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Rural News

4000 Snow Geese Deaths Due to Heavy Metals in Water in Montana Pit

Montana Standard | Posted on April 24, 2017

The estimated 3,000 to 4,000 snow geese that perished in December 2016 in the Berkeley Pit’s toxic water died of both heavy metals and sulfuric acid, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesperson Ryan Moehring. The necropsy report does not make the findings clear, stating only that lesions in the stomach, intestines, and throats were severe and “suggestive of chemical tissue damage induced by a corrosive substance.”Copper and zinc, both of which were found inside the birds’ stomachs, could have been the cause or a contributing factor in the lesions, according to the report. Other metals, including manganese, were found in the organs of the geese.Montana Resources manager of environmental affairs Mark Thompson said the report’s findings that the metals and acid in the pit caused the bird mortalities came as no surprise. The companies responsible for the pit, Montana Resources and Atlantic Richfield Co., could be fined as much as $5,000 per bird. Helena-based U.S. Attorney spokesperson Melissa Hornbein said the U.S. Attorney’s Montana office cannot comment yet on whether the companies will be fined. The report says the birds’ condition was similar to the 342 snow geese that died in November 1995 when a flock landed — almost 21 years to the day — on the pit during a snowstorm and perished. Those birds were found dead by a Bureau of Mines and Geology employee who returned to the pit’s toxic water within a few days to take water samples after the storm passed. The companies are testing new technologies this spring. In addition to propane-powered canons already stationed around the pit, the companies are bringing in later this month a device that shoots out rings of compressed air that scare the birds, Thompson said. The companies hope to have a fully vetted plan in place by fall to prevent another die-off.


McDonald's, fast-food chains find antibiotic-free beef, pork hard to deliver

Chicago Tribune | Posted on April 19, 2017

Consumers are demanding more antibiotic-free meat. At McDonald's, so is a group of nuns. The world's largest burger chain and its fast-food brethren have made commitments to remove antibiotics from chicken, but plans to curb the use of antibiotics in beef and pork have been far less common. It's a far more complex and expensive proposition, and fast-food chains are largely taking a wait-and-see approach before changing the way their burgers and bacon are made. KFC, a holdout in the wave of major fast-food restaurants vowing to curb the routine use of antibiotics in chicken, jumped on board earlier this month in response to pressure from animal and environmental groups. A number of major restaurant chains and producers have made promises, of varying degrees, to only use antibiotics on chicken when they're sick, a step back from widespread usage of the drugs.But promises to curb the use of antibiotics in cows and pigs have been far less common. A renewed push by a group of socially conscious nuns asking McDonald's to announce a plan for antibiotic-free pork and beef highlights the hurdles that the industry will have to jump over to meet consumers' growing appetite for "clean" meat.


The impact of minimum wage increases in rural and urban Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Legislature | Posted on April 19, 2017

This research, conducted in 2016, estimated the effects of increasing the minimum wage in rural and urban Pennsylvania from $7.25 to either $9.00 or $10.10 per hour, assuming that such a change will be implemented in 2017. In terms of socio-demographic characteristics, there were many similarities between rural and urban minimum wage earners in Pennsylvania. They were mostly female, white, younger, never married, with a high school diploma or less, English speaking, driving to work, and commuting less than 15 minutes to work. There were only shades of differences between rural and urban Pennsylvania minimum wage earners. For example, rural workers were significantly more white, more were teenagers, there was a higher percentage with a high school diploma or less, were more English speaking, more had disabilities, and they spent less time commuting to work.There seemed to be no significant industrial or occupational differences between rural and urban minimum wage workers in Pennsylvania. The last four stages of the study involved empirical estimations of the impact of a minimum wage increase on employment, income, poverty level and public income-maintenance programs. The wage distribution derived for 2014 was projected to 2017 because of the prevailing assumption that the increase in the minimum wage in Pennsylvania will be implemented in 2017. The net gains resulting from an increase in the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.00 in 2017 are estimated to exceed $700 million for wage and salary workers in Pennsylvania. The $10.10 option may produce net income gains of over $2 billion. These gains will probably be lower than predicted because business profits may decrease due to higher labor costs pushing prices of goods and services higher, and sales lower. It is estimated that 2,634 rural and 7,269 urban Pennsylvania households may be lifted out of poverty if the minimum wage is raised to $9.00 in 2017. The $10.10 option may lift as many as 7,547 rural households and 21,347 urban households out of poverty. Finally it is estimated that the federal government expenditures on healthcare, cash assistance and tax credit programs may decrease by $90 million under the $9.00 option and by $262 million under the $10.10 option.


