Ohio Valley ReSource

A regional journalism collaborative reporting on economic and social change in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia.

With support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, seven public media outlets across the three states have partnered to form the ReSource in order to strengthen news coverage of the area’s most important issues.

Ky.gov

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates almost 700,000 people across the country will lose food stamps in a new Trump Administration rule announced Wednesday. Regional anti-hunger advocates and policy analysts say the Ohio Valley — and Appalachia in particular — could be disproportionately affected by this rule. 

WKMS

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration sent out 15 letters last week warning some companies that sell cannabidiol, or CBD, about making unfounded medical claims regarding the effects of the hemp-derived compound. Many users claim CBD has a wide range of medicinal benefits but there is little evidence.

Vancouver Coastal Health

A new medical study shows that after decades of increasing life expectancy across the country, people are living shorter lives. And that trend is in part driven by premature deaths among people in the Ohio Valley due to the opioid epidemic, suicide and alcohol abuse.

Focus Films

The new film “Dark Waters” depicts the real-life story of the 20-year battle waged by attorney Rob Bilott against chemical giant DuPont.

We meet Bilott, played by Mark Ruffalo, as a young corporate defense lawyer living in Cincinnati. His grandmother, who lives in Parkersburg, West Virginia, gives his phone number to local farmer, Earl Tennant. Tennant lives next to a landfill where DuPont had been dumping a chemical called C8.

In a scene from the film, Tennant, played by actor Bill Camp, shows Bilott around his farm, where his cows are dying.

Ohio Valley ReSource

  Kentucky’s Public Service Commission has released results of a months-long investigation into high rates of water loss in certain rural water districts. The findings point to systematic financial and managerial challenges facing rural districts, and solutions would likely require sweeping legislative change.

Adelina Lancianese, NPR

  The comment period has closed for the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s proposed rule on respirable silica, a major contributor to skyrocketing rates of lung disease among coal miners. The 49 relevant comments included a striking testimony from an anonymous coal miner sharing details of the ways in which current mine operators cheat on dust monitoring protocols.

 

Communities across the Ohio Valley are among an estimated 2 million Americans that do not have consistent access to clean drinking water and basic indoor plumbing, according to a report published Monday by two nonprofits, DigDeep and the US Water Alliance.

WFPL

  The recent bankruptcy of Murray Energy is likely to significantly increase the debt of a struggling federal trust fund that supports disabled miners’ health care expenses. 

According to court filings, Murray Energy could be responsible for as much as $155 million under the Black Lung Act and general workers’ compensation, but testimony from the Government Accountability Office shows that the company only offered $1.1 million in collateral to the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund.

 

 

Mary Meehan

Cancer was what finally pushed Kristi Reyes into living in her car.

The mother of four had worked all her life, starting at age 7 when she helped out at her family’s furniture store. Most of her work was in retail. It was paycheck-to-paycheck but she kept her kids together and a roof over their heads.

Brittany Patterson/OhioValleyReSource

Devin Mefford is sitting in the squat metal buggy of a modified mantrip, the train-like shuttle coal miners use to travel underground. Mefford is dressed for work, in a hardhat and a navy shirt and pants with lime green reflective stripes.

It’s a uniform his father and grandfather — both Kentucky coal miners — would be familiar with.

 

Mefford does go into a mine every day, but not for the coal. He’s the tour guide at Portal 31, a train ride through a once-operational coal mine in Harlan County.

Becca Schimmel

  The recent bankruptcy of Ohio Valley coal giant Murray Energy has renewed fears about the already shaky financial foundations of the pension plan that tens of thousands of miners and their families depend upon.

The seismic collapse of yet another coal employer has lawmakers from the region renewing their push to fix the United Mine Workers pension fund, and has even raised broader concerns about pensions for a range of other trades.

Kentucky Department of Waste Management

Federal environmental regulators released proposed changes to two rules related to the disposal of coal ash and wastewater from coal-fired power plants.

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.

Ohio-Based Coal Giant Murray Energy Declares Bankruptcy

Oct 29, 2019
Sydney Boles/Ohio Valley ReSource

  Murray Energy Corp., the largest underground coal mining company in America with a substantial footprint across the Ohio Valley, has filed for bankruptcy protection. 

“Although a bankruptcy filing is not an easy decision, it became necessary to access liquidity and best position Murray Energy and its affiliates for the future of our employees and customers and our long term success,” company founder Robert Murray said in a release.

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. 

