this data into the proper format to make it a time series, however—to clean it up—we had to flip or 'transpose' it, so that the date range was descending in the first column (the vertical field)," Wihbey writes. "We highlighted the row of data in the original and copied it. We then opened up a new sheet (tab at the bottom of the Excel file) and hit 'Paste Special' and clicked 'Transpose.'"

"We then had the basic form of the data we needed," he writes. "We just cut and pasted the cleaned-up data from Excel into the designated field in Chartbuilder and then adjusted the colors and put proper sourcing labels in the 'Chart Options' field. We adjusted the Y (vertical) axis a bit so the units represented were sufficiently fine that they provided useful information. You can then simply hit 'Create Image of the Chart' in the Export field and plug the chart right into your article/website." (Read more)

Thieves in Kentucky county targeting barn wood and reselling to flooring manufacturers

Thieves have been known to target scrap metals, especially copper, in an attempt to turn a fast buck. But a south-central Kentucky county is dealing with repeated thefts of barn wood, which has become a hot commodity in home decor, Deborah Highland reports for the Bowling Green Daily News. So far, three barns have been targeted in Barren County, including one instance in which thieves ripped an entire side off a barn.

Sheriff’s office spokesman Deputy Mike Houchens told Highland, “They are taking the lumber on the outside of the barn and reselling to flooring manufacturers. . . . Sooner or later we would hope, since they are pretty much dismantling barns, that somebody is going to catch them doing that. This takes manual labor and takes time to do so." (Read more)

Rural counties have yet to recover jobs losses from recession; metro counties have added jobs

While urban areas have recovered job losses from the 2007 recession, rural areas are still a long way from recovering, Bill Bishop reports for the Daily Yonder. Metro areas now have more people working than when the recession began, but rural counties had 556,000 fewer jobs in November 2014 than in November 2007, one month before the recession began. The recession officially ended in June 2009.

"There are 1,260 rural counties with fewer people working than seven years ago; 711 rural counties have more jobs than in November 2007," Bishop writes. In comparison, 633 urban counties have fewer jobs, and 533 have more jobs. The rural unemployment rate has risen since the recession, from 4.8 percent in November 2007 to 5.5 percent in November 2014. In urban counties, the unemployment rate has increased from 4.5 percent to 5.5 percent.

The biggest job gains were in Texas and North Dakota, two states that have benefited greatly from the oil and gas boom, Bishop writes. The biggest losses were in the Appalachian coalfields, rural Michigan, the Sun Belt South, patches of the Mountain West and New England. (Yonder map: To view an interactive version, click here)

New Mexico district judge overturns rural county's ban on oil and gas drilling

A federal judge ruled on Monday that an oil and gas drilling ban adopted by a rural northeastern New Mexico county is unconstitutional and invalid, Staci Matlock reports for The New Mexican in Santa Fe. Mora County commissioners voted in April 2013 to ban fracking in the county of 4,500 people. The oil and gas industry—and some landowners who wanted to lease drilling rights—filed a lawsuit in November 2013.

U.S. District Judge James O. Browning said Mora County's "ordinance violated the First Amendment by 'chilling' protected activities by corporations," Matlock writes. "He also found the ordinance violates state law and that the county lacks the authority to enforce it on state land."

"The ordinance grew out of concerns for protecting land and water after oil and gas companies in recent years leased mineral rights for more than 30,000 acres in Mora County," Matlock writes. "Neighboring San Miguel County has approved land use regulations similar to rules adopted a few years ago by Santa Fe County that restrict oil and gas development but don’t ban it. And Mora County commissioners had been working to create restrictive oil and gas regulations similar to Santa Fe County’s when a group began pushing for an outright ban in Mora County." (Read more)

Website selects 10 small cities that should be on everyone's bucket list to visit in 2015

Bustle, a website designed for women, has selected 10 small cities that should be on everyone's bucket list to visit in 2015, Chesley Grasso writes for the website. The cities are: Telluride, Colo.; Idyllwild, Calif.; Williamsburg, Va.; Sedona, Ariz. (above); Newport, R.I.; Beaufort, S.C.; Ketchum, Idaho; St. Augustine, Fla.; Gatlinburg, Tenn.; and Langley, Wash. (Read more)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Company makes a living cleaning up meth cook sites in West Virginia

As of Nov. 30, 2014, West Virginia state police had busted 290 meth labs, down from 531 in 2013, but an increase from 2012 (284 busts), 2011 (229 busts), 2010 (154 busts) and 2009 (146 busts). That's 1,634 meth lab busts in one state in less than six years. While the busts make the news, one has to wonder what becomes of the sites after law enforcement have finished their investigations.

