Sunday, September 27, 2015

Who's stopping new coal mines in rural Queensland?

After more research, I decided to break up the environmental portion of my posts on rural Australia into several distinct pieces, based on subject matter.  The first will focus on coal, the second on other mineral mining, and the third on agriculture.

Coal & Queensland

The state of Queensland is home to one of the most controversial proposed coal mines in Australia.  Queensland is also an incredibly rural state.  The population density averages 2.7 people per sq. kilometer.  The majority of the population is concentrated along the coast in the population centers of Brisbane, Gold Coast, Cairns, Townsville, and the inland town of Toowoomba (pop. 114,000).

The overwhelming concentration of people in coastal centers is the norm in Australia.  Therefore  the needs of the cities often far outweigh the concerns of rural, inland populations based solely on electoral .  One major, national concern is energy.  Australia is a very mineral-rich continent, particularly in coal production. Driven by the need to generate its own electricity and the desire for corporations to export significant amounts of coal to the burgeoning and energy hungry economies in India and China, Australia produces a lot of coal.  Queensland alone has 54 operating coal mines, producing 228.9 metric tons of coal, of which 208.6 metric tons are exported.  The entirety of this coal production takes place in the interior of Queensland, well away from major population centers.    And as the thirst for greater coal production increases, corporations are expanding farther west, into more rural locations.

The Carmichael Mine

The Carmichael coal mine is a proposed mine in the rural and remote interior of Queensland whose future is in serious question. It is approximately 160 km from the nearest locality of note, Clermont, a town of under 3,000 people that relies almost entirely on agricultural and coal interests for its survival.

The Carmichael mine was proposed by mining conglomerate Adani, which has encountered various issues (including financing) in getting the mine going.  A year ago, in July 2014, Environmental Minister Greg Hunt approved the mine.  The mine was supposed to be Australia's biggest: 200 sq. km in size and producing 60 million tons per year.  To ship this coal to markets in India and China, the Australian government was going to create a shipping channel through the Great Barrier Reef.

Green groups opposed the plan and the government's approval of the project, and subsequently filed an action in federal court.  In August 2015, the court rejected Hunt's approval of the mine because it did not give sufficient consideration to the impacts of the mine on two threatened species.

The green advocacy groups that challenged the mine are based almost entirely in urban, coastal Queensland.  The co-ordinating group, Mackay Conservation Group, is based in Mackay, a coastal city of 120,000 people, and relies on agriculture (mainly sugar), mining, and tourism for its economy.

The Tension Between the Urban Conservationist & the Rural Economies

While the goals of the conservationist groups are laudable, I am struck by the stark division between the impacts of the coal mine, and those who oppose it.  I feel like this is an issue that plays itself out throughout coal country--from Appalachia to Colorado and from Gujarat to Queensland.  Urban interests mine the coal, in the hopes of selling it for massive profits to developing countries (which, in itself, raises an interesting question of shifting rural impacts of coal use to rural populations in developing economies).  Other urban interests oppose mining out of a desire to protect biodiversity and ecological treasures.

Two urban groups fight over whether to mine coal, but the direct impacts of coal mining are felt in the vast rural communities.  In the United States, there are tangible impacts on rural populations when things go wrong (coal ash, polluted water, and other assorted human health risks that always seem to make the news from West Virginia).  But is the Australian coal industry more akin to oil in Alaska? Are the only interests in rural Queensland simply there because of coal? Meaning, are the industrial interests invested in coal country there simply to extract wealth?   If that's the case, of course those few Australians who depend on a single industry for economic well-being won't oppose additional jobs.  And that attitude will be reinforced as the coal industry attracts more people dependent on continued production.

Climate Change & Coal

A further aspect of this rich tapestry is the matter of energy policy.  The majority of the coal produced in Queensland is exported, but Australia still uses a portion of it for home-grown energy production.  Yet, Queensland, in Australia's wet tropics, can be significantly impacted by cyclones.  And, with a warmer planet, those cyclones are likely to get worse.

Australia's economic boom of the past 15 years has been based in mineral extraction and export, with coal playing no small part.  As commodity prices have collapsed, and Australia's budget has shrunk, it seems that rural areas are hit hardest.  Not only are rural services cut (which I will explore in the coming weeks in future posts), but the foundation of rural economies is shaken.  Without coal in Queensland, would there even be a rural economy? Or would the inland population necessarily migrate to the urban coast and simply abandon rural Australia. The two so intimately linked, that if coal collapses, so will numerous rural communities.