Rural population drops for 5th straight year

Daily Yonder | Posted on April 19, 2017

The Great Recession continues to reverberate in rural America and is the most likely cause of the slight decline in population from 2015 to 2016. But in other ways, rural counties appear to be headed back to “normal” population gains. All in all, it’s another wait-and-see year for rural population trends.  On one hand, the rural population decreased again. It’s a problematic trend, because it usually means fewer people working, fewer kids in school, fewer people shopping and doing the other things that contribute to the local economy. But, on the other hand, the decline was the smallest since the trend started – a net loss of only 21,000 residents or 0.05%. The net change is so small that it could be reversed by adjustments in the estimates that occur in future years. Another finding that may indicate rural America could head back into positive population change soon is that rural counties that are closer to cities actually grew slightly from 2015-2016. For the past 40 or 50 years, it’s been normal for rural counties adjacent to metro areas to grow more quickly than counties located farther from cities, said Kenneth M. Johnson, chief demographer at the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire. But until the most recent estimates came out, the opposite has been true following the Great Recession


New era of Western wildfire demands new ways of protecting people, ecosystems

Science Daily | Posted on April 19, 2017

Current wildfire policy can't adequately protect people, homes and ecosystems from the longer, hotter fire seasons climate change is causing, according to a new paper led by the University of Colorado Boulder. Efforts to extinguish every blaze and reduce the buildup of dead wood and forest undergrowth are becoming increasingly inadequate on their own. Instead, the authors -- a team of wildfire experts -- urge policymakers and communities to embrace policy reform that will promote adaptation to increasing wildfire and warming. "Wildfire is catching up to us," said lead author Tania Schoennagel, a research scientist at CU Boulder's Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. "We're learning our old tools aren't enough and we need to approach wildfire differently."


Why Don’t All Jobs Matter?

The New York Times | Posted on April 19, 2017

President Trump is still promising to bring back coal jobs. But the underlying reasons for coal employment’s decline — automation, falling electricity demand, cheap natural gas, technological progress in wind and solar — won’t go away. Meanwhile, last week the Treasury Department officially (and correctly) declined to name China as a currency manipulator, making nonsense of everything Mr. Trump has said about reviving manufacturing.So will the Trump administration ever do anything substantive to bring back mining and manufacturing jobs? Probably not.But let me ask a different question: Why does public discussion of job loss focus so intensely on mining and manufacturing, while virtually ignoring the big declines in some service sectors?Over the weekend The Times Magazine published a photographic essay on the decline of traditional retailers in the face of internet competition. The pictures, contrasting “zombie malls” largely emptied of tenants with giant warehouses holding inventory for online sellers, were striking. The economic reality is pretty striking too. Consider what has happened to department stores. Even as Mr. Trump was boasting about saving a few hundred jobs in manufacturing here and there, Macy’s announced plans to close 68 stores and lay off 10,000 workers. Sears, another iconic institution, has expressed “substantial doubt” about its ability to stay in business. And retailing isn’t the only service industry that has been hit hard by changing technology. Another prime example is newspaper publishing, where employment has declined by 270,000, almost two-thirds of the work force, since 2000.  A different, less creditable reason mining and manufacturing have become political footballs, while services haven’t, involves the need for villains. Demagogues can tell coal miners that liberals took away their jobs with environmental regulations. They can tell industrial workers that their jobs were taken away by nasty foreigners. And they can promise to bring the jobs back by making America polluted again, by getting tough on trade, and so on. These are false promises, but they play well with some audiences.By contrast, it’s really hard to blame either liberals or foreigners for, say, the decline of Sears. Finally, it’s hard to escape the sense that manufacturing and especially mining get special consideration because, as Slate’s Jamelle Bouie points out, their workers are a lot more likely to be male and significantly whiter than the work force as a whole.


