Tuesday Roundup: Mystery Unsolved in West

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Evidence Up In Smoke – There’s been little progress in the investigation into the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas. In fact, the federal agency that specializes in investigating these kinds of disasters has left the site, with one official saying “we just don’t think there’s much left” there to examine.

The Austin (Texas) American-Statesman’s Brenda Bell reports on a turf battle between federal and state agencies that continues five weeks after the plant exploded and destroyed much of the town. The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board, the agency charged with finding out how these kinds of industrial accidents happen, has recalled most of the team it sent to West, claiming other investigators have “massively and irreversibly” altered the site. In one case, according to the Investigations Board, up to 30 tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer that didn’t explode was hauled away before the CSB could look at it. The CSB says the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Texas State Fire Marshall both kept its agents off the site in the days after the April 17 explosion. Now the CSB says that earthmoving equipment has been used on the site, destroying any remaining evidence its agents might have been able to recover.

The state and the ATF claim no evidence was destroyed. Also, no cause of the fire and explosion, which killed 15 people, has been determined.

Food Labeling – Protesters in 52 countries and 436 cities joined a “March Against Monsanto” Monday, according to the Washington Post. The marchers in Washington and Los Angeles waved signs reading “Real Food 4 Real People” and “Label GMOs, It’s Our Right to Know.”

DTN’s Chris Clayton writes about the protest, noting that the Senate recently rejected an amendment by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont that would have allowed states to require foods to carry labels saying if they contained genetically modified ingredients.

Leaning Further – One report finds that since 2003, 26 legislatures have become more Republican and 23 have become more Democratic. This has led to increasingly divergent policies within one nation that is rapidly becoming two.

University of Kansas political scientist Burdett Loomis calls this “soft secession,” where some states withdraw from national political programs, such as Medicaid or national gun laws, writes Kansas City Star columnist Dave Helling.  “Kansas, and to some degree Missouri, are in the middle of this great divide,” Helling writes. Both states are shifting the burden of state government “away from investment and capital and onto sales and labor.” He writes:

Last November, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach made the point. “Americans can vote with their feet,” he said. “If a person wants to live in a San Francisco lifestyle, they can go there. If they want to live a Kansas lifestyle, they can come here.”

Wolf Hunt – Montana may liberalize the state wolf hunting season. The proposal is to add two months to the wolf rifle season and to increase the bag limit from one to five wolves in a season. An argument in favor of the longer season is that it would help protect elk herds from the predators.

Stimulating the Frontier – West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin stopped an audit of the state’s use of $126.3 million in federal stimulus funds to expand broadband connections in the state, the Charleston Gazette reports. Tomblin “abruptly” stopped the audit in 2011, the paper says.
The audit was ordered after ICF International “submitted a scathing memo about the statewide project, finding that the state was using the stimulus funds to build a fragmented broadband network that solely benefited Frontier Communications, West Virginia’s largest high-speed Internet provider,” Eric Eyre reports. ICF was to do the audit.

Tomblin’s office said the independent audit wasn’t completed because Frontier “answered or addressed” issues raised by ICF. But ICF, a Virginia-based consultant, reported as late as last April that the fiber network the state was building had “no practical use for the public or competition.” And it found that Frontier was “gold-plating” its facilities. Frontier said ICF’s findings were “worthless.”

Connecting for Care – After an ischemic stroke, the most common kind, every moment wasted before treatment can be devastating for the patient. With that in mind, OhioHealth and Ohio State University have a new goal: bring technology to rural Ohio that can save the lives of stroke patients. Experts at OhioHealth and Ohio State University can now communicate with a combined 39 locations statewide through telemedicine networks. These networks allow a quick way for doctors in rural hospitals to consult specialists and determine the best treatment.

Ohio State aims for 25 sites within the next three months, while OhioHealth envisions a network of 30 to 35 locations. Hospital officials like Stacey Gabriel, director of Hocking Valley Community Hospital’s emergency department, welcome the new innovation. “It has meant expedited care for our patients. For some of these patients, it has been life-saving.”

India in Flux – India is currently undergoing an unprecedented transformation as population in urban areas outpaces rural areas for the first time. Of India’s 28 states, 27 can expect to see shrinking rural populations within the next 10 years. Four states are already witnessing such a decline since 2001.

Livemint.com says that these changing demographics could create conflicts in the political system, which in the past has put its faith in rural development, and throw India’s current plans into doubt.

 

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