Urban observers may thus suggest an alternative: the development of renewable energy in these vast rural areas--solar, wind, etc.  Well away from the urban and still making use of natural resources--but in a less destructive way.  But, I don't think solar farms are the answer.  Most of the economic wealth comes from energy exports, and renewable sources cannot be exported like coal.

So, the urban exploits the rural, and the urban tries to save the rural landscape, at the expense of the rural economy.  What is left for a viable rural livelihood?  Is it agriculture?  Stay tuned for my next post, where I examine rural agriculture, water policy, and government changes to environmental laws that stemmed from the Carmichael mine debacle.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Hunting with hipsters

Hunting has long been considered a part of American heritage and it is one with many rural associations.  See here and here for other posts on the subject.  Hunting brings a considerable amount of revenue to "small, rural businesses in the form of gas, supplies, food, and lodging."   In addition, many rural people rely on hunting to provide a substantial portion of their meat for the year.  Revenue from license sales and hunting equipment help to fund state and federal agencies that manage the wildlife that both hunters and many non-hunters hold dear.  

Several years ago there was a significant concern among state fish and game agencies and hunters that this way of life was disappearing due to lack of participation (see post here).  In fact, between 1991 and 2006 the number of hunters decreased by approximately 1.6 million.  According to the United States Census Bureau and the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting & Wildlife-Associated Recreation, 14.1 million people ages 16 and older hunted in 1991By 1996 the number was down to 14.0 million and in 2001 it was 13.0 million.  In 2006, the number of active hunters reached its lowest point since 1991 with 12.5 million hunters.   In 2011, however, the number of active hunters grew by 1.2 million, rebounding to a total of 13.7 million active hunters.  What could be causing this increase?

A previous blog post explored women's role in hunting.  The number of female hunters has grown consistently since 1991.  The 2011 census, showed a total of 1.5 million female hunters (up from 1.1 million in 1991).  This explains a portion of the total increase in hunters, but not all of them. 
Part of the increase could be due to immigrant populations.  A 2010 post describes hunter education courses directed at the Hmong community in northern California, who are somewhat distrustful of government authorities.  More Hmong may be buying licenses due to this directed effort.  I have hunted in California since I was a young, and I have also seen an increase in Hispanic hunters.  These populations may be contributing to the increasing number of hunters in the United States, but that is not the entire story.  

What if I said that part of the increase was due to hipsters? Yes, hipsters. I know it seems almost humorous at first, but I recently came across two articles talking about the increased interest in self-reliance in America. A New York Times article entitled “Blessed Be My Freshly Slaughtered Dinner” describes a relatively new eat-what-you-kill movement in America. People are turning to backyard gardens and chicken coops to fill their refrigerators and pantries with vegetables, eggs, and meat. Some who have larger properties and live outside of the city have the ability to raise larger animals such as goats, sheep, and pigs to provide their meat. A famous example of this self-reliance movement is when, in 2011, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook declared that for one year he was only going to eat meat that he killed. He killed farm-raised chickens, pigs, and goats but left the butchering to others. Although Zuckerberg didn't butcher his animals, many do. Some "hipster locavores" organize slaughter days where people show up to, well, slaughter and butcher animals for their meat. Others decide to take a different approach and take up guns and bows to kill their own meat in the wild.

A 2012 Slate article entitled "Hipsters Who Hunt" describes the progression from hipster to hipster hunter as:
2006: Reads Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma about the ickyness of the industrial food complex. Starts shopping at a farmer’s market.
2008: Puts in own vegetable garden. Tries to go vegetarian but falls off the wagon.
2009: Decides to only eat “happy meat” that has been treated humanely.
2010: Gets a chicken coop and a flock of chickens.
2011: Dabbles in backyard butchery of chickens. Reads that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg decided to only eat meat he killed himself for a year.
2012: Gets a hunting permit, thinking “how hard can it be? I already totally dominate Big Buck Hunter at the bar.”
 This article did more than just describe what is happening in the hipster community. The article encouraged urban liberals to throw away their preconceived notions of hunters, and rural people generally, as "jerky guys with big trucks and a fondness for the country music and Republican candidates." See The Geography of the Class Cultural Wars. I agree that these tired notions of what a hunter is, and more specifically what a rural person is, need to be done away with if there is to be any understanding between urban and rural people.