  Coal executive Bob Murray clashed Monday with federal energy regulators at a Lexington, Kentucky, energy forum over what Murray called a failure by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to sufficiently support the struggling coal industry. 

“The word that I’ve been using to describe FERC is feckless,” Murray told the audience, including FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee. 

Alexandria Kanik/Ohio Valley ReSource

WFPL

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin announced Friday that an empty, privately-owned prison in Wheelwright, Kentucky, will soon hold 650-medium security inmates.

Bevin said re-opening the prison will save millions of dollars in construction costs and help alleviate jail overcrowding largely driven by the state’s opioid crisis.

The state currently has 24,000 offenders. According to a press release, roughly half of those inmates are housed in county jails.

Adelina Lancianese, NPR

The Mine Safety and Health Administration will host a public meeting Thursday as it considers action on regulating respirable silica, one of the major contributors to Appalachia’s skyrocketing rates of black lung disease.

MSHA issued a request for information in response to calls for increased regulation after a 2018 investigation from NPR and PBS Frontline. That investigation found that the agency had failed to adequately protect miners despite knowing that silica, or quartz dust, was contributing to an  epidemic of black lung. Silica dust is produced from cutting into layers of rock surrounding coal seams. At least 10 percent of coal miners with 25 or more years of underground work experience suffer from the disease, a sharp increase from the 1990s.

A 2014 rule strengthened controls on mine dust overall, but did not address silica specifically. The agency’s meeting and request might signal interest in further regulation. However, some critics say it is too little, too late. Former MSHA regulator Celeste Monforton has spoken out against MSHA’s lack of action on silica exposure and said she sees little progress now.


Liam Niemeyer/Ohio Valley ReSource

Sydney Boles/Ohio Valley ReSource

Coal miners and family members of miners who have died from black lung disease gathered Sunday in Whitesburg, Kentucky, to dedicate a new memorial to miners who perished from the workplace disease. 

While Appalachian coal country has several memorials to mining disasters, this is believed to be the first memorial to remember the thousands of men and women who died from black lung.

The engraved black stone memorial stands at Riverside Park in Whitesburg and will list the names of some 200 Letcher County coal miners who died of the disease.

USDA

 

  A report released Thursday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation finds nearly 323,000 children are obese in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Ohio. Obesity rates among the region’s children remain some of the highest in the nation.

West Virginia has the naiton’s second-highest rate of obese children, Kentucky third, and Ohio tenth.

Mississippi has the highest rates of children with obesity, 24.5 percent. Utah has the lowest rate at 8.7 percent. The national average is 15.3 percent.

Rebecca Kieger/Ohio Valley ReSource

Bobby Bowman mined coal in West Virginia for 12 years before his employer shut down. 

“I don’t think that mine will ever open again,” he said. 

Bowman lives in Welch, in the south of the state, where he worked at the Pinnacle Mine, which shut down almost exactly one year ago, putting him and about 400 others out of work. After waiting a month in hopes someone would buy Pinnacle and the mine would reopen, Bowman decided to do a four-week training program offered by the United Mine Workers Career Center.

 

Blackjewel Miners Likely To Receive Pay In DOL Deal

Oct 3, 2019
Ned Pillersdof

The Department of Labor and a company associated with Blackjewel agreed this week to put nearly $5.75 million toward coal miners left unpaid in the company’s chaotic bankruptcy.

Meet The Coal Town Betting Big On Outdoor Recreation

Oct 1, 2019
Brittany Patterson/OhioValleyReSource

  Standing on the breezy outlook at Flag Rock Recreation Area, Norton City Manager Fred Ramey is taking in the panoramic view of downtown Norton, Virginia. The brick building-lined streets are framed by the verdant, rolling Appalachian mountains. Jagged, brown scars from mountaintop mining operations can be seen in the distance, reminders of the region’s history of coal production.

 

Sydney Boles

The nearly two-month blockade of a Kentucky railroad track is coming to an end as unpaid coal miners end their protest in order to take new jobs, start classes, or move away from their coal-dependent communities.

CFHS

  Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration hired a physician to lead the state’s infectious disease office just months after the Department of Veterans Affairs dismissed that doctor for “egregious” medical misconduct.

Kentucky’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services hired Dr. John “Mel” Bennett in the same month that the VA’s Inspector General published a report highly critical of Bennett’s actions.

 

Governor Matt Bevin threw shade at 16-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg and continued to cast doubt on the science behind man-made climate change during a meeting of the Southern States Energy Board on Tuesday.

  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.

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