Iowa State Fair ends, caucus season next for Democratic Party presidential candidates

DES MOINES, Iowa (Public News Service) – The Iowa State Fair drew nearly two dozen Democratic Party presidential candidates, but the founder of an Iowa Democratic online news site says there was no clear favorite.

Pat Rynard, who started Iowa Starting Line in 2015, says candidates who attended the fair were paying more attention than usual to agriculture and how climate change is affecting Iowa farmers.

But they also were forced to address immigration and gun control after the El Paso shooting that left 22 dead occurred days before the fair began.

“It certainly changed what the candidates spoke about this past week and what the voters were interested in hearing, but that’s one of those moments that you’re able to see how a candidate might respond to it as president,” he states.

Rynard maintains most of those who heard the presidential hopefuls speak had four or five favorites, with no one candidate running away with a large segment of the Democratic electorate.

Iowa hosts the first-in-the-nation caucuses on Feb. 3 of next year, and while the rural state doesn’t select the eventual nominee, it will help whittle down the field prior to Super Tuesday on March 3.

Rynard says back in 2015, Bernie Sanders turned heads when more than 1,000 people came out to hear him speak at the State Fair. He says this year, four candidates drew those kind of crowds, including Sanders, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren.

Rynard maintains many voters still will be debating their top choice five months from now.

“I do still think with such a huge, fractured field like this, probably 50% of caucus-goers are still going to be undecided about one or two months out from caucus night,” he states.

For the first time ever, the Iowa Democratic nominating contest next February will have a virtual option, with those participating able to cast their votes over the phone rather than attend in person.

The goal is to open the caucuses to more people, especially evening shift workers and people with disabilities, who might otherwise be unable to participate in the process.

Reporting by Roz Brown

Collapsing coal industry leaves miners fighting for benefits, back pay

WHITESBURG, Ky. – A wave of coal company bankruptcies has left miners fighting for back pay and medical benefits.

Three large coal producers have gone under this year. At the same time, an epidemic of black lung disease is sweeping many coal mining communities.

Letcher County resident Patty Amburgey says her husband, a coal miner, died from decades of exposure to coal dust. They were married for 45 years.

“It destroyed his body,” she says. “It’s like a storm went through and there wasn’t nothing left.”

Last month miners traveled to Washington to press lawmakers on legislation that would ensure retired miners suffering from black lung disease and their families are paid disability benefits when a miner’s employer has gone bankrupt.

Known as the Black Lung Benefits Disability Trust Fund Solvency Act, the bill was introduced by U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., and is funded through an excise tax.

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Bankruptcy is a real fear as the coal industry continues to atrophy.

Amburgey says it’s not just miners with black lung who are suffering.

“Every day, I changed his bed and bathed him,” she relates. “It takes a toll not only on the person that has black lung, it takes a toll on the whole family.

“It leaves a mark that can’t be erased nowhere. It leaves it on your heart and soul.”

Meanwhile, miners in Harlan County continue to protest for the third straight week, after their employer, Blackjewel. went bankrupt without paying them for their work.

A group of miners continues to camp out, blocking coal trains near Cumberland and demanding missing paychecks.

Reporting by Nadia Ramlagan

Nation’s first commission on racist lynching starts in Maryland

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Maryland this week launched a commission to examine the state’s history of racially motivated lynchings.

It’s the first state in the nation to officially acknowledge this form of racial violence.

The Maryland Lynching Truth and Reconciliation Commission held an organizational meeting to begin the work of addressing how the state should honor and support those who lost their lives to lynchings.

State Delegate Joseline Peña-Melnyk, a Democrat, was the chief sponsor of House Bill 307, which the General Assembly passed unanimously this spring to create the restorative justice panel.

“There’s a lot of racially motivated incidents happening and hate crimes,” she states. “You know, it’s at an all-high in this country and there’s a lot of racist rhetoric. We need to definitely confront our past.”

Peña-Melnyk says the panel is looking for four public members to join the committee.

Members include representatives from historically black colleges in the state as well as from the National Archives.

At least 40 African-Americans are believed to have been killed by lynch mobs in Maryland between 1854 and the last recorded incident in 1933.

According to Peña-Melnyk, no one ever was tried, convicted or brought to justice for these acts of violence.

“The commission will research cases – you know, racially motivated lynchings – and will hopefully have a record that we would review and incorporate into our history in Maryland and make sure that history doesn’t repeat itself,” she explains.

The panel will meet next on Sept. 12 at the University of Baltimore School of Law in a public event with the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project.

Reporting by Diane Bernard

New transportation policy big win for Connecticut

HARTFORD, Conn. – A new analysis says Connecticut could see major gains from a new approach to transportation.

The report from the Acadia Center shows that a well-designed transportation cap-and-invest policy could help the state put more than $2.7 billion into clean transportation by 2030, generating more than 23,000 jobs and $7 billion in economic activity.

Like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative that generates funds to reduce carbon emissions from power plants, the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) would auction pollution credits linked to wholesale transportation fuels.

According to Amy McLean Salls, the Acadia Center’s Connecticut director, transportation accounts for 40% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“By reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and putting money into clean transportation infrastructure, we would be addressing some of the most egregious problems regarding greenhouse gas emissions which have to be reduced for the state to meet its climate goals,” she states.

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So far, nine states and the District of Columbia have signed on to the Transportation and Climate Initiative.

McLean Salls says details of the policy are still being worked out on both the state and regional levels, including where the funds generated by the cap-and-invest plan should go.

“Should they go to the environmental justice communities where the most egregious pollution from transportation is happening?” she asks. “Electrifying the state’s fleet of buses is a priority.”

The analysis showed that by 2030 the TCI funds would allow Connecticut to invest in 170,000 electric vehicles and their associated charging infrastructure.

Connecticut joined the Initiative in 2018 and full implementation should take place in the next two or three years.

McLean Salls notes that the state already is hard at work to make it a reality.

“The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is actively working on a plan,” she points out. “The stakeholders in the community around the state also are involved.”

The full report is online at

Reporting by Andrea Sears

South Dakotans warned to avoid water with toxic algae blooms

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – As the dog days of summer drag on, pet owners are being reminded by the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks to steer clear of ponds with smelly water containing blue-green algae blooms.

Fisheries manager Mark Ermer says due to excessive spring flooding, the state has even more small ponds in unexpected places this summer.

Ermer fields a lot of questions about the dangers of blue-green algae on lakes and ponds, but says it’s fairly obvious they should be avoided.

“If you get into a blue-green algae area, and the dog drinks a significant part of that water, then yes, he can die very quickly,” he warns. “But 99% of people, if they had their kids or if they had a dog and they walked by a pond like this? They’re never going to let their dog go in there.”

Ermer says animals can experience symptoms within minutes of exposure to toxins in such a lake or pond.

He says symptoms might include vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, difficulty breathing and seizures.

Sensitive individuals, including young children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems are most at risk to adverse health effects from algal toxins.

Ermer says as summer heat reduces oxygen in lakes and ponds, algae typically looks like pea soup or a thick coat of paint covering the water.

He adds that a key factor contributing to the growth of toxic algae is the amount of available nutrients from agricultural and stormwater runoff as well as leaching from septic systems.

“The fact that we use more and more chemicals on our landscapes, that’s what’s driving these systems,” Ermer explains. “That’s the fuel that creates algae blooms, is when you have high levels of those two components – especially phosphorus and nitrogen.”

Scientists studying global warming say harmful freshwater blooms are becoming more frequent and more dense and moving farther north in the U.S. than their traditional boundary.

Reporting by Roz Brown

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