Ohio Valley Resource

Black Lung Benefits Drop For Kentucky Coal Miners After Controversial Law Change

Feb 25, 2020
Adelina Lancianese, NPR

Lynn Estel Stanley was the kind of coal mine foreman who wanted to know if there was a safety problem, and would always be the one to go fix it himself. He was also the kind of miner who refused to slow down, even when his men told him he was overexerting himself. But when he was 69, his doctor told him it was time to stop for good.

Stanley wasn’t surprised. He knew he was getting sick. “It kept getting progressively worse and harder to breathe to the point where I just couldn’t do my job, I didn’t have enough oxygen,” he said.

Sydney Boles

On a recent soggy Wednesday evening, dozens of West Virginians packed a conference room inside the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center to discuss the need for a “just transition” for coal-impacted communities.

As the nation grapples with climate change, the need for a fair transition for workers and communities that depend upon coal jobs and revenue has also gained traction. Nearly every 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful has touted some version of the idea, ranging from the expansive “Green New Deal” championed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders to former Vice President Joe Biden’s more modest mix of worker training and direct assistance for coal country.


Liam Neimeyer

John Fuller is waiting for another farmer he’s never met before to talk about a situation he never imagined he would be in.

Sydney Boles

Officials with the Mine Safety and Health Administration met for the first time with miners’ health researchers Wednesday in a new partnership designed to discuss ways to better protect coal miners from the dust that causes black lung disease.

Courtesy Braidy Industries

A controversial economic development project in Ashland, Kentucky, hit a snag last week as aluminum company Braidy Industries ousted CEO and board chairman Craig Bouchard. In a statement, Braidy Industries’ interim CEO said he appreciated Bouchard’s hard work for the company. Bouchard says the firing was improper and is refusing to step down.

Wikimedia Commons

A new report finds the Ohio Valley has some of the most disadvantaged communities in the country. The study comes from the University of Michigan’s Poverty Solutions, an initiative to eliminate or alleviate poverty through action-based research. 

The rain came hard and fast early on the morning of June 23, 2016. By 2 p.m., water was knee deep in Bill Bell’s appliance store on Main Street in Rainelle, a small town on the western edge of Greenbrier County, West Virginia. Bell began elevating the washing machines and dishwashers, thinking that would be enough. Within hours, he’d lose it all. Today, his shop is up and running once again, but the memory of the flood runs deep. 

“To be honest with you, everybody here sleeps on pins and needles when it calls for a big rain,” he says.

New Protections Proposed For Imperiled Crayfish Species

Jan 27, 2020
Guenter Schuster/Courtesy Center for Biological Diversity

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service is proposing new protections for two threatened species of crayfish found in the Appalachian coalfields.

Under the new proposed rule, set to be published Tuesday in the Federal Register, the agency will designate 445 miles of streams in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia as “critical habitat” for the Guyandotte River crayfish and Big Sandy crayfish. 

Ned Pillersdorf

An attorney for the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet told a federal judge Wednesday that the bankrupt coal company Blackjewel has accrued nearly 300 environmental violations since it entered bankruptcy in July.

“It’s essential that these violations are addressed, abated, and that they stop accruing,” Cabinet attorney Lena Seward told bankruptcy judge Frank Volk in the hearing. “There is potential for human and environmental harm.”

Wikimedia Commons

New testing by the Environmental Working Group has identified the presence of toxic fluorinated chemicals, broadly known as PFAS, in the tap water of dozens of cities across the U.S. where contamination was not previously known. 

The Trump administration is set to sign a deal Wednesday with Chinese trade officials for what they call “Phase One” of a trade agreement after almost two years of false starts and costly, retaliatory tariffs. Ohio Valley farmers are cautiously optimistic the truce will be a turning point, but some are skeptical about the details about the partial deal.

Disastrous Disconnect: Coal, Climate And Catastrophe In Kentucky

Oct 29, 2019
Joanna Elberts

  This story is part of a series about the insufficient protections for vulnerable people as natural disasters worsen in a warming climate. The Center for Public Integrity and four partners – the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, High Country News, Ohio Valley ReSource and StateImpact Oklahoma – are contributing stories.

Sydney Boles/Ohio Valley ReSource

Coal miners who went without pay when mining company Blackjewel declared bankruptcy this June are one step closer to receiving lost wages. The checks come weeks after some of the miners ended a long-running protest, and months after the federal Department of Labor first intervened to allege the company violated labor laws in the month before it folded.

Wikimedia Commons

Tap water delivered by more than 2,000 water systems across the Ohio Valley contain pollutants, many harmful to human health, even though they mostly meet federal drinking water standards. That’s according to a newly-updated database released by the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization. 

  The Burgess family received Greg’s owed wages late last week, but is still waiting for the check to clear a bank hold. Blackjewel’s bad check created a series of challenges. The first few unemployment checks the family received went straight to the bank to get the account out of the red. In total, Christina said Blackjewel’s bankruptcy has cost her family about $3,000 in penalties and fees. Greg quickly found new work after the Pax Mine closed and the family had some money saved in preparation for a downturn in the local industry.

Sober Living Apartments Offer Residents New Hope

Aug 22, 2019
Mary Meehan / WEKU.Fm

Hundreds attended the grand opening of the housing units on the Hope Center campus in Lexington, filling one of the new community rooms to capacity.

But for Mike Evans and the other tenants, it was a long-awaited chance to find a home

Like each apartment, Evans has a bed, a couch, a small kitchen area, and a private bathroom. In the month since he’s moved in, he’s added some personal touches, a pristine UK cap on a counter, a Wildcat throw on the couch. Even cooking is a pleasure, he said.