Part of the article addressed problems with wildlife-human conflicts in suburban areas (especially those areas in the eastern US that are overpopulated with wild animals). At the end of the article, the author proposed that changing urban perceptions of hunting and encouraging more urban liberals to hunt would solve the problem by reducing the numbers of animals in the ecosystem. This seems like a fairly rational solution to the problem of overpopulation.
The author had another solution, however, that showed a fundamental lack of understanding about rural people and hunters. She proposed that we change policies and provide incentives to move rural people and people who live in urban sprawl into the urban core. The thought behind this idea is that it would "leave the woods for the deer and turkey, except when we visit to admire them and/or shoot them for dinner." The notion that the wilderness belongs only to the animals belittles the rural population. The author thinks that she, as an urbanite, knows what is best for rural populations. Further, it seems as if she views rural people as somehow less than human because they don't live in the cities where she feels humans belong.

Of course, this author doesn't necessarily speak for all hipsters joining the hunting community, but this view is almost surely shared among others in that community. Is the traditional hunting community willing to alter how they view hunting culture to incorporate these newcomers?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Is Afghan rape of boys a rural phenomenon?

The Afghan practice or "tradition" of raping boys has been very much in the news the past few days. This line in a New York Times story on the topic caught my attention because of its mention of rurality:
[Raping boys] is rampant among the pro-government commanders who dominate many rural areas of northern Afghanistan and run militias that at times team with American-led forces.
The suggestion here is that this practice is a rural one and, I think by implication, that rurality is place that lacks the civilizing influence of the city.  Does this mean that boys are not raped in this way in Kabul?  or that they are raped there only when the rural, pro-government commanders come to town?  In any event, I wonder about the work that the word "rural" does in this sentence and in this story.  I can't help think of the famous male-on-male rape in the movie "Deliverance."

Sunday, September 20, 2015

In the rural world, no one can hear victims scream

Some people seek out the rural life to hide from the sight of society. One of the great allures of the rural landscape is that society cannot look over the a person's shoulder and cast judgment on them. In the same vein however is the fact that many seek out the rural life to escape the vision of authority figures, namely prosecutors and the police. This is particularly true of the polygamist communities that occasionally dot the rural landscape, secluded and distant communes that seek to have little contact with the outside world. In this private world preachers can coerce and threaten young girls into arranged marriages, abuse and drive off young boys, and brainwash the community as a whole to think that this is God's will. There are an estimated 30,000 to 75,000 polygamists in Utah, around 1% of the state's population.

Even with a short amount of research a multitude of issues and contradictions occur with the polygamist communities. There are allegations that the communities, who pride themselves on self-sufficiency, practice the act of so-called, "bleeding the beast." The beast is the government, state or federal and bleeding it references taking tax payer money, to weaken the government and take advantage of it. The communities drive away young boys, often as young as fourteen, partially because of the issue that where sect leaders have taken multiple wives, there aren't enough women for the young men. As a result the leadership will drive the boys away, creating, "lost boys."

Finally is the greater issue of the systemic use of the rural to force women to remain in the communities and be subjected to ongoing brainwashing. Women who attempt to contact the authorities need the police to escort them out and there are often costly legal battles for mothers to retain control of their children, particularly their daughters. Women are less persons in these fundamentalist sects, more chattel, to be sold and bartered.

Consider the case of Lu Ann Kingston, who was married off to a cousin at the age of fifteen. This was considered a common practice, to the point that her community was training twelve year-old children on how to be parents. However the attorney who represented the fundamentalist Mormon sect that practiced this child abuse claimed that marriages before the age of fifteen were rare. While ignoring that he had effectively agreed that it was common for children fifteen and old to be married off. Within the community young girls are told that unmarried women at seventeen years of age are old.

In the infamous incident in Texas, a FLDS compound was dramatically raided by Texas officials. Hundreds of women and children were removed from the compound, which featured medical facilities and an eighty foot tall temple. One woman who had fled the sec years prior stated that there was no leaving, once a woman went into the compound, she never left. Of interest was the leader of the group, Warren Jeffs, had moved the group from Utah and Arizona to a very rural part of Texas, as other parts of his sect were being scrutinized by state and federal authorities. This was a blatant attempt to use the isolation of the rural life to evade inspection. What was extremely striking is that while in Utah, which is 70% Mormon, had largely overlooked the activities of polygamists, Texas state authorities struck hard when it was suspected that compound members were engaged in underage sexual relations.

