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Rural News

Western states lead the fight to maintain net neutrality

High Country News | Posted on February 6, 2018

Late last year, the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 to disband protections for net neutrality, the principle that internet service providers cannot choose which websites to favor or block. The change gives internet service providers more opportunity to make money, but may hurt smaller businesses and internet users along the way. Even though the West is home to some of the most important players in the tech industry, its rural areas often suffer from lack of internet access — a problem some argue could be solved by loosening net neutrality regulations. Open internet advocates, however, believe that net neutrality is essential to the free exchange of ideas and information on the internet.

Iowa wildlife groups banned from rescuing deer

Des Moines Register | Posted on February 5, 2018

Iowa groups that rescue and rehabilitate wildlife must turn away whitetail deer to avoid inadvertently spreading a deadly animal disease, state officials say. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources notified 90 volunteers and groups in December that the state would no longer give permits to groups that rehabilitate whitetail deer, most often fawns. The state wants to prevent the spread of chronic wasting disease, which has been found in wild deer herds in Allamakee and Clayton counties in northeast Iowa. The state says the rehabilitation work could unknowingly spread the disease to other deer that are treated at the centers and later released into the wild.

West Virginia bill would limit opioid prescribing, could penalize doctors

Pew Charitable Trust | Posted on February 1, 2018

State lawmakers got their first glimpse at Gov. Jim Justice’s legislation to combat the opioid epidemic in West Virginia Tuesday, giving the bill high marks but cautioning that it could penalize honest doctors. The bill, which aims to reduce the number of pain pills prescribed, would allow medical licensing boards to more quickly suspend doctors if their prescriptions appear “abnormal or unusual.” The state Board of Pharmacy would flag the suspect prescriptions.

Why is pay lagging? Maybe too many mergers in the heartland

The New York Times | Posted on February 1, 2018

A recent working paper by the economists José Azar, Ioana Marinescu and Marshall I. Steinbaum examined job listings on from 2010 through 2013 and found that tens of millions of Americans lived in areas where a relatively small number of employers posted most of the listings. They showed that wages fell when fewer employers in a geographic area listed most of the jobs in an occupation. The phenomenon appears to hit workers hardest outside major cities — areas where voters’ economic frustrations helped carry Donald J. Trump to the White House in 2016. Mr. Trump won Mr. Gies’s county by nearly 40 points.“There is definitely a strong rural urban pattern that I can see,” Mr. Steinbaum said. “Rural areas are likely to have a higher level of concentration — and, for any given unit of concentration, a larger effect” on wages.Other economists, like Simcha Barkai of the London Business School, have reached similar conclusions. In a working paper released in 2016, Mr. Barkai found that over the past 30 years, workers’ cut of companies’ revenue had fallen most in industries where concentration had increased the most, though he said in an interview that he was not yet convinced this was the cause of weak wage growth.Few workers epitomize the trend as much as agricultural-equipment mechanics, who faced the most concentrated group of prospective employers out of the roughly two dozen occupations that Mr. Azar, Ms. Marinescu and Mr. Steinbaum examined on CareerBuilder. On average, a single employer accounted for an overwhelming majority of job listings for farm-equipment mechanics in a so-called commuting zone in any given quarter.

Factors from Weather to Farm Income May Be Contributing to Opioid Epidemic, Penn State Study Says

State College | Posted on February 1, 2018

A variety of factors that aren't often part of the discussion may be influencing the ongoing problem of opioid abuse and overdoses in rural areas, according to a study by a Penn State economist. The study looked at the relationship between socioeconomic variables and opioid overdoses and found correlations involving such factors as extreme weather and farm income, Stephan Goetz, Penn State professor of agricultural and regional economics, and director of the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development said in a news release.The overprescribing of opioid painkillers over the past few decades is considered to have spurred the epidemic, but other factors are playing a role in contributing to it.They found that a higher number of natural disasters -- primarily weather-related events such as droughts, floods and hurricanes -- experienced in a county correlated with an increase in opioid overdoses. In turn, if climate change produces more extreme weather patterns, it could have an effect on the opioid crisis, Goetz said.The study also found that for each $10,000 reduction in farm income, opioid overdoses increased by 10 percent from a national average of 10.2 deaths per 100,000 people to 11.2 deaths per 100,000. Opioid-related deaths are also on the rise in rural areas.