What happens is that people like Jennifer McQuerrey Rhyne step in. Her company, the only one in the state dedicated solely to cleaning up meth sites, cleans up about 20 sites per year, getting paid around $10,000 per job. Journalist Nick Klepper, who shadowed Rhyne and her team at a clean-up job in Clarksburg, details for Vice the process her company goes through in cleaning up a meth site. (Klepper photo: Cleaning up a meth cook site in Clarksburg)

At the Clarksburg site, Rhyne "tested surfaces in each room with a kit, and only three of them had enough meth residue to meet West Virginia's standard for contamination, 0.1 micrograms per 100 square centimeters," Klepper writes. "Then she filed paperwork with the state Department of Health and Human Resources and awaited an OK to clean, a process that can take weeks, much to the annoyance of landlords."

"The process of cleaning up a meth site is not all that complicated, chemically speaking," Klepper writes. "The solution Jennifer and her crew use is a mix of carpet cleaner, degreaser and dish soap. Like the ingredients for meth itself, all that can be bought at Lowe's. They spray it onto every surface. It usually takes three sprays and scrubs before the residue is below the state standard."

"Jennifer deposits everything she takes from a site at a municipal landfill, where it is buried, but first she has to photograph each item and file an accompanying form, all of which goes to the state," Klepper writes. "After conferring with a few sanitation workers sitting in a trailer, she drives the truck to a set of metal dumpsters full of tires, stoves, bedframes and five-gallon buckets. The place smells like gasoline and burned plastic. Jennifer puts on gloves, photographs each item and tosses it into a dumpster." (Read more)

Residency offers educational opportunities for disadvantaged Appalachian women

The New Opportunity School for Women (NOSW) at Bluefield College (Va.) is seeking 14 disadvantaged Appalachian women to participate in a three-week residential experience on campus "designed to help participants confront their circumstances, overcome their conditions and pave the way for a new and better life," Paul Hess reports for WVVA TV in southern West Virginia. The residency will take place from May 10 to 30.

NOSW was created in 1987 at Berea College in Eastern Kentucky, expanded to Lees-McCrae College in Banner Elk, N.C., in 2005 and Bluefield College three years ago, Hess writes. It was created "to improve the educational, financial and personal circumstances of low-income, under-educated, middle-aged women in the Appalachian region."

To apply online for the May session, visit or for more information or to receive and submit an application by mail, contact Casey Palmer at 304-887-7738 or

More than 200 communities have entered contest that awards $10 million to stimulate growth and revitalization

More than 200 communities have already entered a contest that will reward $10 million in prize money for "best business plans for economic development and improved quality of life," reports Business Wire. "The winners will also share best practices and great ideas for innovative growth among all the communities that participate in the competition."

The America's Best Communities competition, an initiative designed by Frontier Communications and DISH Network, is open to all towns and cities in Frontier's service areas with populations between 9,500 to 80,000, says a press release from Frontier. Smaller communities can collaborate on projects.

Entrants are required to submit and implement their best plans for future growth and prosperity, the release said. In February judges will select up to 50 qualified applicants, each of which will be awarded $35,000 to develop their plans and proposals. Communities will then have seven months to refine and submit their final proposals in September.