Bleeding the beast is the method communities use to further the polygamy activities at the cost of the taxpayers. In 2003, 80% of Colorado City received welfare funding. The community as a whole paid $72,000 in taxes, while receiving roughly 8 million dollars. This has been reported by assorted media outlets and one of the more fascinating bits of information to emerge was that the group under Warren Jeffs had approximately $110 million dollars in various accounts. According to the state attorney general for Utah in 2006, the communities hate the government and deliberately commit tax evasion and fraud, to better the community and harm the state.

It is controversial that many of the raids conducted on communities involves removing children from their mothers. In the case of Texas, the boys taken from their mothers would likely have entered the foster system, which has massive issues with children entering the criminal system and having lifelong problems. Experts complain that taking children away is abusive and will mentally impair the children. There are other factors to consider.

Despite the attacks on the FLDS leadership polygamy has continued. In the trial of Warren Jeffs, now convicted and sentenced to life in prison for his crimes, jurors listened to a recording of Jeffs' conducting a marriage of a child to an adult, followed by the marriage being consummated on an altar bed, in the temple, with Jeffs and several adult wives present and observing. When asked, the child assured Jeffs she was ok, while her new husband raped her on the bed. Adult women were present to hold the girl down if she fought. While experts may claim, rightfully, that separating children from their parents is wrong, it is apparent that the adult women in the communities accept this way of life and may promote or continue the lifestyle.

The communities are often far from metropolitan areas. St. George, Utah, considered a sinful place by fundamentalists, serves as the place for sect members to get supplies. It is two hours from Hilldale, Utah, one of the largest sects in the Warren Jeffs empire. As local economies have grown polygamists have begun to get involved with St. George employers. However, the communities are located at least an hour away, in secluded areas designed to discourage casual tourism.

One such secluded place is Short Creek, which pulled in federal money for street building and general township maintenance. While there, Jeffs would exile men, sometimes dozens at a time, in order to give the wives to other men. Miles away from any other form of civilization there was no recourse but to leave. Those that stay could be subjected to "God's Squad," a group of fundamentalist enforcers who act as law enforcers for the community. Former sect members who stay in their homes will be subjected to being driven off the road, mutilated animals thrown into living rooms, and arrested on trumped up charges.

In closing. It seems that polygamists, in their quest for the ideal living situation for their personal and religious beliefs, have embraced the rural environment for its secluded nature. This has played a part in creating the problems outlined in part above. The systemic abuses however have made the 1979 quote from Alien extremely relevant, "In space no one can hear you scream."

Other posts relating to polygamy can be found here, here, and here.

Call for Papers: Life and Law in Rural America: Cows, Cars and Criminals

The American Studies Program at Princeton University is calling for papers for a Spring (March 25-26, 2016) Conference on Life and Law in Rural America:  Cows, Cars and Criminals:

Rural America has become an increasingly productive space for critical inquiry and exploration for scholars in many disciplines. From school reform to policing, from healthcare to popular television shows, and everything in between, the rural United States is continually being explored from new vantage points. Current research suggests that rural communities share many of the same kinds of challenges in education, policing, poverty, and healthcare found in urban and suburban communities, disrupting long-standing assumptions about rural America. At the same time, academics and non-academics alike recognize that rural spaces and experiences are distinct.

This conference, sponsored by the Program in American Studies at Princeton University, will explore rural spaces, people, and the law throughout American history and the present. With this conference, we seek to bring together an interdisciplinary group of graduate student researchers and faculty respondents to ask interdisciplinary questions of the social, cultural, legal, religious, and intellectual experiences of rural life. What is “rural”, and how does law constitute a distinctly rural experience for those who live there? How do law, lived experience, and geography interact in distinct ways in rural places?

Alongside keynote speakers Angela Garcia and Lisa Pruitt, we expect participants may explore more specific questions such as, how has rural America changed over time and developed into what we know as rural today? How is policing understood socially by rural residents? What does employment mean when opportunities are dramatically limited because of geography? What is the place of religious commitment in the rural U.S.? In what ways are rural spaces “urban”? How is civic engagement—such as protests and boycotts—changed when anonymity is not possible?

We invite graduate students working in the fields of American Studies, Anthropology, History, Law, English, Political Science, Musicology, Geography, Sociology, Art History, and related fields to submit papers on topics including but not limited to law and:
  • Policing in rural communities
  • Economic opportunity
  • Religious commitment
  • Regional rural identity
  • Gender in rural spaces
  • Race in rural America—both within, and outside of, the South
  • Class and poverty in rural places
  • Local government law and rural politics
  • Federal policies impacting rural America
  • Farming and farm laborers
  • Hinterlands & Rural-Urban Relationships
  • Activism & Civic Engagement
  • Cultural stereotypes of rural America
  • Environmental studies
  • Rural research methods
  • Socio-legal studies
Please submit an abstract of no more than 400 words, a short biographical description, and your contact information by November 15, 2015. Proposals and questions should be sent to conference organizers Heath Pearson and Emily Prifogle at

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

There is a new leader in Australia. Will there be a shift in policies on climate, domestic violence, and indigenous affairs?