The Myth of Main Street

New York Times | Posted on April 13, 2017

Main Street is a place but it is also an idea. It’s small-town retail. It’s locally owned shops selling products to hardworking townspeople. It’s neighbors with dependable blue-collar jobs in auto plants and coal mines. It’s a feeling of community and of having control over your life. It’s everything, in short, that seems threatened by global capitalism and cosmopolitan elites in big cities and fancy suburbs. Mr. Trump’s campaign slogan was “Make America Great Again,” but it could just as easily have been “Bring Main Street Back.” Since taking office, he has signed an executive order designed to revive the coal industry, promised a $1 trillion infrastructure bill and continued to express support for tariffs and to criticize globalism and international free trade. “The jobs and wealth have been stripped from our country,” he said last month, signing executive orders meant to improve the trade deficit. “We’re bringing manufacturing and jobs back.” The frustrations that fuel the nostalgia for Main Street are understandable — and longstanding. From the beginning of our country’s history, rural and small-town Americans have been on the losing side of a rising market economy. You can draw a straight line from the Jeffersonians in the late 18th century to the agrarian populists in the late 19th century to Mr. Trump’s voters, all of whom have felt that the city hornswoggled the country. The rage that arose in the 1880s, as rural incomes fell and farm mortgages defaulted while city bankers got rich, does not feel so distant today. But nostalgia for Main Street is misplaced — and costly. Small stores are inefficient. Local manufacturers, lacking access to economies of scale, usually are inefficient as well. To live in that kind of world is expensive.This nostalgia, like the frustration that underlies it, has a long and instructive history. Years before deindustrialization, years before Nafta, Americans were yearning for a Main Street that never quite existed.


Healthcare's new rural frontier

Politico | Posted on April 13, 2017

Rural hospitals are facing one of the great slow-moving crises in American health care. Across the U.S., they've been closing at a rate of about one per month since 2010. About 14 percent of the U.S. population lives in rural counties, a proportion that has dropped as the number of urban dwellers grows. Declining populations mean a smaller base of patients and less revenue. And the hospitals are caught in a squeeze: Because many patients in the countryside are older and sicker, they require more intensive and often expensive care. Faced with these dramatic economic and demographic pressures, however, some hospitals are surviving — even thriving — by taking advantage of some of the most cutting-edge trends in health care. They are experimenting with telemedicine, using remote monitors to track patients and buying high-tech equipment to perform scans and other types of exams. And because many face physician shortages, they are partnering with universities and increasingly relying on nurse practitioners, paramedics and others to deliver care. In parts of rural Oregon and Washington, veterans can get counseling through a tele-mental health program. Physicians in Iowa and North Dakota have access to virtual emergency room support.


Tiny, family-run Iowa newspaper wins Pulitzer for taking on agriculture companies

The Guardian | Posted on April 13, 2017

A small-town Iowa newspaper with a staff of 10 people - most of whom are related to each other – has won a Pulitzer Prize for taking on powerful agricultural companies over farm pollution. Art Cullen, who owns the Storm Lake Times with his brother John, acknowledged it wasn’t easy taking on agriculture in a state like Iowa where you see hundreds of miles of farm fields in every direction. The Cullens lost a few friends and a few advertisers, but never doubted they were doing the right thing. “We’re here to challenge people’s assumptions and I think that’s what every good newspaper should do,” he said. Cullen’s writing was lauded by the Pulitzer committee for “editorials fuelled by tenacious reporting, impressive expertise and engaging writing that successfully challenged powerful corporate agricultural interests in Iowa”.


First evidence found of neonicotinoids in drinking water in Iowa

The Washington Post | Posted on April 6, 2017

A team of chemists and engineers at the U.S. Geological Survey and University of Iowa reported that they found neonicotinoids in treated drinking water. It marks the first time that anyone has identified this class of pesticide in tap water, the researchers write in Environmental Science & Technology Letters. Gregory LeFevre, a study author and U of Iowa environmental engineer, told The Washington Post that the find was important but not immediate cause for alarm. The scientists collected samples last year from taps in Iowa City as well as on the university campus and found neonicotinoid concentrations ranging from 0.24 to 57.3 nanograms per liter — that is, on a scale of parts per trillion. “Parts per trillion is a really, really small concentration,” LeFevre said. “There is no EPA standard for drinking water,” LeFevre said. The pesticides, most of which were released in the 1990s, were designed to be more environmentally friendly than other chemicals on the market. The compounds work their way into plant tissue rather than just coating the leaves and stems, requiring fewer sprays. And though the pesticides wreak havoc on insect nervous systems, neonicotinoids do not easily cross from a mammal’s bloodstream into a mammalian brain.


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