Friday, July 24, 2015

Army calls armed citizens outside recruiting centers a threat, tells recruiters to avoid them

Armed citizens patrolling outside military recruiting centers—mostly in rural areas—should be treated as a threat, said a U.S. Army Recruiting Command policy letter issued this week, Travis Tritten reports for Stars and Stripes. The self-appointed citizen guards have been popping up outside recruiting centers in most states in response to last week's shooting in Chattanooga that resulted in the deaths of five service members who were unarmed. (Dallas Morning News photo by Rose Baca: an armed citizen outside a recruiting center in Cleburne, Texas)

The letter said "soldiers should avoid anyone standing outside the recruiting centers attempting to offer protection and report them to local law enforcement and the command if they feel threatened," Tritten writes. The letter stated: “I’m sure the citizens mean well, but we cannot assume this in every case, and we do not want to advocate this behavior."

Recruiters have been "ordered not to interact or acknowledge the armed civilians, who have been greeted by a mix of concern, indifference and gratitude by the public," Tritten writes. The letter states: “If questioned by these alleged concerned citizens, be polite, professional and terminate the conversation immediately and report the incident to local law enforcement."

Stewart Rhodes, president of Oath Keepers, a Constitution activist group based in Las Vegas, told reporters that "it’s 'absolutely insane' that recruiters aren’t allowed to be armed," Tritten writes. Rhodes told reporters, “They’re sitting ducks. They’d be better off if they were walking down the streets of Baghdad, because at least in Baghdad, they could move. Here, they’re stationary.” (Read more)

Interactive map charts body camera laws and policies in more than 100 police departments

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has created a great interactive online tool for journalists that charts "the policies of more than 100 police departments and laws in nearly every state regarding public access to police body camera videos," reports Reporters Committee.

The map "shows which states have passed bodycam legislation, which are considering action and which have nothing on the books," reports Reporters Committee. "Clicking on a state will bring up links to legislation and other materials, if available. Similarly, by clicking on individual cities, users can quickly see police department policies regarding the release of bodycam video to the public. Also included are court decisions, as relevant." (For an interactive version, click here)

Struggling rural hospitals can survive by strengthening connection to community

Struggling rural hospitals can remain open by adapting to changing times. They can grow outpatient and emergency care, shrink inpatient care and develop large emergency rooms with a few beds for observation to hold a patient for transport as part of Accountable Care Organizations, said Richard Grundling, vice president of healthcare financial practices at the Healthcare Financial Management Association, Sherree Geyer reports for Healthcare Finance.

Grundling said rural hospitals can take advantage of being the only healthcare option in the region, Geyer writes. He told her, "You are the only provider. Strengthen your community connections. Enhance patient experience because most people prefer to have their care closer to home."

Since 2010, an estimated 55 rural hospitals in 23 states have closed, Geyer writes. Closings are blamed on the recession, refusal of some states to expand Medicaid under federal health reform, doctor shortages, "demographic and market changes and decreased demand and new models of care."

Grundling told Geyer, "Rural health has lots of challenges, which became particularly true after ACA was passed. They lack the economies of scale, have limited access to capital. Because of the infrequency of certain surgical procedures, they have difficulty matching quality standards with larger hospitals and limited ability to track and maintain physicians and clinical support staff."

EPA proposes voluntary methane emissions cuts for oil and gas industry

The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday proposed a program "for oil and gas companies to make voluntary pledges to cut and track emissions of methane," Valerie Volcovici reports for Reuters. The move is part of the Obama administration's goal to cut methane emissions from oil and gas production by up to 45 percent by 2025 from the levels recorded in 2012.

"The Natural Gas STAR Methane Challenge Program would require companies to make specific reduction pledges and submit data each year, expanding on a program that has been in place since 1993 by offering more transparent tracking and let companies make less specific pledges," Volcovici writes.

"EPA is expected to propose regulations later this summer on methane emissions," Volcovici writes. "The American Petroleum Institute industry group, which has argued that regulations are unnecessary since methane emissions have fallen even as gas and oil drilling has risen, said it will work with the EPA to improve the proposed program."

Environmental groups, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Clean Air Task Force, say voluntary measures don't go far enough, Volcovici writes. Conrad Schneider, advocacy director for the Clean Air Task Force, told her, "The standards must be legally enforceable, something that, by definition, voluntary programs are not." (Read more)

Postal Service to study if rural mail is being delivered on time

The Financial Services and General Government appropriation bill for 2016 includes language directing the U.S. Postal Service "to expand the methodology to report mail delivery performance to specifically include mail delivery from rural towns to other rural towns; from rural towns to urban areas; and from urban areas to rural towns," reports the National Newspaper Association.

The campaign was spearheaded by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who told NNA, “Rural mail delivery has been increasingly strained in recent years, especially with additional mail processing center closures in my state. Many rural Missourians have experienced delayed mail, and it is a problem that needs to be addressed . . . this is a constructive step forward to address the ongoing challenges facing rural mail service.”

Language specifies that the Senate Appropriations Committee "requests this methodology within 60 days of enactment of the Act, with a subsequent report on the data gathered using this methodology to be provided to the Committee no later than March 1, 2016," reports NNA. While the bill still has to pass the House and Senate, NNA chief executive officer Tonda Rush said "she believed the study would begin even without the final passage of the legislation."

Ripped from the pages of literature, interactive map charts roads trips from 12 books

There's still time this summer to hit the highways and see America. For those looking for a grand adventure straight from the pages of some of literature's most beloved tales, the folks at Atlas Osbscura have created an interactive map that details road trips from 12 popular novels and memoirs.