Full disclosure: I think Australia is absolutely captivating.

For those who do not keep a close eye on Australian politics, there has been a sea change in the Australian government from Monday.  The Liberal (the Liberal Party is the right wing of Australia politics, Labour is the left wing) Party won the General Election in 2013 under the leadership of conservative Catholic Tony Abbott.  In recent months, Abbott's poll numbers have plummeted over his handling of critical issues, including asylum seekers and offshore detention, reducing climate change policies, cutting spending to indigenous communities, and gay marriage.  Basically, all of the things you expect a conservative politician to do.

On Monday, there was a coup in the Liberal Party, and after a vote of 54-44, Abbott was booted out of the premiership and replaced by Malcolm Turnbull.  Malcolm Turnbull is something of a meteor in Australian politics, and definitely on the left of the centre-right Liberals.  You can read all about his career here (its fascinating, but not particularly pertinent).  

There are, however, a series of policy issues affecting the rural Australian community that I will tackle over the next several weeks as Turnbull's premiership gets its feet.  In this post, I would like the lay the stage for the three major policy issues affecting rural Australians. 

Climate & Environmental Laws

Climate policy is a global issue and it has acute impacts on rural communities.  Rural Australians face similar issues to rural Californians: water shortages and single-industry communities.  In Australia, one massive industry driving many rural economies is mining.  The Carmichael coal mine in Queensland has come under enormous challenges lately. A federal court recently overturned the environmental minister (and one of the few Abbott ministers keeping the same brief) Greg Hunt's approval of the mine went against internal ministry advice on impacts to two threatened species.  As a response to these challenges, the Federal government has proposed changes to environmental laws that prevent "'environmental saboteurs' using courts to delay big projects...."  Caught up in these changes is the other stalwart industry of rural Australia: agriculture.  

The tensions between mining and farming in rural Australian are pronounced.  Throw traditional green advocacy groups into the mix, and there is a contentious  as well as the combined tensions between industry groups and traditional green interests.  I will focus on this tension and the challenges and impacts of coal mines and water buyback legislation in my future post on environmental concerns in rural Australia.

For a past post on the broader food v. energy debate in Australia, read this. For more about agriculture in rural Australia, read this or this.

In the meantime, Turnbull will put together a new cabinet and shift the Liberal Party's policies (hopefully) away from the far-right tack taken by Abbott government.  Climate & environmental policies will likely be a bellwether for the government's direction--of shifting towards the center or remaining on the far-right path set by Abbott. 

Domestic Violence

Australia is tackling an epidemic of domestic violence.  A report released in February 2015 detailed recommendations to the Queensland government on how to curb domestic violence.  That report was commissioned after Queensland reported more than 64,000 domestic violence incidents and more than 13,000 breaches of domestic violence orders.  Though not limited to rural areas, policies undertaken by the Abbott government severely impacted the availability of aid to women and children facing domestic violence.  The Abbott government cut federal aid to community legal aid clinics by 30%.  In terms of other federal government expenditures, the amount spent on legal aid is less than Member of Parliament (MP) office retrofits and amounts to 5% of what the Australian federal governments spends on lawyers employed directly by the federal government in a year.

It remains to be seen of the Turnbull government will work to restore funding for the local clinics or what others steps the reinvigorated Liberals will take to tackle domestic violence. My future post will focus on the efforts being instituted across Queensland to address increasing instances of domestic violence in remote communities. 

Indigenous Communities

Australia's indigenous communities have been marginalized since Europeans arrived two centirues ago.  Under the Abbott government, federal spending was drastically cut.  These cuts included significant reductions to aboriginal health and domestic violence programs.  As the Turnbull government re-evaluates policy, indigenous advocacy groups are urging restored funding to reduce the gap between white Australia and indigenous populations, with an increased focus on indigenous women's health. 

My future post will focus on this gap and efforts by the Australian government to tackle indigenous health and community violence issues. 

