Rural journalism that has won, should win, or should have won awards – or that that we just like – from The Rural Blog at http://irjci.blogspot.com.
March 9, 2009
The Harlan Daily Enterprise, in a county synonymous with coal, sees as "wrong-headed" two bills on mine safety in the Kentucky General Assembly, now in the closing days of its short, odd-year session.
The Heartland Publications
paper, once part of the New York Times Co.
, criticizes a House bill that would decrease from two to one the required number of medical personnel on duty at those mines with fewer than 18 employees, and Senate bills that would deregulate continuous operation of ventilation fans and decrease the annual number of state inspections at each mine.
“The coal industry already makes a hefty profit on the backs — and, far too often, the blood — of its employees. To sacrifice important safety measures for the sake of saving a few dollars for coal companies or the state government is simply unconscionable,” the editorial said. It notes that Harlan County was "the epicenter of a string of mining tragedies in Kentucky that rightfully resulted in a renewed focus on mine safety. It seems that the further we get from those tragic losses, however, the more legislators and coal operators we find seeking a return to the status quo." Read more
March 6, 2009
Construction of a coal-fired power plant in Iowa has been canceled, with officials citing economic, environmental and regulatory pressures as the cause. Alliant Energy's decision to scrap the proposed Marshalltown plant reflects growing concerns in the industry over the challenges faced by coal plants. For example, last March, we reported
about a Missouri power plant canceled over regulatory fears; in October, we covered
the impact of the credit crisis on coal plants.
“While our company is disappointed in this missed opportunity to further Iowa’s efforts to grow its economy and position our state as a leader in renewable energy, we will continue to focus our efforts on expanding our renewable energy resources and energy efficiency initiatives and reducing our environmental impact,” Tom Aller, president of Interstate Power and Light Co.
, a subsidiary of Alliant Energy, said in a statement.
Aller's emphasis on renewable energy left some environmentalists hopeful about the direction of the company, writes Lynda Waddington of The Iowa Independent. “They really do seem to get that they are going to have to go towards renewables and energy efficiency, if they want to get the support of Iowans,” said Mary McBee, one of more than 700 Iowans who wrote letters to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources
in opposition to the construction. But other energy industry executives partnered with Alliant in the project now worry about their ability to meet the energy needs of the area. (Read more
UPDATE, March 9:
In a column, reporter Ken Black of the Marshalltown Times-Republican
blames Alliant's decision on the election of "a president who said he wants to regulate and tax coal power plants out of existence." And he analyzes the impact: "If the recession is prolonged and drags on for years, this plant was our ticket to a boom when everyone else was in a bust." (Read more
March 3, 2009
Kentucky residents have a new way to show support for the coal industry. Borrowing a theme from West Virginia, the Bluegrass State is offering a "Friends of Coal" license plate, and officials say it has already proven extremely popular.
The state requires 900 applications before a specialty license plate will be produced, a process that can take three years. This plate got those applications in only five months, perhaps because the industry promoted it. “The process was extremely quick," said Dave Moss, the director of governmental affairs with the Kentucky Coal Association and a board member of Friends of Coal, told John Middleton
of the Harlan Daily Enterprise. "We had 1,179 people signed up for the plate when we turned it over to the cabinet.”
Moss says the license plate provides an opportunity for people to show their support for the industry and for miners, even when they do not have family members working in coal. Harlan County Clerk Wanda Clem told Middleton, “The miners deserve to be honored for their work. They really provide a great service, and they deserve all of the recognition they get." The specialty plates cost $34, compared to $21 for the standard license plates. (Read more
February 22, 2009
Local action is needed to address the problems of Appalachian Kentucky, the managing editor of the Harlan Daily Enterprise
wrote in an editorial after making a trip to the state capital and watching the short follow-up to the "20/20" documentary "A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains."
spent some time Friday patting itself on the back" for getting help for the children whose lives showed the failings of their parents and other adults, and the region's social ills. "The part of the follow-up show I liked best was the interview with Gov. Steve Beshear, who said that stimulus funds would be approved to help the region with water projects and new roads." Henson said he was already optimistic about that after he and other members of the local Chamber of Commerce met in Frankfort with new House Speaker Greg Stumbo, who hails from the region.