Suit tries to block roundup of nearly 10,000 Nevada mustangs

Reno Gazette Journal | Posted on February 1, 2018

Animal rights activists are suing to block what they say is an unprecedented federal plan to capture thousands of wild horses over 10 years in Nevada. Friends of Animals accuse the U.S. Bureau of Land Management of violating the National Environmental Policy Act by approving the removal of nearly 10,000 mustangs across an area near the Nevada-Utah line almost twice as big as Delaware.The suit filed Thursday in federal court in Reno says the roundup decision is unprecedented in both size and scope.

Turning to beet juice and beer to address road salt danger

ABC News | Posted on February 1, 2018

Looking to strike a balance between ice-free roads and clean waterways, public works departments around the country are working to cut their salt use in winter by slathering the roadways with beet juice, molasses, and even beer waste to make them safer. Rock salt for decades has provided the cheapest and most effective way to cut down on traffic accidents and pedestrian falls during winter storms. But researchers cite mounting evidence that those tons of sodium chloride crystals — more than 20 million nationwide each year — are increasing the salinity of hundreds of lakes, especially in the Northeast and Midwest. That is putting everything from fish and frogs to microscopic zooplankton at risk. Agencies from New Jersey to North Dakota are using a mixture that includes beet juice; New Hampshire and Maine use one with molasses. Highway departments also have turned to beer waste, pickle brine and, in at least one Wisconsin county, cheese brine.

There's a Sexual-Harassment Epidemic on America’s Farms

The Atlantic | Posted on February 1, 2018

Undocumented workers without papers and workers on temporary visas are extremely vulnerable to exploitation in the workplace. This exploitation takes many forms, including unfair labor practices, working without fair pay, and sexual harassment and assault. The agricultural industry in the United States is full of workers who are undocumented or on temporary work visas, people who are particularly vulnerable to exploitation. A report by Polaris, an anti-trafficking organization that runs the National Human Trafficking Hotline and the BeFree Textline, on the typology of modern slavery, found that 91 percent of the cases involving modern-day slavery in agriculture involved foreign nationals. The organization, which used data from the hotline and textline to generate the report, defines modern-day slavery as human-trafficking situations where workers are coerced, forced, or victims of fraud. Many of these workers are on “guest-worker” visas, or temporary work visas associated with an employment role, as is common with agriculture workers, who come on a visa called the H-2A. In another report, Polaris identified nearly 300 H-2A visa holders who had been potential victims of labor trafficking and exploitation in an 12-month period. Eighty-five percent of the victims worked in agriculture, with Florida being the state where the most cases were reported.

How do communities succeed at attracting young adults

University of Wisconsin | Posted on February 1, 2018

Stoecker and colleagues concluded that communities must be seen in the context of their regional centers; in particular, proximity to a city or an interstate highway was critical. “We found that people are looking for a nearby employment center that includes high-end, professional employment. They look for amenities in these regional centers: entertainment, movies, art, theater, high-end restaurants, and spectator sports.” Another factor is shopping, not just big box stores, but a range that allows a resident to get everything they need at the city. For these reasons, Stoecker says, “it’s not surprising that these communities are all close to a city, or an interstate, or both.”

These Kentuckians had no water for weeks. Now officials want to raise rates by half. | Posted on February 1, 2018

The Kentucky Public Service Commission, the state agency that regulates most utilities, will hold a hearing in Frankfort on Friday to consider arguments for and against the water district’s rate increase request. In the days following the hearing, the commission will determine how much the district can increase rates, if at all. The request comes as frustrations with the district run high. Thousands in Martin County went without running water this month for days on end — some for three weeks or more — when pipes froze and low water pressure forced the district to cut off service to many homes in hopes of filling reservoir tanks.Citizens claim they report leaks to the water district, only to see them go unfixed for long periods of time. They also post videos and photos showing discolored water of neon blue and mud brown. They report rashes, dry skin and even cancer from drinking and bathing in the water.