"I am a freak for the American road trip. And I'm not alone, as some of this country's best writers have taken a shot at describing that quintessentially American experience," writes Richard Kreitner, who researched the routes, while Steven Melendez created the map. The map "includes every place-name reference in 12 books about cross-country travel, from Mark Twain’s "Roughing It" (1872) to Cheryl Strayed’s "Wild" (2012), and maps the authors’ routes on top of one another. You can track an individual writer’s descriptions of the landscape as they traveled across it, or you can zoom in to see how different authors have written about the same place at different times." (For a larger version, click here)

Photography project captures decaying 19th century rural structures on film

Photographer Kelly Micheau has created a project, Far Enough Photo, to capture decaying 19th century rural structures on film, Andy Wright reports for Atlas Obscura. "Urban exploration (or 'urbex') is a popular term for the scoping out of old buildings, but Micheau’s pursuit is a bit more specific. Her niche, she says, is 'in the homes, churches and schools of the rural South, referred to as 'rurex' until someone coins a better term.'” (Micheau photo: This home in Tattnall County, Georgia, was built in 1870)

Micheau has focused on the South, mainly in North Florida, Georgia and Alabama, Wright writes. She told Wright, "Like memorials to their builders’ hopes and intentions, these places represent so much more than just four decaying walls. I enjoy the peek into what life was like for someone from a different time."

Micheau finds her subjects mostly by wandering around, looking for something interesting to photograph, Wright writes. Once she's finished photographing a structure, she begins researching it. She told Wright, "Each place has a unique history to uncover, and I feel just as compelled to find out about the modest shack that housed tenant farmers as I do the grand plantation estates. Because of the time frame that I focus on (early 1800s to early 1900s), each home had many people who took their first and last breaths inside. I am acutely aware of this when I get to visit a place that undoubtedly has incredible history to one family somewhere." (Read more)

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Sundy Best telethon is latest fundraiser for Eastern Kentucky flood victims

People from all over Kentucky, including the state's economically distressed eastern region, are contributing to relief funds for people in an Eastern Kentucky county who were devastated by a July 13 flood that killed four people and destroyed nearly 70 homes.

The latest example was a Sunday night telethon on WYMT-TV in Hazard featuring Sundy Best, the country-music duo who are natives of Floyd County, just south of Johnson County, where the flood hit. It raised almost $50,000, the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky said in a press release. "The television station mobilized their entire cast and crew to set the stage for a long, live, and flawless broadcast that would bring the realization of devastation to people’s living rooms across the region."

WYMT quotes Kris Bentley of Sundy Best: "To be here and see people's faces that have had to endure it right at their doorstep is heartbreaking. You hope you never see a disaster like this at home." He said in the news release, "You know, we all got each other’s back in this area; in this whole state. It's very Kentucky for Kentucky."

SPJ makes its online Code of Ethics interactive

The Society of Professional Journalists has made its Code of Ethics interactive online, allowing users to sift through supporting documents and other background information that help explain why the code says what it says and help journalists make ethical decisions.

Since the code’s most recent revision, at the Excellence in Journalism conference in September 2014, Ethics Committee members have been working on the interactive project. Now clickable arrow icons allow readers to explore the additional resources.

“The library of documents will never be complete,” said Andrew Seaman, SPJ Ethics Committee chair. “Instead, these lists will change as more resources are found, or as resources become obsolete. Also, it’s important to note that these documents are not part of the society’s Code of Ethics.”

In addition to the supporting documents, the Code of Ethics is now available in six languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German and Spanish. Russian will be added soon. For more information, read Seaman’s blog at

"The SPJ Code of Ethics is a statement of abiding principles supported by explanations and position papers that address changing journalistic practices," an SPJ news release said. "It is not a set of rules, rather a guide that encourages all who engage in journalism to take responsibility for the information they provide, regardless of medium. The code should be read as a whole; individual principles should not be taken out of context. It is not, nor can it be under the First Amendment, legally enforceable."

Armed citizen groups forming in front of rural military recruitment centers in wake of shootings

Self-appointed armed guards are popping up in front of rural military recruitment centers in several states in response to the shootings in Chattanooga last week that resulted in the deaths of five service members, Cheyene Miller reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. (Herald-Leader photo by Erin McLaughlin: armed citizens guarding the Armed Forces Career Center in London, Ky.)

Byran Cheak, who organized Operation Defend the Defenders in Laurel County, Kentucky, said "their ultimate goal, besides deterring further violence, is to influence lawmakers or the military to allow recruiters to carry weapons," Miller writes. Cheak said he first gained approval of recruiting offices and local police before stationing himself outside with a weapon. He said by the end of the day his lone watch had turned to nine people.

While local law enforcement said the watch has not resulted in any complaints, Capt. Jim Stenger, U.S. Marine Corps public affairs officer for the recruiting district that covers several Midwestern states, said he hoped the volunteers would go home, Miller writes. He told reporters, "While we greatly appreciate the support of the American public during this tragedy, we ask that citizens do not stand guard at our recruiting offices. Our continued public trust lies among our trained first responders for the safety of the communities where we live and work." (Read more)

Since the shooting "governors in at least a dozen states—Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Mississippi, North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin—had ordered the arming of state National Guard recruiters located off base, according to the National Guard Bureau and news reports," Terry DeMio and Keith BieryGolick report for The Cincinnati Enquirer.

UPDATE: In Lancaster, Ohio, "The owner of a shopping center that includes a storefront military recruitment center ordered armed civilians guarding the center to leave the premises today after one of them accidentally fired his rifle," Mary Beth Lane reports for The Columbus Dispatch. "A group of armed civilians have been guarding the recruiters inside the multi-branch center since Monday. One of them has been charged with a misdemeanor after he accidentally fired his AR-15 rifle this afternoon. One shot was fired, and no one was injured."

HIV outbreaks in rural Indiana town have peaked

Health officials say the HIV outbreak in rural Austin, Ind., has peaked, dropping from a high of 22 new cases per week to two or fewer per week, Chris Kenning reports for the Courier-Journal in Louisville. Austin, a town with about 4,200 residents and only one doctor, has had 175 reported cases of HIV, mostly linked to shared needles among intravenous drug users. (Kenning photo: Austin resident Tammy Breeding made this sign to keep away drug dealers and prostitutes she says are still in the area)

"The outbreak, linked to IV use of the painkiller Opana, was unusual for the large numbers in a rural community," Kenning writes. "It prompted officials with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue a health advisory alerting states, health departments and doctors nationwide to be on the lookout for clusters of HIV and hepatitis C among IV drug users, particularly in rural areas." Republican Gov. Mike Pence also declared a public health emergency, allowing local authorities to begin a short-term needle-exchange program.