What Comes Next For Australia

Turnbull has said he will not call a snap election after deposing Abbott, despite hopes from the Labour Party.  This gives the Liberal party at least 10 months to reverse the Abbott agenda, or at least curtail Abbott's dramatic policies that damage Australia's rural communities.  Future posts in this series will go into much greater depth on three of the issues facing these communities: changes to environmental laws and further mineral development, efforts to curb domestic violence, and the sorry state of indigenous services.    

Joyce Carol Oates's rural upbringing

NPR ran a story yesterday about Joyce Carol Oates's new memoir, The Lost Landscape:  A Writer's Coming of Age.  Turns out that Oates grew up in rural western New York, and in the NPR interview she comments on how her farm upbringing has influenced her writing.  Here's an interesting excerpt from the NPR story about some other features of her rural life and the imprint they left on the large body of literature she has produced:
Domestic violence, rape, suicide — these are themes Oates returns to again and again in her work. In the working class world of upstate New York she says this was as much a part of the landscape as apple orchards. When she was a kid she didn't think much about the violence that occurred on the edges of her world. That changed as she grew up.
And here is a quote from Oates about the nature of life on a farm:
I think probably it was an unusual upbringing because we did work all the time and if I have nothing to do I am very unhappy. I think on a farm basically one is always working. I am not sure that work is always the right word because you are always so absorbed in what you are doing.
 And here is a blurb from the book's back cover:
The Lost Landscape is an arresting account of the ways in which Oates's life (and her life as a writer) was shaped by early childhood and how her later work was influenced by a hardscrabble rural upbringing.
It doesn't sound like typical nostalgic rural blather.  

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Finding new rural lawyers

Imagine living in a place where there is not one practicing attorney within 100 miles of your home. This sounds like the beginning of a bad joke about lawyers, but the reality of the situation is less than humorous. Unfortunately, not having any local attorneys can have some very negative consequences for residents of some rural communities.

The majority of today’s population now lives in urban settings. More and more people are leaving small rural towns for larger cities. In 2000, 21.0% of the total US population lived in rural areas. In 2010, the figure was down to 19.3%. Even though there is a trend towards urban living, approximately 1/5 of the population still resides in rural areas. According to the New York Times, only 2 percent of small law practices are in these rural areas.

With such a disproportionate number of rural residents to attorneys practicing in those areas, several issues can arise with respect to access to legal services. The most obvious problem is that the people cannot easily access legal assistance. Many people in rural areas cannot afford to meet with an attorney.  The cost of gas to drive to the city (assuming that they have transportation) or missing a day’s work on top of any legal expenses they might incur once they obtain an attorney is simply too much for some rural inhabitants.

When people do not have access to attorneys, they may choose to not seek legal remedies or might try to represent themselves. When people without a legal education try to represent themselves, the results are rarely in their favor. In addition, having people represent themselves can slow down the court system.  An Arkansas study reported by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette substantiates this.

The budgets of rural counties and small communities are also strained by an absence of local attorneys. Already stressed local governments have to foot the bill for judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys to travel to the county seat to handle local cases.

The problem with the lack of rural attorneys does not stem from a shortage of attorneys in the United States. In fact, an abundance of new attorneys are not in positions where bar passage is required. In 2014, approximately 10 months after graduation, only 59.9% were employed in full-time, bar-required positions, with 9.8% unemployed. The question is how to attract some of the roughly 40% of new graduates who are not employed full time in bar-required positions to move to rural areas to practice law.

In 2013, South Dakota became the first state to pass a law to attract new attorneys to rural areas. To be eligible for the Rural Attorney Recruitment Program, attorneys must make a five-year commitment to practice in a county with a population of less than 10,000. In return, they would receive an annual subsidy of $12,000, which is equivalent to 90% of the cost of a year of tuition at the University of South Dakota School of Law. Part of this plan is to pair new attorneys with mentors and to help spouses obtain employment as well.

Partially inspired by the Rural Attorney Recruitment Program, Legal Aid of Arkansas have grants from the American Bar Association that they are using to alleviate the lack of rural attorneys in their state.  In Nebraska, the Nebraska State Bar Association's (NSBA) Rural Practice Initiative created a bus tour to connect law students and new attorneys with rural attorneys and business leaders throughout the state.  The NSBA has also created a summer externship program to help place students in firms in the rural areas of the state.  The In other parts of the country, small towns and counties are paying for office space and business expenses for young lawyers that agree to move to their area.

