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We read this week that now nearly half of the residents of Letcher County, Kentucky, have access to potable water — that is, water that is fit to drink. Most of those people live in the county’s towns, such as Whitesburg, above.

That may not sound like a very high percentage in 2010, but in 2006, according to The Mountain Eagle newspaper, only 19 percent of the households in this Eastern Kentucky county had water fit to drink supplied to their homes.

That’s great improvement, a testament to the residents and to money collected under a federal program from the coal companies who mine in the county. A federal fund has been set up to pay for the damage done to the water and land by coal strip and underground mining. 

What got us thinking, however, was that while there is this loud (if not great) debate between Tea Partiers and Democrats, there is very little discussion about how to see that the benefits of a modern society are spread to everyone and every place. Letcher County is not that remote or isolated. If only half the people living there have water fit to drink, then this is a problem of quite a large dimension.

• We just returned from a trip to Japan, where it is extremely easy to get from a rural town to one of the country’s major cities by rail. The cost is low and the trip is fast.

So it was interesting to see a story this morning in the Des Moines Register that the Federal Railroad Administration has promised Iowa and Illinois $230 million to help cover the cost of re-establishing commuter rail between Des Moines and Chicago. 

• Rep. Ike Skelton is a Democrat and a member from one of the most rural districts in the House. He’s also in trouble, according to the Kansas City Star

Skelton voted for the cap and trade bill, the bank bailout and the stimulus package. (He voted against the health care bill.) So, Republican Vicky Hartzler is running hard on Skelton’s support of these three pieces of legislation. 

Skelton, however, is saying Hartzler opposed a bill to provide re-enlistment bonuses to members of the Missouri National Guard when she was a member of the state legislature.

West Virginia has sued Monsanto. The state is claiming the seed-making giant refused to cooperate with the state attorney general’s investigation into claims the company has made for its Roundup Ready 2 Yield soybeans. AG Darrell McGraw says he wants to find out if claims of higher yields for the new (and more expensive) seed are backed by research. 

• American Electric Power supported the cap and trade energy bill. The United Mine Workers union said the legislation would guarantee a future for coal. It would have decreased greenhouse gases and it allowed the use of coal to grow.

Virginia Rep. Rick Boucher (a Democrat) voted for the bill and so did other rural Democrats. Now they are being chastised by their opponents for supporting a bill that was backed by both industry and labor.

The Gazette’s Ken Ward Jr. writes about how this bit of dishonesty is abetted by poor journalism. 

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