While drug use remains a problem in Austin and Scott County, Pam Pontones, state epidemiologist for Indiana, said "they have reached about 85 percent of the 494 people identified as being at risk," Kenning writes. "Along with connecting those diagnosed with antiviral medication, those targeted get referrals to insurance, counseling and substance abuse treatment."

Statistics show that one in five Scott County adults lives in poverty, has not completed high school or is on disability, Kenning writes. "It ranks at the bottom of 92 Indiana counties on most health indicators, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation national health rankings." (Read more)

USDA expects an increase in bird flu outbreaks this fall; vaccine has proven effective on chickens

More than 43 million birds have been infected with avian influenza since December 2014, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture "is gearing up to deal with as many as 500 incidents of avian flu this fall, far more than the number that devastated Midwest producers this spring, says Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack," Philip Brasher reports for Agri-Pulse. "Vilsack told the House Agriculture Committee on Wednesday that his department is working to increase the number of incident response teams to deal more quickly with outbreaks on farms."

"USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has reported 223 detections of avian flu since Dec. 19, including 105 in Minnesota and 75 in Iowa," Brasher writes. "There have been no new detections reported since June 17, but the outbreak devastated turkey and egg production in the two states, and there are fears it could reach broiler operations in the South."

Vilsack said a vaccine that has been proven to be 100 percent effective in chickens and is currently being tested on turkeys will soon be available, Brasher writes. (WATTAgNet map: 2015 avian influenza outbreaks)

Demise of honeybee populations has been greatly exaggerated; colonies highest in 20 years

The demise of the honeybee has been greatly exaggerated. While honeybee populations—which pollinate $15 billion worth of crops—have been dying at higher than average rates every winter, losing 42.1 percent of colonies last year, the total number of colonies has actually increased since colony collapse disorder was discovered in 2006, Christopher Ingraham reports for The Washington Post. From 2006 to 2014 the number of colonies rose from 2.4 million to 2.7 million, the highest total in 20 years. (Post graphic)

Honeybee populations typically lose 14 percent of their colonies every year, Ingraham writes. "So beekeepers have devised two main ways to replenish their stock. The first method involves splitting one healthy colony into two separate colonies: put half the bees into a new beehive, order them a new queen online (retail price: $25 or so) and voila: two healthy hives. The other method involves simply buying a bunch of bees to replace the ones you lost. You can buy 3 pounds of 'packaged' bees, plus a queen, for about $100 or so."

"Beekeepers have been doing this sort of thing since the advent of commercial beekeeping," Ingraham writes. "When CCD came along, it roughly doubled the usual annual rate of bee die-offs. But this doesn't mean that bees are going extinct, just that beekeepers need to work a little harder to keep production up. The price of some of that extra work will get passed on to the consumer. The average retail price of honey has roughly doubled since 2006, for instance."

DOT warns railroads to comply with requirement to notify states of large crude oil shipments

"The U.S. Department of Transportation warned railroads that they must continue to notify states of large crude oil shipments after several states reported not getting updated information for as long as a year," Curtis Tate reports for McClatchy Newspapers. "The department imposed the requirement in May 2014 following a series of fiery oil train derailments. It was designed to help state and local emergency officials assess their risk and training needs." (Associated Press photo by Richard Peterson: Derailment last week in Culbertson, Mont.)

Sarah Feinberg, the acting chief of the Federal Railroad Administration, sent a letter to companies Wednesday telling "them that the notifications were 'crucial' to first responders and state and local officials in developing emergency plans," Tate writes. She wrote: “We strongly support transparency and public notification to the fullest extent possible. And we understand the public’s interest in knowing what is traveling through their communities.”

"The emergency order requires the railroads to report the weekly frequency of shipments of 1 million gallons or more of Bakken crude, the routes they use and the counties through which they pass," Tate writes. "The railroads must update the reports when the volume increases or decreases by 25 percent."

Companies have argued that reporting information "security risks and exposes the companies to competitive harm," Tate writes. In 2015 there have been six major oil train derailments in North America, the most recent occurring last week in Montana. More oil was spilled on U.S. railways in 2013 than in the previous 37 years combined, and that doesn't count the spillage and 47 deaths from a derailment in Quebec of a train running from North Dakota to Maine.

Majority of hunters, anglers support Waters of the U.S. rules, bipartisan survey finds

A survey of 1,000 hunters and anglers found that 83 percent support the Environmental Protection Agency's Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rules and 75 percent "agreed that it provided 'important safeguards for drinking water supplies, fish and wildlife habitat and public health,'" Whitney Forman-Cook reports for Agri-Pulse. The survey was conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican research firm, and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, a Democrat affiliated firm, for the National Wildlife Federation.

"Eighty-two percent of the sportsmen respondents said water quality protections could be compatible with economic prosperity," Forman-Cook writes. "Seventy-seven percent of Republican respondents said they were supportive, and 77 percent of self-described Tea Party voters—who made up 49 percent of the 1,000 respondents—indicated support. Seventy-nine percent of independents and 97 percent of Democrats said they supported the rule as well."

Regionally, 86 percent of respondents from the Northeast support the rule, 85 percent from the Midwest, 81 percent from the South and 79 percent from the West, Forman-Cook writes. "In terms of gender and the rural/urban divide: 87 percent of female and 81 percent of male anglers and hunters surveyed as supporters, and 77 percent of rural sportsmen concurred." (Read more)

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Ky. starts pilot program to help pay off loans of new dentists who practice in Appalachian Ky.