In April, 50 quarter-finalists will be selected and awarded $50,000 in development funds for their revitalization proposals, writes Business Wire. "At the end of the competition in April 2017, the top three applicants will share $6 million in prize money—$3 million to the winner, $2 million for second place and $1 million for third place—money to be used to continue to implement their improvement plans." (Frontier map of service areas)

USDA approves Monsanto's genetically modified soybeans, cotton

The U.S. Department of Agriculture last week gave Monsanto final approval for genetically engineered "herbicide-tolerant crops to be used with a new herbicide the company says will fight problematic weed resistance on farm fields," Carey Gillam reports for Reuters. The genetically modified cotton and soybean plants have been granted non-regulated status. Monsanto is still waiting for final approval from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Monsanto is also "awaiting approval from Chinese regulators to allow imports of the new soybeans," Gillam writes. "China is a key buyer of U.S. soybeans, but the country has shown reluctance to approve imports of new GMO crops recently. Last week, Monsanto Chief Technology Officer Robb Fraley told analysts the company expects to have Chinese approval in time for a commercial launch in 2016."

Consumer, environmental and farmer groups have criticized the GMO crops, saying that "using more herbicides on weeds will only increase weed resistance over the long term," while also posing health and environmental risks, Gillam writes. Gary Ruskin, executive director of U.S. Right to Know, a food issue research group, told Gillam, "The pesticide treadmill spins on, and that's great news for Monsanto. This is just the latest in a endless string of favors from our federal government to Monsanto." (Read more)

Interactive maps detail state-by-state energy production, consumption and expenditures

The U.S. Energy Information Administration website has created extremely useful interactive state-level maps that detail energy production, consumption and expenditures. For example, this map shows Pennsylvania's energy production sites, and provides data showing that the state is the fourth largest coal-producing state since 2012. It shows that the state's natural gas production—primarily from Marcellus Shale—has increased 72 percent since 2011 and that in 2013 the state generated 40 percent of its net electricity from coal and 35 percent from nuclear power. (To view state-by-state maps click here)

Census Bureau makes data easier to find and read

The Census Bureau has improved its Search and QuickFacts functions on its website, reports Carolyn Crist of "That may seem small, but it'll help you find statistics and data even easier than before," she writes. "The improved search feature provides access to information and visualizations, and you can filter by content type, such as image or video. Also, QuickFacts has a better view that allows you to see charts, maps and stats for up to six locations at once. You can also share on social media, embed numbers and download content."

Monday, January 19, 2015

Crisis in rural Georgia hospitals means state is 'approaching Third World care,' network chief says

Stewart-Webster Hospital has closed.
Eight rural hospitals in Georgia have closed since 2001, "and dozens more are hemorrhaging money at an alarming rate — ultimately threatening access to critical health care for nearly 1 in 10 Georgians," Misty Williams reports for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "Georgia lawmakers, hospital executives and community leaders are scrambling for ways to stem the financial bloodletting. But the truth is that some hospitals are simply beyond saving. And because of that, some people, inevitably, will die."

Jimmy Lewis, CEO of HomeTown Health, a network of rural Georgia hospitals, told Williams, “We’re approaching Third World care in the state of Georgia. The future has pain in it; there’s just no way around it.”

"Of Georgia’s 61 remaining rural hospitals, nearly two-thirds lost money in the year for which they most recently reported results," Williams reports. "Twenty-one suffered budget shortfalls — many in the millions of dollars — for at least five years in a row, according to an AJC analysis of the latest hospital financial data from the state. Another 17 ended four of the five years in the red. Only seven made a profit each year."

Threats to rural hospitals "have intensified in recent years — falling patient volumes, aging populations, payment cuts by government programs and commercial insurers alike, large numbers of uninsured and new regulations created by the Affordable Care Act," Williams notes. "The health law is also reducing support to hospitals under the assumption that they will have more paying patients under Medicaid expansion. But Georgia has rejected expansion," as have most other Southern states. "Unlike its counterparts in other states, the Georgia Hospital Association has not been seen as actively advocating for Medicaid expansion," Andy Miller reports for Georgia Health News.

Williams wrote a three-part series, which is behind a paywall but can be accessed with a one-day subscription via the first installement. A complete version of that story is here.

