Roundup: Writing off Coal Country

Don't write off coal country • Juvenile incarceration in West Virginia • The Village Effect • Two honored for service to Native media • Rural Cooperatives fighting EPA regulations

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Major environmental groups can’t ignore the coal states and hope to make the progress they want on climate change. That’s just one of the many relevant observations in Ken Ward Jr.’s rejoinder to the Grist’s David Roberts' two articles on  the progressive movement and coal country (here and here).

Ward, as usual, is precise and polite. But there’s no mistaking his frustration with mostly urban environmentalists who seem ready to write off coal country’s votes, economy and people in the quest to reduce dependence on carbon-emitting fuels.

Ward writes in his West Virginia Gazette blog “Coal Tattoo”:

 Including some sort of coalfield economic diversification program in the Obama clean energy program — and in the agenda of national progressive organizations that back Obama and the EPA — would help coalfield Democrats politically. Would it magically and immediately reverse the Red State trends in West Virginia? Of course not. But it would provide some ammunition for local Democrats. It’s pretty hard to convince a coal miner in West Virginia that you care about them when your base  of supporters — groups like the Sierra Club — celebrate every time another coal-fired power plant closes, putting more miners out of work.

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The Marshall Project, a new journalism organization focusing on the criminal justice system, writes about the growth in juvenile incarceration in West Virginia. While the rest of the nation’s youth incarceration rate is dropping, West Virginia’s is climbing, reports Dana Goldstein. Goldstein sees the aberration as part of a trend in some rural states and quotes one source who says geography is part of the problem.

West Virginia’s geography represents a major hurdle to turning the juvenile incarceration rate around. “If you flatten all the mountains, you’d have one of the biggest states in the country,” says Joey Garcia, deputy counsel to West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. Programs that offer therapy and substance abuse treatment are scarce and widely dispersed, so judges sentence juveniles to facilities where treatment is available on site. A year in a West Virginia juvenile facility costs more than $80,000 per child, compared with $1,000 to $33,000 per child in community programs that have reduced recidivism by up to 20 percent in other states.

It’s true the geography affects program costs. But mountains are far from the only obstacle to treatment in West Virginia. Goldstein says states like Nebraska and South Dakota are also going the incarceration route, instead of funding treatment programs. If mountains were the central problem, Nebraska should be in great shape, wouldn’t it?

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NPR’s Goats and Soda blog (real name, btw) has a post preaching the virtues of living in a village. The key to happy village life, and if you extrapolate, small towns, is face-to-face contact with other human beings. Psychologist Susan Pinker, author of The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make Us Healthier, Happier and Smarter, explains:

“The village effect is a metaphor for the social contacts we all need as humans in order to thrive. These are the strong social ties that develop naturally in a village, where by necessity you cross paths with each other repeatedly every day. When you think of most villages, there is a central square, a public area where everyone converges or passes by going to the grocer or the post office or city hall or to sit at a cafe. And that is something we have less and less of today in our era of online connections. Commerce is moving online, everything is moving online, and these traditional village spaces are disappearing.”

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Vision Maker Media will honor two people for their affect on opportunities for Indian and Native folk in the media.

Michael Smith (Sioux) is the founder of the 49-year-old American Indian Film Institute, and Frank Blythe (Eastern Band of Cherokee/Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota) was the first executive director of the Native American Public Broadcasting Consortium in 1977 and served there until retiring in 2006.

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The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the lobbying arm of the 900 rural cooperative in the U.S., is dead-set against new EPA regulations that would limit CO2 emissions in hopes of curbing climate change. But not every co-op opposes the changes. Rural cooperatives serve over 42 million people in the country. Vermont Public Radio has the story

 

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