Kentucky officials have started a pilot program to forgive dental-school loans of new dentists who practice in Appalachian Kentucky, with preference given to economically distressed counties and students who return to their home county.

The program has only $500,000, enough to place just two to five dentists in the two-year pilot period, but it was endorsed by the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, U.S. Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers, whose 5th District covers the coal counties of Appalachian Kentucky, and it was announced immediately before an executive committee meeting of Shaping Our Appalachian Region, the nonprofit that Rogers and Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear created to lift the area's economy after massive layoffs in the coal industry.

"Rogers' endorsement of the pilot program suggests he may use it as the basis for federal appropriations or legislation to help other rural areas that need dentists or even doctors," Rural Blog Publisher Al Cross writes for Kentucky Health News.

Rogers said the program should send some new dentists back home to in his district, the nation's most rural. He said dental-care access in the region has been poor because "We've shipped out our talent for their education and the rest of their productive life" and given them little incentive to return. Meanwhile, more than half of Eastern Kentucky children aged 2-11 have tooth decay, he said.

"A lot of our graduates at UK and U of L really want to return home to practice," said Dr. M. Raynor Mullins, project leader of the Appalachian Rural Dental Education Project of the University of Kentucky Center for Oral Health. "I hear that from them every day, but high student debt is a real barrier." The University of Louisville, which has the state's other dental school, will also participate.

The shortage of dentists in Appalachian Kentucky is often cited as one reason the region and the state have such poor oral health. Another obstacle is that many dentists won't accept Medicaid, citing low reimbursements. Dentists in the program will be required to accept Medicaid.

More dentists than ever are needed to treat the hundreds of thousands of Kentuckians newly covered by Medicaid after the state's expansion of the federal-state program. State Health Secretary Audrey Haynes said 270,000 of the nearly 500,000 children enrolled in Medicaid visited a dentist last year.

Inmates in many states forgo medical care because they lack the funds to afford copays

At least 38 states authorize the collection of fees—typically $20 or less—from a prisoner for medical services received while incarcerated, Michael Ollove reports for Stateline. Fees are taken from a prisoner's commissary fund, which is money they earn to pay for supplies such as snacks, toothpaste and soap. States are required by a Supreme Court ruling to waive the fees if a prisoner is unable to pay.

"The rationale for charging copays is the same for prisoners as it is for people not behind bars: to discourage seeking medical care when it is not really needed," Ollove writes. "Critics argue charging fees may cause ill inmates to forgo treatment, which can lead to worsening health and higher medical costs down the road as well as the possibility of spreading infections in the close quarters of prison."

Robert Greifinger, the former chief medical officer of the New York Department of Corrections, told Ollove “It may not seem like a lot of money, but typically the prisoners are impoverished and often so are their families. Sometimes, their choices come down to a medical appointment or shampoo.” (Stateline map: States that charge inmates for medical services)
"Health care in prisons and jails is not insurance-based," Ollove writes. "States and local jurisdictions pay for health care services for inmates. For any state prison system, it is one of the biggest and fastest growing budget items." A July 2014 analysis by the Pew Charitable Trusts, which funds Stateline, "found that states spent about $7.7 billion on prison health care in 2011, or about one-fifth of overall prison expenditures. Between 2007 and 2011, states' median growth rate in health spending per inmate was 10 percent."

Inmate co-pays are a small percentage of those funds, Ollove writes. For example, Pennsylvania collects about $373,000 from inmates and spends $248 million on prisoner health care. Virginia collects about $500,000 and spends $160 million. California takes in about $500,000 and spends about $2.2 billion, and Michigan collects about $190,000 and spends $300 million. (Read more)

Is Walmart's pledge to buy American an attempt to revive U.S. manufacturing or a PR stunt?

At Walmart's third annual U.S. manufacturing summit, a video of Sam Walton from the 1980s was played, in which the corporation's founder said, "Almost anything can be made by Americans, in this country, and be done efficiently,” reports Lydia DePillis for The Washington Post. "Ultimately, Walton failed. American factories that might have fueled the effort instead closed. Critics blamed Walmart’s insistence on low costs for driving the U.S. supply chain to China, where cheap labor overwhelmed American rivals and the nation's manufacturing base hollowed out." (DePillis photo: Making media out of Wal-Mart's U.S. Manufacturing Summit.)

"Now, Wal-Mart is trying to revive it," Depillis writes. "Two years into a ten-year plan to buy $250 billion more in products from U.S. factories, the retailer is heavily hyping its effort, which comes as it struggles with flagging sales and labor strife. Skeptics, citing the company’s history, say it’s just a glitzy PR stunt. This time, though, the retailer might break though where its founder couldn’t. Advances in technology and a rising standard of living (and thus wages) in China help. And just as Wal-Mart originally used its gargantuan scale to send supply chains overseas, it can redirect that purchasing power into hauling them back onshore, while sticking to its every-day-low-prices raison d’être."

"Of course, helping America make stuff again is also a way for Walmart to return to the country’s good graces," Depillis writes. "In that way, it resembles previous efforts to become more energy efficient—might as well use something that helps the bottom line to burnish your credentials as a corporate citizen."

"But there’s a catch: manufacturing is different this time around," DePillis writes. "The same technology that helps factories compete eliminates the need for many workers. So while Wal-Mart could be successful in its bid to bring some production home, it’s going to have to buy a whole lot more from the U.S. than it ever did before in order to replace the jobs that have already been lost."

County and state-level maps show the largest populations by age groups

American FactFinder has created maps using Census data that chart county and state-level populations for the Greatest Generation (70 and above), Baby Boomers (50 to 69), Generation X (30 to 49), Generation Y (15 to 29) and Generation Z (0 to 14 years old), Ana Swanson reports for The Washington Post. (For a larger version, click here)
Greatest Generation populations are most prevalent in Florida but are also high in Arizona, Maine, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, Swanson writes. Large portions of Generation X have migrated to the cities, most notably New York, Minnesota, Illinois, Texas, Colorado and the West Coast. Those under 30 are being seen in faster growing states, such as North Dakota, Utah and California, with Utah having the most Generation Z and Washington, D.C., the least. Generation Y has the greatest population in North Dakota, where the oil and gas boom has led to mass migration. (For a larger version click here)
While Generation X has the most population in many states, Baby Boomers outnumber them in Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico, South Dakota, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Florida, South Carolina, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut and Rhode Island, Swanson writes.