But as state and federal help is needed, so is local action, Henson wrote. "In order to turn around our situation, Harlan Countians must help themselves and break through the years of inaction and ineffective leadership. There’s been some momentum in that direction, but it’s still more talk than anything else. ... Continuing to improve education in southeastern Kentucky is a must if the next generation is going to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past."
And Henson also targeted personal responsibility: "A big part of the problem in our region goes back to the fact that so many people choose to live on welfare instead of getting a job. I’m not sure how you fix the problem of laziness and lack of pride. The saddest part is the children who can’t help the fact that their parents are useless. Taking them out of the loop could help, if that’s possible, so that the money that should meet the children’s basic needs aren’t used for pills or booze." (Read more
The Paintsville Herald
, the weekly newspaper published in the home county of the most prominent figure in the ABC show, football player Shawn Grim, said in an editorial before the follow-up report that the first one should have noted "that while these children might be forgotten by the world, they are certainly not forgotten here at home. If any community in America retains the idea that neighbors take care of their neighbors, it’s in Eastern Kentucky." The paper made a similar point with the above cartoon, a rarity for a weekly. (Read more
February 20, 2009
Amid debate and speculation about the future course
of the Department of Agriculture
and the school-lunch program
, the nutrition director for a large Kentucky school system will become deputy undersecretary of agriculture for food, nutrition, her hometown newspaper reports.
Janey Thornton of Hardin County Schools is chair of of the Child Nutrition Foundation
and a member of the Global Child Nutrition Foundation Planning Team and Organization Board
, reports Kelly Richardson
of The News-Enterprise
of Elizabethtown. Thornton was president of the American School Food Service Association
in 2006-07 and president of the group’s foundation in 2007-08.
Though the White House has not announced the appointment, it was announced at Thursday night's county school board meeting. The deputy undersecretary oversees school lunch and breakfast programs, "the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which was formerly known as food stamps, and the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants and Children," Richardson notes. (Read more
February 17, 2009
After the last horse slaughterhouse in the U.S. closed two years ago, horse owners have had few options when their animals become sick or injured. But one Montana legislator says his state is uniquely poised to host a new equine slaughterhouse, and has introduced legislation to help establish it.
Supporters told a legislative committee that "without slaughterhouses owners are forced to pay to have horses euthanized and disposed of, shoot them and bury them on their property, or illegally abandon them. Several county commissioners said that abandoned horses are creating serious problems in rural counties," writes John S. Adams
for the Great Falls Tribune. Opponents say slaughterhouses encourage inhuman treatment, especially in transport, and that the medical treatments horses receive during their lifetime make the meat unfit for consumption.
The sponsoring legislator's name? Rep. Ed Butcher. (Read more
February 11, 2009
"An economic crunch has caused many people nationwide to entrust in an old standby for entertainment and information: libraries," reports David Allen
of The Shelby Star in North Carolina. When people can no longer afford to pay for Internet access or buy new books, they turn to their local library.
"When times are tough, that's when library usage is the busiest," Cleveland County Memorial Library Director Carol Wilson told the Star. At her library the number daily visitors is up by 200 hundred people from 500 to 700. "Public computer usage is up 25 percent, despite people being guaranteed they can utilize the computers longer," Allen writes. People are using their computer time to search for jobs and fill out applications online.
However, the recession also means that funding for libraries may be cut. North Carolina has cut the Cleveland County library by $161,000 and more cuts could be coming. When use is up and money is down, libraries depend heavily on donations and fewer purchases of new materials. (Read more
; hat tip to Al Tompkins of The Poynter Institute.)