Mary Meehan / WEKU.Fm and The Ohio Valley ReSource

Health advocates are helping reinforce the idea of smoke-free schools, with a particular focus on E-cigarettes. Legislation was passed last year to require schools to be smoke free by the 2020-2021 school year. President and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky Ben Chandler explains, there needs to be a concrete next step.

“It provided however, no funding for that signage. I know everybody's shocked by that. The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky and the Kentucky Medical Association and its foundation for medical care are about to remedy that.”

Brittany Patterson / Ohio Valley Resource

Janet Clayton is standing thigh-deep in a back channel of the Elk River. Clad in a wetsuit and knee pads, the silver-haired biologist with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources reaches into a bright orange mesh bag submerged in water.

Inside are a half dozen mussels she plucked from the rocky river bottom.

“This is called a long solid,” Clayton says. An earthy colored shell about the size of a computer mouse sits in the palm of her hand. “As it gets older it gets really long.”


American Medical Association

Dr. Patrice Harris took the oath in June to become the first African-American woman to serve as president of the powerful American Medical Association, the largest professional association for physicians in the United States.

Harris also brings another unique perspective to the task as someone who grew up in rural Appalachia.

"I was born and raised in Bluefield, West Virginia, in the heart of coal country," Harris said. "My father worked on the railroad. My mother taught school. So I have a unique and personal connection and understanding of the region."

She earned her undergraduate degree in psychology, a master's degree in counseling psychology and medical degree from West Virginia University. Though she has long practiced psychiatry in Atlanta, Georgia, she keeps her connection to the region with regular home visits and by serving on the WVU Foundation board.


American Society of Microbiology

The measles outbreak continues across the country with Ohio becoming the latest state with a confirmed case of the disease.

Ohio State Epidemiologist Sietske de Fijter said Friday that a new case has been confirmed in Stark County. People who are unvaccinated are at risk, she says.

Measles is extremely contagious said de Fijter. “Over 90 percent of individuals who are unprotected are unvaccinated, and who get exposed to the measles virus will come down with the disease.”

She said vaccination is the best form of prevention.

Stu Johnson

A Lexington council committee is endorsing existing standard operating procedures for the cleaning up of homeless camps on public property.  A representative from Louisville appeared before the General Government and Social Services Committee Tuesday to explain that city’s 21-day notice policy. 

Alexandria Kanik/Ohio Valley ReSource

Soybean farmer Larry Thomas with an old tractor on his farm in Hardin County, KY.Credit Liam Niemeyer/Ohio Valley ReSourceEdit | Remove  West Liberty University Professor Zachary Loughman has dedicated his professional life to crustaceans – specifically freshwater crayfish. He dips his hand into one of the water tanks at his laboratory near Wheeling, West Virginia, to pick up a teal crayfish the size of a dollar bill.

Jeff Young/Ohio Valley ReSource

Kentucky's Attorney General said on Friday he is investigating complaints from miners who say they are not receiving pay following the fast-moving bankruptcy negotiations for Blackjewel mining, which employs some 1100 people in central Appalachia.

Attorney General Andy Beshear said in a statement he has received "numerous troubling complaints" related to the company, "ranging from clawed back paychecks to child support issues.

"I have therefore instructed my office to use all of its powers and resources to seek answers for those who have been harmed," Beshear said. 

Kentucky Hospital Association

Aaron Payne/Ohio Valley ReSource

 

Addiction specialists, business leaders, law enforcement officials and other community members gathered around tables at Shawnee State University to talk about two big challenges in Scioto County, Ohio: a shrinking economy and a growing addiction crisis.

The Appalachian Regional Commission brought them together as part of a listening tour to learn about connections between addiction recovery and economic recovery.

Several speakers pointed out how the opioid epidemic has left employers with job openings and a workforce unprepared to fill them. 

US China Governors Collaboration Summit

Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin told a gathering of U.S. and Chinese officials that he’s not worried about the trade dispute between the countries. Bevin said although tariffs are causing pain, they won’t last.

Appalachian Regional Commission

 

Central Appalachia lags behind other part of the region in employment, household income and other key measures. That's according to a new study from the Appalachian Regional Commission.

The data comes from the American Community Survey, that’s like a smaller version of the census. It is conducted every five years.

Within Appalachia, different subregions have very different outcomes. In many cases, Central Appalachia, which includes parts of Kentucky and West Virginia, lagged behind other subregions.

 

Associated Press

Kentucky’s largest aluminum producer supports the Trump administration’s decision to keep steel and aluminum tariffs on most countries. Those import taxes were recently removed on Canada and Mexico, but remain in place for other countries.

A Growing Recovery: Food Service And Farming Jobs Provide A Path Out Of Addiction

May 20, 2019
Brittany Patterson/OhioValleyReSource

Located in South Charleston, West Virginia, the former church turned restaurant has a funky, yet calming vibe. Twinkle lights and mismatched dining room sets dot the space. For $8 to $10 a plate, diners can enjoy a locally-sourced meal. The menu today is apple sage pork tips, spiralized zucchini (or “zoodles”), roasted broccoli, and a salad of spinach grown just a few miles away.

Autumn McCraw helped prepare today’s meal. The 35-year-old Charleston resident sports a maroon apron and greets every customer with a smile. Her days here typically start around 8 a.m.

From MyTownTV streaming of event

A large whiteboard in an Ashland, Kentucky, unemployment office is covered with a list of companies that are currently hiring. Senior career counselor Melissa Sloas said that just a few years ago, that board was a lot emptier.

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