Michigan State University rural medical program trying to address state's doctor shortage

Four rural Michigan counties—Cass, Keweenaw, Lake and Oscoda—consistently fall below recommended ratios of primary care physicians to population, and seven other rural counties—most in the northern half of the Lower Peninsula—fall below suggested ratios in every primary care field it examined except family practice, says a report by the Citizens Research Council, Ted Roelofs reports for Bridge Magazine. 

The 2012 data found that "the bottom 10 counties in Michigan had ratios of population-to-primary care physician ranging from 3,095-to-1 in Arenac County north of Bay City to 7,463-to-1 in Cass County in southwest Michigan," Roelofs writes. "All 10 are rural counties. The state average was 1,246-to-1, slightly better than the U.S. average of 1,342-to-1."

Help could be on the way, through a program from Michigan State University, Roelofs writes in a separate story. For more than 40 years, MSU has admitted 12 students each year to the College of Human Medicine Rural Physician Program, which sends medical students to rural areas in the Upper Peninsula. In 2012 the school launched the Rural Community Health Program, a similar program that sends six students to the Lower Peninsula. The first class graduated this year.

Program director Andrea Wendling told Roelofs, “Our goal by the time they graduate is that they have a really good understanding of what it would be like to practice in a rural community in Michigan." (Read more)

Conservationists, developers battle over proposed golf course in Chesapeake Bay bald eagle habitat

A habitat for tens of thousands of bald eagles in Virginia's Chesapeake Bay region could soon be disrupted to make room for a luxury golf course and resort, Darryl Fears reports for The Washington Post. Local officials recently "approved a request from Diatomite Corporation of America to rezone a large section of the cliffs for a sprawling resort with pricey housing and an 18-hole golf course."

The proposed development on the rezoned land in Fones Cliff "has set off a heated skirmish in sleepy Richmond County, which federal troops occupied during the Civil War," Fears writes. "It also is known as the place where native tribes fired arrows at explorer John Smith as he sailed through in 1608. In the fall, the county board will consider whether to allow construction." (Post graphic)
Conservationists "say wiping away hundreds of trees will destroy the scenery that Smith viewed before English settlers arrived," Fears writes. "Even worse, they say, a resort that would take years to build could permanently damage one of the most important gathering places for eagles in the Chesapeake Bay region. Hundreds of eagles live there, and as many as 20,000 visit to feed on shad, herring and blue catfish as they migrate between Canada and South America. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which operates the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge, also has expressed concern."

"But a backer of the project said the conservationists are part of 'a cabal of interests,' including property owners along the Rappahannock who are using environmental issues as a wedge to keep the remote and quiet landscape to themselves," Fears writres. "He described their opposition as a NIMBY movement—'not in my back yard.'” (Read more)

New study suggests latest chapter in old tale: Methane leaks largely come from a few bad actors

Pipeline compressors can leak. (E&E)
The recent history of environmental regulation of energy producers in the United States is largely one of chasing a few bad actors who do most of the damage. That is reflected in the latest study of methane emissions by natural-gas companies, a problem that has reduced the appeal of natural gas as an alternative to coal for electricity generation.

"Published yesterday in Environmental Science & Technology, the paper is part of an ongoing effort by the Environmental Defense Fund to study how much methane is bleeding out of the U.S. gas supply system," Pamela King reports for Environment & Energy News. "The study suggests a small group of 'super-emitters' could be responsible for up to 40 percent" of the leaking gas, estimated to be worth $240 million a year.

The researchers, largely from Colorado State University, found that two of the 45 pipeline facilities they randomly sampled were emitting large amounts of gas. "Onsite observers indicated that venting was likely due to an anomalous condition, such as gas leaking through a faulty isolation valve," they reported. They estimated that "about 1 in 25 facilities is estimated to be a super-emitter at any one time." Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, though it beaks down sooner.

EDF Air Policy Director N. Jonathan Peress said companies that volunteered to participate in the study reported emissions 30 percent lower than non-participants, indicating that better regulatory standards are needed. "The trade group Interstate Natural Gas Association of America highlighted the CSU team's conclusion that average methane emissions from the gas-transmission and storage sector were 27 percent lower than EPA figures," King reports.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Free webinar will help newspapers deal with digital advertising competition that's getting stronger

The Rural Blog is mainly about reporting rural issues, but it's also about rural news media, and to pay for reporting they must have advertising. That may be harder to get in the future.

The increasingly digital, mobile and social world of news may have reached a tipping point for community newspapers: a recent survey of more than 7,200 small- to medium-size businesses shows "they view anything involving traditional media channels as expensive, difficult and risky, and anything involving digital as inexpensive, easy and low-risk," reports the California Newspaper Publishers Association

Gordon Borrell, CEO of Borrell Associates, will review the survey in a free webinar at 2 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, July 28. He will address how newspapers can "actually thrive in this new environment," CNPA says. To register for the webinar, click here.

Struggling rural Mo. hospital thrives by expanding; plan could be used by other rural hospitals

A rural Missouri hospital on the brink of closure found a way to stay open, not by cutting costs, jobs or services, but by expanding operations, Bram Sable-Smith reports for NPR. Faced with dwindling patients, operating losses, a shrinking budget and staff resignations, the Putnam County Memorial Hospital board considered closing down the Unionville (Best Places map) hospital, which caters to about 5,000 residents, many of them older, poorer, sicker and less insured than the rest of the state.