February 9, 2009
A proposed "clean coal" power plant in Ohio is being delayed because of the state of the economy, but a vice president of American Electric Power
says that the company is still interested in building the facility in Meigs County, Ohio. (Encarta map)
"Plans for the project have been placed on hold repeatedly, due to cost recovery issues, construction costs and regulatory issues," reports Brian J. Reed of The Daily Sentinel in Pomeroy. AEP had hoped to have the facility up and running by 2010 but due to the setbacks construction is not scheduled to begin until 2011. (Read more
February 9, 2009
Excessive food and fuel prices and 20-below-zero temperatures have forced rural Alaskans "to choose between keeping their families warm and keeping their stomachs full, residents" tell Mallory Simon of CNN
. "Harvested nuts and berries, small game animals, and dried fish are the only things keeping some from starving." (Read more
) In the midst of the crisis, Gov. Sarah Palin has appointed John Moller of Unalaska as her new rural adviser.
when Palin was running for vice president amidst controversy, rural adviser Rhonda McBride resigned, saying an Alaska Native would be better suited than she was for the role, which had always been filled by a Native. Victoria Barber reports for The Arctic Sounder that Moller "is a former crab fisherman from Unalaska who brings a long career in fisheries management to the post, including experience with the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council
and the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association
Moller, an Aleut, has promised that his post will include multiple rural visits, especially in light of the energy crisis affecting "Bush Alaska," the huge swaths of the state that are not on the road system. Barber reports Moller will be traveling to Emmonak, Kotlik, Alakanuk and Nunam Iqua to assess their situations and "the effectiveness of some of the efforts that the state has taken already."
"The reason I signed on for this job was to advise the governor on what I think we need in rural Alaska. And it's not a one-size-fits-all hat. We are a very diverse state," Moller told Barber. "I'm absolutely amped -- I think I can make a difference." Read more
February 9, 2009
Activism among livestock producers is on the rise, following the passage of Proposition 2 in California, a measure placing minumum standards for confinement of animals.
Take, for instance, Troy and Stacy Hedrick, South Dakota ranchers who now spend much of their time advocating for their industry. As fifth-generation farmers, the Hadricks worry that their children might not get a chance to ranch. “That [opportunity] might not be there if people don’t start standing up and defending this industry and telling the truth about this industry,” Troy Hedrick told Andrea Cook
of the Rapid City Journal. They have traveled to 10 states speaking about what they do through Advocates for Agriculture, a public speaking group they founded.
Livestock-industry activists say advocacy is necessary to counteract the work of organizations such as the well-funded Humane Society of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, both of which provided significant financial support to the campaign for Proposition 2 and seek similar restrictions elsewhere. “People do believe what we have to say,” Nebraska cattle and pig farmer Hilary Maricle said. “But, we’re very good at being too polite and not speaking up. We have to speak up or someone else is going to tell our story, and it won’t be accurate." (Read more
February 3, 2009
Pulaski County, Kentucky, in Kentucky's Appalachian foothills, has been historically been a "dry" county, with no alcohol sold legally. But the county is now home to two wineries, granted special exemptions to sell their product through countywide votes in 2003 and 2007. A recent article in The
Commonwealth Journal of Somerset highlights the steady growth the two have enjoyed since being allowed to sell their wine by the glass, bottle or case. They have benefited from winery tourism, which has brought in out-of-state and international visitors, but say local support still accounts for about half their trade.
“Really the first three years has been a little better than our business plan expected,” said Zane Burton, who owns Sinking Valley Winery with his wife, Amy. “However, we didn’t get the growth last year that we expected.” They and Jeff Wiles, owner of Cedar Creek Vineyard and Winery, say they're just happy to have a chance to farm. “Opening Cedar Creek Vineyards is the combination of two of my life-long dreams, owning my own business and making a living off the land,” Wiles told reporter Susan Wheeldon. (Read more
Pulaski County has gone "moist" in another way, with legalization of alcohol at restaurants in Burnside, on Lake Cumberland. After the city voted, it annexed eight miles of the lake to take in another boat dock on the big creek west of still-dry Somerset, which lies between Burnside and its little satellite. (Encarta map)
January 29, 2009
"New regulations that make it costly for pharmacists to sell durable medical equipment may be thwarted if a bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Marion Berry, D-Ark., becomes law," reports Frank Wallis of the Baxter Bulletin of Mountain Home.