These programs are a good way to get the ball rolling on this issue, but they are far from a perfect solution. South Dakota's Rural Attorney Recruitment Plan addresses the issue of debt, but not of income. After working five years in a rural community and having most of their debt paid off, what is to keep the lawyer in the community? Surely some would stay because of family or maybe a sense of community, but it seems almost inevitable that some would leave and work for a firm in the city where they could make more money. The experience they gained through the recruitment program would make them more attractive as candidates for associate positions than they might have been fresh out of law school. Therefore, some would use this program as a way to further their careers and pay off debt instead of using it to establish a rural practice to which they are committed for the long run.

As the population trends indicate, more people are moving to urban areas. Much of what attracts new law school graduates to urban areas is the lifestyle which it provides. Urban areas provide entertainment and the arts, dating opportunities for single people, job opportunities for spouses of recent graduates, and a higher income for those that find jobs. Instead of focusing on recruiting recent graduates for the rural programs, more focus should be spent on incentivizing people who want to live in rural areas to attend law school.

Because most law school graduates are in their 20s, urban life may seem more appealing to them, and it may be harder to incentivize that group to settle into rural life. In addition to the programs for young attorneys, some effort should be made to attract older and more experienced attorneys to rural areas. Attorneys with families who want a better life/work balance or a desire to raise their children away from the city, or older attorneys who are tired of working for bigger firms might just need a little nudge to make the move. Loan repayment might be helpful for some, while some sort of tax break might be the right incentive for an older attorney to set up a practice in a rural area. We should strive to not only attract young attorneys, but to attract experienced attorneys to rural areas to ensure that the rural population has access to experienced attorneys for both the short and the long term.

For more in depth information on this topic, see Law Stretched Thin: Access to Justice in Rural America, and Access to Justice in Rural Arkansas.

For more blog posts on this topic, see here, here, here, and here.  For a post about the lack of rural lawyers in Japan, see here.   For a discussion of how Skype and similar technologies can help with the rural lawyer shortage, see here.

Why would NPR say that the Butte and Valley fires are near San Francisco?

The past 36 hours have been horrible for California in terms of destruction (and likely death) from fast-moving, drought-fueled wildfires.  But things are bad enough without making it all relevant and interesting from a national news perspective by acting like this is somehow about San Francisco.  Here's the lede from National Public Radio:
California Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency as firefighters in the state's north battling expanding wildfires, intensified by a prolonged drought, that have spread to tens of thousands of acres north and east of San Francisco, Capital Public Radio in Sacramento reports.
A prior version of this story, now revised, described the fires as "near" San Francisco.

"[N]orth and east of San Francisco" is technically accurate, but the fires are hardly threatening the greater Bay Area because the Butte Fire is at least 100 miles from the metropolis and the Valley fire, in Lake and Napa counties, is at least 50 miles away.  What, then, makes it helpful or appropriate to describe the location of the fire in this way?  Will it somehow make people care more to think of this in relation to San Francisco than if they just think of this as a fire in the hinterlands of northern or central California--a rural phenomenon?  which, I might add, it by and large is.  

Or maybe we care more about the water supply for California's cities than for the rural residents who are losing their homes.  And it was the San Francisco water supply that attracted attention to the fire in Yosemite and near it, as in the community of Groveland, a few years ago.  Read commentary on Legal Ruralism here.

Here is another excerpt from that NPR story today, this one explicitly noting the "rural":
The Associated Press says: "One explosive blaze raced across several rural communities in northern California [Saturday], forcing thousands of people from their homes. Four firefighters suffered second-degree burns and are being treated in connection with a blaze that started about 100 miles north of San Francisco."
New York Times coverage of the Valley Fire includes this lede:
The fire moved fast, faster than even veteran firefighters had seen. As it ripped down a hill toward Middletown, two hours north of San Francisco, some residents hardly had time to dress before they fled.
(emphasis added).

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Rural Communities and the California Drought

A issue that is often ignored by mainstream media outlets is that of access to drinking water to rural Californian communities. As seen in this article by the Washington Post the drought has created dangers for rural communities that cannot access clean water. A common sense reason for this may be that it is inconceivable that in this modern age, in a state that holds itself as a paradigm of progress and success, there are communities that lack access to clean drinking water. A more cynical suspicion may be that rural communities are not the bulk of the electorate in California and therefor have less priority to the state. This is compounded by the fact that many of these communities impacted by drought and lacking clean water are economically disadvantaged. Regardless of the reason(s) the fact remains that somewhere around one million Californians in rural environments lack access to clean water.