Before a decision was made about closing the hospital, the board received a call from "a doctor in the area called Jerry Cummings, who was then running a medical consulting business with his wife Cindy in central Missouri," Sable-Smith writes. "Instead of closing its doors, Putnam County Memorial should expand, the couple advised." They said "the hospital could convert an unused 10-bed unit into a psychiatric wing to bring in new revenue . . . and offer other medical services that Putnam County residents were driving hours away to get."

In 2012 the Cummings were hired to run the hospital and brought with them specialists in anesthesiology, gynecology and cardiology, Sable-Smith writes. "They also rallied the county to pass a roughly $7 million dollar bond initiative to buy out the hospital's old debt and renovate."

"And patients started coming back," Sable-Smith writes. Jerry Cummings told Sable-Smith, "Our revenues went from $4 million to $22 million—a huge increase. Our average daily [patient] census—it was less than 1 patient per day. Our average daily census now is around 11 to 12 patients."

A November 2014 report by the health panel of the Rural Policy Research Institute says more cash-strapped rural hospitals could thrive by taking the same tack, Sable-Smith. At least 55 rural hospitals have closed since 2010, and another 1 in 10 are at risk of going under.

Annual Kids Count report offers a wealth of information on child well-being in your community

The annual Kids Count report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation was released today. The report features county-level data in five categories: child well-being; economic well-being; education; health; and family and community. While job growth and consumer spending are up and unemployment is down, the report found warning signs that the recovery could be leaving the lowest income families behind, especially families of color. (Annie E. Casey Foundation map: States ranked by health)

States were ranked for each category. For child well-being, Minnesota was ranked No. 1, followed by New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Iowa and Vermont. Mississippi was ranked last, with New Mexico at 49, Louisiana, 48; Nevada, 47; Arizona, 46 and Alabama, 45. The top five states for economic well-being are: North Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota. The bottom five are: Mississippi, California, New Mexico, Louisiana and Nevada.

When it comes to education, Massachusetts leads, followed by New Jersey, New Hampshire, Vermont and Connecticut. The bottom five states are: Nevada, New Mexico, Mississippi, Louisiana and West Virginia. The top five states for health are: Iowa, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Illinois. The bottom five are: Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, Montana and Nevada. When it comes to family and community, the top five are: New Hampshire, Utah, Vermont, Minnesota and Maine. The bottom five are: Mississippi, New Mexico, Louisiana, Texas and Arizona.

The report provides excellent information for local stories, and we recommend checking it out. To read the report, click here.

Drought, heat in Northwestern states leading to below-average wheat crops

"Intense drought conditions have shrunk the kernels and disrupted the proteins of winter wheat crops in Montana, Washington, Oregon and Idaho, the region that produces a fifth of the U.S. harvest," Alison Noon reports for The Associated Press. On Monday, the "National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) classified a large percentage of the region’s winter wheat as below-average quality." (Noon photo: Rick Diehl chews kernels from his winter wheat fields in East Helena, Mont.)

"Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and South Dakota typically raise winter wheat of slightly lesser quality than the Northwest, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s statistics arm," Noon writes. "But the Midwest is producing more 'good' bushels this year than its five-year average, while the Northwest’s 'good' ratings have dropped nearly 20 percent."

June temperatures in Idaho, Oregon and Washington were the highest on record, while Montana had three days in the 90s and 14 in the 80s, Noon writes. NASS Northwest Regional Director Chris Mertz told Noon, “I think earlier on some of the growers were more optimistic, but as the summer’s progressed, it’s gotten drier and drier as the harvest comes up. They’re still waiting to hear what happens when they run the combines out there to see how it’s going to be.”

Standing desks could be the answer to reducing childhood obesity, keeping kids more active

Childhood obesity could be drastically reduced by replacing traditional school desks with standing ones, forcing students to spend more time on their feet, says a study conducted in Britain and Australia, Ariana Eunjung Cha reports for The Washington Post. Obesity has become an epidemic in the U.S., where at least 30 percent of adults in 18 states are obese, mostly in the South. (Ergotron photo: A standing desk)

School-age children typically spend 65 to 70 percent of their time sitting, Cha writes. Researchers found that students who used standing desks in Britain reduced their sitting time by 9.8 percent—or 66.6 minutes per day—and students in Australia reduced their sitting time by 10 percent—or 29.9 minutes per day. Being more active "could help them lose weight, improve their cardiovascular health, reduce their risk of type 2 diabetes and see other physical and psychological benefits."

Other studies back up the new study, including a 2014 study and a 2011 study, both conducted in Texas, which found that students using standing desks expended more energy, increased their steps and burned more calories, Cha writes. Parents and teachers in Marin County, Calif., where schools have experimented with standing desks, said students, parents and teachers like using them and consider them the wave of the future.

Pennsylvania DEP scrapping FracFocus for state-run database

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Quigley said the agency will phase out use of FracFocus—an online registry that allows companies to list the chemicals they use during fracking—and require "companies to disclose electronically the chemicals they use in hydraulic fracturing in a new state-run database," Katelyn Ferral reports for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Quigley said the new database will be more comprehensive and user-friendly.

"DEP's database will be based on a disclosure form that separates the list of chemicals and trade names, which the department hopes will encourage drillers to disclose more," Ferral writes. Companies will be required to begin submitting records in March 2016, and the database is expected to be available for use by next summer. Quigley said the plan is to "eventually integrate the records into a mapping system. Computer users would be able to click on a dot on a map and see all of the information for that well, including fracking chemicals used, inspection records and production reports submitted to DEP."

Quigley said that "DEP studied FracFocus' effectiveness last year and decided it did not allow users to download data sets and search for specific information easily," Ferral writes. Quigley told her, "We think we can do even better." (Read more)

Florida International University student-produced film examines dangers of rising sea levels

Video production students in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Florida International University in Miami recently presented the student-produced film, "South Florida’s Rising Seas: Impact," Adrian Herrera reports for Florida International University Student Media. The 33 students spent two semesters interviewing "engineers, environmentalists, real estate professionals and civic leaders to spread awareness of the dangers of sea level rise and how it will affect South Florida."