Congress is expected to renew two programs that subsidize rural hospitals

Federal programs that subsidize small and Medicare-dependent rural hospitals are scheduled to expire April 1 but will be extended as part of bipartisan legislation pending in Congress, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

The Low Volume Hospital (LVH) and Medicare-Dependent Hospital (MDH) programs have been repeatedly renewed, and are "expected to be linked to must-pass legislation reimbursing physicians for treating Medicare patients," Brian Tumulty reports. About 600 hospitals get subsidies from the LVH program and 177 get help from the MDH progam.

"Schumer said the renewals have been short term because providing long-term financing would be so expensive," Tumulty reports. "It's one of the legacies of the 1997 Balanced Budget Act, which called for federal budget savings by limiting Medicare payments to the overall economy's rate of growth. It was named the Sustainable Growth Initiative at the time, but the formula hasn't been sustainable in the real world because health care costs have increased faster than the rest of the economy."

A first: Federal judge says over-applying manure to fields subjects dairy to solid-waste regulation

Can manure be spread so thick that it can be considered a solid waste subject to state and federal regulation? Yes, a U.S. district judge in Washington state ruled last week, marking the first time a federal court has said manure from livestock facilities can be so regulated, Ayesha Rascoe of Reuters reports.

Judge Thomas Rice of Washington's Eastern District rules that Cow Palace Dairy in Zillah, Wash., "polluted groundwater by over-applying manure to soil," Rascoe reports. "In one instance, the plaintiffs in the case said Cow Palace applied more than 7 million gallons of manure" to a field that was already "sufficiently fertilized."

Cow Palace plans to appeal, one of its attorneys said. "There's a reason no court has ever done this," Debora Kristensen told Rascoe. "It's because the statute was not intended to apply to these situations." She said the dairy already has an agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency to address water-pollution issues. (Read more)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

First Pulitzer Prize for rural weekly editors went to N.C. pair that fought Klan; PBS airs documentary

The holiday honoring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a good time to recognize a courageous rural weekly newspaper editor who took on the Ku Klux Klan years before King and others created the movement that won civil rights for the descendants of African American slaves.

Last week PBS aired "The Editor and the Dragon," a University of North Carolina film by Walt Campbell about the late W. Horace Carter, editor and publisher of the Tabor City Tribune, who, with an allied editor in nearby Whiteville, were the first weekly editors to win a Pulitzer Prize. PBS affiliates around the country continue to broadcast the hour-long documentary.

When the Klan came to town, Carter said, he told his wife: "I can't approve of this intimidation of people by an outfit that's organized outside the law. . . . It may be very unpopular, but I have to do what I think is right, and what my conscience tells me to do."

That was risky, said UNC Professor of Leadership and Public Policy Hodding Carter III, whose family published a daily paper in Greenville, Miss., at the time: "Everything in these towns was played out on the personal level. Everything in these towns was played out on the absolute level that you either won or you lost, and sometimes the winning or losing consisted of living or dying."

In an editorial, Horace Carter (no kin to Hodding) called the Klan "the personification of fascism and Naziism." He thought almost all in local authority agreed with him, but he learned differently. "Amazingly, I had almost no favorable reaction when those first editorials were written," he said in the documentary.

But he kept writing, and went beyond criticism of the Klan to advocate equal opportunity for blacks. He got a tip that he was to be murdered. "At the height of the crusade, there was never a day that we didn't get threats" of such things as arson and kidnapping of his children, he said. Klan Grand Dragon Thomas L. Hamilton threatened a boycott, which "would have been the end of the Tabor City Tribune," Carter says, but despite that and continued threats, "He pushed even harder in his editorials," narrator Morgan Freeman says in the documentary.

After a big Klan rally, Carter got an editorial ally: his old friend Willard Cole, editor of The News Reporter in Whiteville, also in Columbus County, who suffered the same sorts of threats. When the Klan became more violent, the FBI started its first civil-rights investigation, which resulted in more than 100 arrests and convictions, and the 1953 Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service to Carter and Cole.

"We only did what any reputable newspaper would have done," Carter said. He did a national speaking tour, but went back to Tabor City and remained publisher of the Tabor-Loris Tribune until he died, in 2009. For more details of his life and career, click here.