Tuesday Roundup: The Yonder Calendar!

Does coal mining cause health problems? • Republicans want to curb food stamps • The fight for community broadband systems • Debate continues on Postal Service reforms


good report here on an ongoing debate in West Virginia about the connection between health and coal mining. 

West Virginia University’s Michael Hendryx has produced a number of studies finding a correlation between mining and poor health. Mortality rates in coal regions, for example, are 97 percent higher than in the rest of Appalachia. Part of that difference is due to lifestyle — poverty, smoking obesity. But, taking those into account, Hendryx says, “There’s something left over that’s unique to mining environments.” There are also concentrations of heart, lung and kidney diseases, and high rates of birth defects.

“Dr. Michael Hendryx is an anti-coal ideologue who is masquerading again as an ‘objective researcher,’” Kentucky Coal Association President Bill Bissett said in an email to Brasher. “From speaking engagements to environmental activists to a failed attempt to influence the Kentucky General Assembly, his research always comes to a conclusion against the mining of coal to fit his personal bias and political objectives.”

“We have a correlation that shows the people that live in these areas have this set of health problems, they don’t have this other type of health problems,” Hendryx said during a speech in Kentucky. “It’s not just because of smoking or poverty or age. It’s stronger as levels of mining go up, it’s stronger as levels of mountaintop mining increase.”

• Politico reports that House Republicans want to “slash” food stamps. 

Under the proposal, a family of four would face an 11 percent cut in monthly benefits after September 1. New requirements would also force families to exhaust most of their assets before qualifying for help. 

National enrollment in the food stamp program hit 46.4 million people in January 2012, a two-thirds increase from 2008. The cost of the program is $80 billion a year.

• Law student Brad Parke of Hindman, Kentucky, writes about what Appalachian counties should be doing as coal production begins to decline. 

This is a topic of renewed interest in the Eastern mountains. Part of the problem is that tax revenues are tied to coal, so as coal production declines, so do public revenues. Parke calls for a regional endowment paid for by taxes on coal and gas.

• The U.S. Senate resumes consideration today of a bill that would overhaul the workings of the U.S. Postal Service. 

The bill (sponsored by Sens. Lieberman, Collins, Carper and Brown) would delay the move to five-day delivery for at least two years and would allow only downsizing of processing facilities instead of an outright closure. The bill would also make it harder for the Postal Service to close local offices without first working with communities.

The bill would allow the Postal Service to allow first-class mail delivery standards to slip to a three-day schedule.

• InsideClimate News reports on a water fight in Utah. 

A nuclear power plant being developed would use water from the Green River — enough water to supply 200,000 people a year. The water now flows into the Colorado; some is used to irrigate crops.

Utah has given preliminary approval for the power plant plan.

• 75. 

That’s the final count of tornadoes that touched down in four Great Plains states during the storms that swept the nation during a 24-hour period from Saturday morning to Sunday morning. Six people died in the storms. 

• The Kansas City Star ran an editorial on the ability of developers to have their land taxed as “farms”:

Forget about those early morning wakeups and late-night emergencies. A hailstorm need never cause you angst. In Kansas, you can own property and call it a farm just by planting a couple of Christmas trees or spreading some native grass.

If that seems insulting to the genuine farmers of the Sunflower state, it’s not a great deal for taxpayers, schools and local governments, either. 

• The New Republic reports that telecom companies are “blocking rural America from getting high-speed Internet.” 

Reporter Siddhartha Mahana writes that the big telecoms (AT&T, Time Warner) are trying to pass legislation in South Carolina that would cripple municipal broadband networks. This is “only one example of a broader campaign by telecom companies to protect their cartel at all costs—even at the expense of keeping the country’s poorest on the wrong side of the digital divide for many years to come.”

Last week 44 members of the House and 21 Senators signed a letter to the Federal Communications Commission saying that proposed rules could imperil community-based Internet networks. 

• The Catholic congregation no longer meets at St. Patrick Church in St. Cecilia, Iowa, but that doesn’t mean the community has abandoned the building. 

The AP reports on a group that has raised $10,000 to re-roof the church. Yes, they raised money from pancake suppers. The building is a beauty. See it at the top of this page.

• The National Rural Assembly and Sustainable Northwest are sending a letter to President Obama asking him to “maintain a steadfast commitment to the future of our rural economies….” 

The groups say they “support and advocate for federal conservation funding and leadership that demonstrates commitment to an inclusive rural America and the working landscapes that sustain the foundation of our country and the economic strength of our communities. Federal investments in conservation are commitments to the people, places, livelihoods and future of rural America.”

If you’d like to sign on to the letter, go here

• There will be a National Rural Education Technology Summit April 30th. For details, SEE THE CALENDAR.