Assistant professor Katie MacMillin, who served as executive producer on the project, told Carolyn Holtzman of the Miami Herald, "They dove into the research and production as if their lives depended on it. The range of talent and commitment among these students is humbling.” (YouTube video)

Monday, July 20, 2015

Hospitalizations higher near Marcellus Shale fracking operations, study finds

People living close to hydraulic fracturing operations in the Marcellus Shale region have higher rates of hospitalization for heart conditions, neurological illness and other conditions, says a study by University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University researchers published in the science journal PLOS One. (The increase of active wells in Pennsylvania's Bradford and Susquehanna Counties from 2007 to 2011)

Data was taken about more than 198,000 hospitalizations from 2007 to 2011 from Wayne, Bradford and Susquehanna counties in the northeastern part of the state, reports Penn Medicine. "Bradford and Susquehanna saw a significant increase in drilling activity over this time period, while the control county, Wayne, experienced no drilling activity due to a ban on drilling in that county because of its proximity to the Delaware River watershed."

Researchers examined "the top 25 specific medical categories for hospitalizations, as defined by the Pennsylvania Health Cost Containment Council, reports Penn Medicine. The study found "that cardiology and neurologic inpatient prevalence rates (the proportion of a population found to have been hospitalized per 100 residents per year) were significantly higher in areas closer to active wells, as determined by the proximity of wells to a person’s home and their density as defined by the number of active wells per square kilometer."

"In addition, increased neurologic inpatient prevalence rates were associated with higher well density,"  reports Penn Medicine. "Hospitalizations for skin conditions, cancer and urologic problems were also associated with the proximity of dwellings to active wells."

Researchers "found that 18 zip codes had a well density greater than 0.79 wells per square kilometer, and residents living in these zip codes were predicted to have a 27 percent increase in cardiology inpatient prevalence rates for each year this specific active well density existed compared to Wayne County residents where there is no drilling," reports Penn Medicine. (Read more)

Falling oil prices and an increase in pipeline use easing rail delays for crops

Falling oil prices and a new pipeline have decreased rail delays of crops across the Upper Midwest, James MacPherson reports for The Associated Press. Justin Kringstad, director of the North Dakota Pipeline Authority, "said two things have helped displace oil traffic in recent months: a new 84,000-barrel-per-day pipeline that went into service in February and a more than $425 million refinery in western North Dakota that late last month began converting about 20,000 barrels of crude daily into diesel and other products, most of which remains in the state. Combined, those displace roughly 1½ oil trains daily or about 45 a month."

"Though the state produced 1.2 million barrels of crude per day in May, down slightly from the record set in December, the breakneck pace that elevated it to No. 2 behind Texas has decelerated with slumping oil prices slowing rig activity and lessening the need for freight shipments to support drilling," MacPherson writes. "State data shows 73 rigs drilling on Tuesday, down from 193 on the same day a year ago."

Producers have been trying to move crude oil off the rails for years, said Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council. He told MacPherson, "Producers want to get those barrels on pipelines. Oil wants to move to the pipelines. Getting it off the rails opens the rails for other commodities as well." (Read more)

Oil and gas boom led to an increase in male high school dropouts, study says

High-paying, low-skilled jobs in the oil and gas industry increased high school dropout rates among teenage boys from 2000 to 2013, says a study published in National Bureau of Economic Research. "For every 0.1 percentage point rise in the oil and gas industry's local male employment rate due to fracking, the dropout rate of male teens climbed by around 0.3 to 0.35 percentage point," the study found, Sho Chandra reports for Bloomberg. (Impact of fracking on employment)

"The study found that in the absence of fracking, the male-female gap in high school dropout rates among 17- to 18-year-olds would have narrowed between 2000 and 2013," Chandra writes. "Instead, it was unchanged at 1.4 percentage points at the end of the period, with males posting a 5.4 percent dropout rate versus 4 percent for females."

Researchers wrote: "By increasing the relative demand for low-skilled labor, fracking thus has the potential to slow growth in educational attainment. Such a phenomenon would work against broader economic trends both at the local level—where incomes may be rising due to fracking, especially among families whose children are more at risk of dropping out—and nationally—where technological change in other industries continues to favor the highly educated."

Two Charleston newspapers merge following the expiration of a court order

On July 19, 2010, U.S. District Judge John Copenhaver issued a judgment saying the Charleston Daily Mail must remain a daily newspaper, and MediaNews Group must have ownership and control of the newspaper. However, it was set to expire five years later—Sunday, July 19, 2015, Zack Harold writes for the West Virginia Focus.

Shortly afterward, the newsrooms of the Daily Mail and the Charleston Gazette were invited to a meeting where Susan Chilton Shumate, the Gazette's publisher since June 27, announced they all now worked for the same publication: the Charleston Gazette-Mail. The two publications had already had the same printing press, advertising, circulation and business operations but had always been independent. "The change was effective immediately," Harold writes. "The brand-new publication would go to press in just a few hours. After more than 100 years as competitors, the Gazette and the Daily Mail were no more."

One employee said, "The action itself is not something I am surprised about. I'm surprised with the way they went about it, but then, I don't know all the circumstances." (Read more)

Postal Service has steered away from talk of eliminating Saturday mail

It looks like the U.S. Postal Service has given up its five-year campaign to eliminate Saturday delivery, Andy Medici reports for the Federal Times. "An improving financial landscape and a Congress continually deadlocked over Postal Service reform has led to a slow and quiet death for what was once seen as the linchpin of a revitalized Postal Service."

Postal Service spokeswoman Sue Brennan told Medici, "While the topic of five-day delivery was a large part of the legislative ask in the last Congress, we are currently looking to gain consensus, and we have not been promoting five day as a key tenet." She "said the Postal Service still needs to find ways to increase revenues and optimize its networks while delivering fewer pieces of mail to more addresses."