The regulations Berry opposes require pharmacists to become accredited in order to sell durable medical equipment to Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries. In many rural communities, pharmacists are the only health professionals who can supply such items as therapeutic shoes, prosthetic devices and home dialysis supplies and equipment.
Berry's bill "would add pharmacists to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
list of pre-qualified medical professionals," writes Wallis. That would let them provide rural residents with medical equipment without completing the costly and time-consuming accreditation process. (Read more
January 26, 2009
Linda Ireland went to the grocery and was appalled by a child, about 9, sitting in a shopping cart, "opening packages and eating the food as fast as momma put it in the cart." That made Ireland, editor of The LaRue County Herald News
in Hodgenville, Ky., recall a press release she had received a few weeks earlier from the state health department. And it made her write about both things:
"Our fair state is consistently ranked among the top 10 for obesity and obesity-related diseases, such as diabetes, stroke and heart disease. About 70 percent of Kentuckians are overweight or obese. The report says we sit – way too much. Almost a third of Kentucky adults reported they did not participate in any physical activities or exercise such as running, golf, gardening or walking, other than their regular jobs. And, of course, we eat too much," like the cart kid.
Ireland concluded her Jan. 7 column with a plea: "I sympathize with anyone who is battling the bulge. I know exactly how hard it is to get rid of those first five pounds when you have 20 or more in front of you. But at least try to help yourself, by changing eating and exercise habits. It’s a great time to make that your New Year’s resolution. Get out of the cart, or the next thing you know, you’ll be stuck in it. And you’ll be no different than the young man I saw, getting bigger and sicklier by the minute." (Read more
January 26, 2009
The billion-gallon coal-ash spill in East Tennessee has made disposal of such waste "a pressing national environmental concern that has already sparked legislative proposals and the prospect of new regulation," reports Juliet Eilperin of The Washington Post.
The issue has been "largely ignored" though the federal government has deliberated on it for three decades, Eilperin reports. Now, she writes, it may move ahead of climate change on the environmental agenda of the new Obama administration.
"Burning coal produces more than 129 million tons annually of combustion waste -- a concentrated ash that includes toxic elements such as arsenic, lead, cadmium, selenium and mercury -- but federal authorities have yet to establish uniform standards for handling it," Eilperin writes, in a good summary of an issue that affects many rural places. (Read more
The spill was an eerie reprise for Terri Likens, editor of the Roane County News
, the paper published in Kingston, Tenn., next to the site. She wrote a recollection:
It was a biting cold day in December.
I shivered violently as I looked out at a sea of sludge that had swept down and moved homes from their foundations.
Roane County’s Swan Pond?
Harlan County’s Ages Hollow.
It was Dec. 19, 1981, and I was in Eastern Kentucky covering the first big story of my new career.
A coal slurry pond on the hillside over Ages Hollow — in my mind I always hear the word “holler” — had broken open and swept down on the small village.
The spill killed a former postmaster who "had predicted her own fate to a mine safety inspector," recalled Likens, pictured flying over the Roane County spill.
"I had already gone back to our newsroom across the county line when one of the searchers’ makeshift probe struck something with a little bounce to it. But I had been there when her son arrived, a strapping man wild-eyed with heartbreak. Some things you never forget." (Read more
For Good Works in 2008, click here. For Good Works in September, October, November and December 2007, click here. For Good Works in Jan.-Aug. 2007, click here. For Good Works in 2006, click here.