Some of the water shortage predates the drought. In communities east of Coachella, the chromium-6 levels in the local aquifer is so high that it has been deemed unsafe. Residents must drive to Costco or other locations up to 30 miles away, to fill up bottles and store them in their homes. In instances like this, the issue has been longstanding and lacking state support in resolving the problems associated with tainted water.

As the drought has continued, farms have turned to wells for the bulk of their water needs. This has led to residential communities suffering, as their water runs out. A hot shower at the end of the day turns from something most people can enjoy, to a fantasy in the mind of a field worker, who hasn't had access to running water in five months. The farms and townships are so thirsty that the ground is dropping at a rate of 2 inches per month, in a 6 month study conducted by NASA.

In some extreme instances, townships have communal showers and have had to raise money for wells that extend far enough into the parched earth to acquire usable water for the community to utilize. Wells are often shallower than industrial wells that service farms and are the first to "tap out" of water. The township might house the employees who work on the farms nearby, or consume the produce from the farms, creating an off issue of dependency, where the town needs the water, as do the farms, but there is not enough for everyone.

This isn't to say that there is no hope, or that nothing is being done for residents. In Kern county, the Agua4All campaign has been working on establishing filling stations for rural residents to fill up bottles. The campaign is focused on creating as many communal stations as possible to supply the local community and provide a central hub for water access. This has been a campaign funded by a local county based coalition that has sought to provide potable water to local residents. This helps tremendously, especially when considering that in some areas with poor rural residents, potable water can be up to ten percent of a household's income. One such filling station recently opened in Arvin, one of at least one hundred communities who have had their water supply violate the maximum contaminant level set by the EPA.

Even in areas with water, such as Arvin, the water may not be potable due to the arsenic value. But to make the matter worse is the fact that wells are expensive to drill and there is no surety the water will be good water. In the instance of Arvin two wells are scheduled to cost at least five million dollars. This is an expensive gamble because the water may be poisonous or it may be usable If it's usable, then more wells will be drilled, to the tune of almost nineteen million dollars. Given that the townships are in rural areas, they must acquire the monies necessary for the wells from coalitions, government subsidies, and what taxes can be levied against the residents, who are not in the wealthiest percentile of the state.

What can be done? The state could begin to reprioritize its commitment to rural communities. In large part there has been little to no demand by the legislature that mega farms move to more drought sustainable methods of farming. In many areas over-watering remains an issue and farms continue to retain methods that abuse the water system. Some smaller farmers have begun dry-farming, an attempt to utilize the soil's nutrients, minimize runoff, and maximize on what little water has been allocated for usage. More emphasis and funding can be placed on osmosis filter installation, which would require dipping into the state's overtaxed finances to be affordable, but would help ease the pressure on communities too poor to help themselves. In the instance of Agua4All and similar campaigns to have community filling stations, programs would need to be funded and advertised more thoroughly so that locals are aware of that resource.

In areas where water is tainted by naturally occurring arsenic or chromium-6, a pipeline similar to the one that runs to Los Angeles could be considered or the state could look into filtering the water as it emerges from the aquifer. Either option would be expensive and purification doesn't have a guarantee of working. In the instance of a pipeline there is the question of where to get water in an already parched state.

Some communities have turned to reverse-osmosis techniques, which requires expensive filters and installation to work and while it cleans the water, it doesn't help communities that cannot afford to install such filters into every water faucet. In that instance the state could explore subsidizing the community's efforts or exploring ways to make the process more economical for families who spend substantial portions of their income on a basic necessity of life.

The need for clean water is something that is paramount in this day and age. Children, pets, gardens, and animals raised for personal consumption all require clean water. By ignoring the communities that suffer as a result of waste and excess the mainstream media has drawn attention away from communities in parts of rural California that desperately need help.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Texas abortion clinics file briefs in U.S.S.Ct.

Here is Adam Liptak's coverage in the New York Times today.  Liptak does not mention the particular burdens the law places on rural women, but he highlights the challenge that two provisions of the Texas law (H.B. 2) have created for women in South and West Texas, quoting from the brief:
Other parts of the law have already caused about half of the state’s 41 abortion clinics to close. If the contested provisions take effect, Wednesday’s filing said, the number of clinics will again be halved. 
The remaining clinics, the brief said, would be clustered in four metropolitan areas: Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio. 
“There would be no licensed abortion facilities west of San Antonio,” the brief said. The only clinic south of San Antonio, in McAllen, it added, would have “extremely limited capacity.”
My prior posts about this topic are here, here and here.