"The Postal Service saw a controllable income—revenues minus controlled expenses—of about $313 million in the second quarter of fiscal 2015," Medici writes. "But after factoring in the Postal Service's obligation to prepay for 75 years of retiree health benefits and fund its worker compensation fund, the service shows a net loss of $1.5 billion. Overall revenue grew by $223 million—or about 1.3 percent— over the same period in fiscal 2014. Operating expenses fell by $160 million, contributing to the overall increase in income. So far this fiscal year the Postal Service has seen $1.4 billion in controllable income."

"The Postal Service has said it still needs legislation to overhaul the agency and provide for a greater investment in future priorities," Medici writes. "While removing the Postal Service's prefunding of retiree health benefits would give it some time to make improvements, it also wants greater workforce flexibility and wants Medicare to become the primary insurance of eligible postal retirees. The agency also needs to make billions of dollars of investments in its fleet and building infrastructure, technology and other areas."

Alaska to expand Medicaid under Obamacare

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, a Republican-turned-Independent who won the 2014 election with the support of the Democratic party, announced on Thursday that he would use his executive power to expand the public Medicaid health-care program, Nathaniel Herz reports for Alaska Dispatch News. Alaska will become the 30th state to expand Medicaid.

"Alaska’s Medicaid program currently covers about 120,000 low-income children, pregnant women and people with disabilities," Herz writes. "Walker’s move makes newly eligible about 42,000 more Alaskans who make less than $20,300 annually, or couples with combined incomes of less than $27,500, though only 21,000 are expected to enroll in the first year." About 45 percent of the 42,000 people currently have jobs, said the Walker administration.

The Alaska Republican Party "called Walker’s decision 'pound-foolish' and said in a prepared statement that he 'risks bankrupting Alaska,'" Herz writes. "Alaska currently spends about $640 million annually on its Medicaid program, with the total state operating budget at just over $5 billion this fiscal year." (Read more)

First federally approved drone delivery of medicine took place Friday in rural Virginia

The first federally approved drone delivery of medicine took place on Friday at a rural field hospital in southwest Virginia, Yann Ranaivo reports for The Roanoke Times. "The drone, a hexacopter roughly the size of a portable fire pit," made three trips from the airport two miles away, delivering 20 pounds of medicine to benefit two dozen patients at the annual Remote Area Medical mobile clinic in Wise County. (Times photo by Stephanie Klein-Davis: the drone leaving the Lonesome Pine Regional Airport)

Virginia Tech University's "Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership—one of six U.S. drone test sites approved by the Federal Aviation Administration—ran the groundbreaking exercise in collaboration with NASA and Flirtey, a Reno, Nev.-based drone startup," Ranaivo writes. The delivery included "medication for diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, chronic stomach pains and depression, among other conditions." (Read more)

Horses abandoned on reclaimed coal land in Eastern Kentucky creating safety concerns

Horse owners in coal-depressed Eastern Kentucky have been abandoning horses on "land owned or leased by coal companies that was in various stages of being reclaimed," Sarah Coleman reports for Horse Channel. The result is that hundreds of domesticated horses are now roaming wild and new generations of horses that have never been handled by humans have been born on these lands. (Kentucky Humane Society photo)

Lori Redmon, president and CEO of the Kentucky Humane Society, said that in March 2014 she led a group of volunteers that counted 438 horses on reclaimed land in five Eastern Kentucky counties, Coleman writes. "The vast majority of the mares appeared to be pregnant or have foals by their side. When she returned in June, her assumption of mares being in foal was validated with an increased number of foals. In fact, one of the largest herds observed consisted of 120 horses and roughly 30 foals."

Turning out the horses isn't anything new, Coleman writes. "For the past 20 years or so, local citizens, many of them miners, would release their horses out onto the land that was being reclaimed by the coal mining companies.The horses could then be caught and brought back to homes and farms when the owners wanted to ride them."

"When the recession came in 2008, more and more horses were being turned out onto the mining lands (for reference, mine sites can up as large as 20,000 to 40,000 acres of land) increasing grazing stress onto the limited grass lands," Coleman writes. "Additionally, fewer horses were being gathered at the end of summer to go back to their homes. People began to travel from farther away to dump horses on the mine’s land. Some left stallions that bred the mares, leading to unplanned and unwanted foals that were feral because of their lack of human contact. The population of these free-roaming horses began to outgrow the ability of the habitat to sustain them."

One problem is that when the horses run out of food on reclaimed land, they often wander into residential areas looking for something to eat, Coleman writes. The best solution to reduce the populations has been increased adoption efforts. (Read more)

Clinton visits Arkansas, mentions clean energy in a state that has to reduce emissions by 44.3%

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton visited Arkansas this weekend, briefly telling supporters, “We are not going back to denying climate change” and "said the country can move forward into a clean energy future powered by sources like wind, solar and advanced biofuels, creating 'millions of new, good jobs,'” Gary Digiuseppe reports for Agri-Pulse. A Democratic presidential candidate hasn't won in Arkansas since  Hillary's husband Bill Clinton, the former governor of Arkansas, took the state in 1996. Other than Bill Clinton, Arkansas hasn't voted in favor of a Democrat since Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Clinton failed to mention the coal industry in a state that has no coal mines and has been tasked with one of the largest reduction rates—percentage wise—of emissions under President Obama's plan to cut CO2 emissions by 30 percent by 2030 from existing power plants based on emission levels from 2005. The state's coal-fired power plants—which receive coal from Wyoming—supplied 53 percent of the state's electricity in 2013, and independent power producers provided more than 21 percent of net electricity, reports the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Under the plan, Arkansas is required to cut emissions by 44.3 percent, the seventh highest percent in the U.S., reports Governing. Some of the states with the highest emissions—Kentucky, West Virginia and Wyoming—have to reduce rates by less than 20 percent. The Associated Press reported in April that the plan could cost Arkansas utilities more than $1 billion. (Governing map)