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.

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.

Sydney Boles/Ohio Valley ReSource

  In a conference hall in Pikeville, Kentucky, this September, Gov. Matt Bevin led an eager audience in a countdown. When the audience reached “One!,” a map on the screen behind the governor lit up with the promise of a high-tech future.

After years of delay and scandal, major portions of the commonwealth’s “middle mile” of high-speed internet were complete.

“There are so many negative haters, so many people who po

  oh-pooh things and say this can’t happen, it’s not possible,” Bevin told the crowd. “But I’ll tell you what. We’ve never quit.”

Mary Meehan / WEKU.Fm and The Ohio Valley ReSource

Executives from three major chemical companies — DuPont de Nemours, Inc., The Chemours Company and The 3M Company — testified for the first time to Congress about widespread contamination from the group of nonstick, fluorinated chemicals broadly called PFAS.

The so-called “forever chemicals” persist in the environment, are linked to ill health effects, and have been found in numerous water systems in the Ohio Valley.

While ‘Zombie’ Mines Idle, Cleanup And Workers Remain In Limbo

Sep 6, 2019
Mark Olalde

The sound of metal banging against metal broke the calm on the high mesa separating Colorado’s Paradox and Big Gypsum valleys. An old rusted headframe marked the entrance to an abandoned uranium mine that, from a distance, looked as if its workers were simply off on a lunch break.

Screenshot

Two retired coal miners have sent a cease and desist letter to the U.S. Senate campaign of Amy McGrath. The retirees were shown in a campaign ad for the candidate.

Randy Robbins and Albrow Hall say they didn’t know a video of them would be used for a political attack advertisement until after it was already being broadcast.

Brittany Patterson/OhioValleyReSource

  Standing at an overlook on the top of Black Mountain — the tallest point in Kentucky —  the wooded Appalachian mountains stretch on like a sea of green for miles.

For many, this mountain is synonymous with the coal industry. It straddles the state line separating Harlan County, Kentucky and Wise County, Virginia, two communities that have long relied on mining the black gold contained in its depths.

 

 

On Labor Day, Miners Mark Historic Union March

Sep 3, 2019
Emily Allen

Ninety-eight years ago, thousands of pro-union miners marched toward West Virginia’s Logan County, to protest abuses by coal operators in what was then a largely anti-union territory.

The marchers were met at Blair Mountain in Logan County by an army of men, fighting on behalf of anti-union mine guards and local law enforcement. The battle was so heated that then-president Warren Harding called in Army troops to restore order.

This Labor Day, present-day members of the United Mine Workers of America marched from Marmet in Kanawha County to Racine in Boone County, to commemorate what they say was one of the greatest events in the nation’s labor history.


Glynis Board/Ohio Valley ReSource

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is taking a rare species of plant found in the Ohio Valley off of the endangered species list. Amid controversial proposals to change the law protecting rare species, the Running Buffalo Clover is an example of a successful recovery. It joins about 2.5 percent of threatened and endangered species (42 species) that have been taken off the list, or delisted, due to recovery. There are still 1,663  U.S. plants and animals on the endangered species list.

Liam Niemeyer/Ohio Valley ReSource

  Tom Folz drives around on a sunny, August afternoon and surveys the thousands of acres of dark green, leafy soybean plants and tall stalks of corn he grows on his sprawling farm in Christian County, Kentucky.

At 54, Folz has wispy, white hair matching his white mustache. It’s taken him several long work weeks to get his crop to where it is today.

“You got to be a little bit ‘off’ to be a farmer,” Folz said. ”You don’t get to enjoy anything during harvest and planting season because we’re working.”

Mary Meehan / WEKU.Fm and The Ohio Valley ReSource

Health officials in Huntington, West Virginia, say a cluster of HIV infections has grown to 71 confirmed cases. That’s in a city that usually sees about eight HIV infections in a year. As with an earlier such cluster in northern Kentucky, officials say the primary cause of infection is needle drug use.

Health officials say a harm reduction program is an effective tool against HIV infection. The programs usually offer a syringe exchange, access to addiction counseling, and health screening services such as HIV testing.

 


Curren Sheldon

Curtis Cress at in the gravel beside a railroad track in Harlan County, Kentucky. Tall and thin with a long, black beard, Cress is every bit a coal miner, or, he was until a month ago.

UPDATE FULL TWO-PART AUDIO, Extended web text. WEKU/Ohio Valley ReSource Exclusvive

“It’s part of my heritage, you know? My dad and papaws had always done it,” he said. “And I’m proud of that heritage.”

Cress had been at these railroad tracks for days, with little sleep. Not far down the rails sat a row of hopper cars filled with coal from his former employer, Blackjewel Coal.

President Donald Trump Tuesday toured Shell Chemical’s soon-to-be completed ethane cracker complex in Monaca, Pennsylvania, to tout his administration’s commitment to expanding energy production. The facility is part of what industry boosters hope will be a new plastics and chemical manufacturing base in the upper Ohio Valley, but many residents here worry about the heat-trapping gases and plastic waste such an industry would produce.

Brittany Patterson/OhioValleyReSource

Blackjewel Miners Continue Protest As Bankruptcy Hearing Looms

Aug 5, 2019

 

Miners left unpaid by the bankrupt Blackjewel coal company say they are prepared to keep up their protest on railroad tracks in Harlan County, Kentucky, where they are blocking delivery of a load of coal. As their protest grows and gains attention, a bankruptcy court hearing on Monday could determine whether and when the miners get their paychecks.

The blockade began simply enough Monday when five out-of-work miners organized via social media to block a coal train leaving one of the Blackjewel facilities.

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.”


Aaron Payne, The Ohio Valley ReSource

The Appalachian Regional Commission has awarded a major grant to what it calls an innovative pilot program for a region hit hard by the addiction crisis.

Skytruth

West Virginia University Professor Jeff Skousen among giant miscanthus on an old mine site.Credit Brittany Patterson/OhioValleyReSourceEdit | RemoveDown bumpy back roads deep in central West Virginia, a flat, bright green pasture opens up among the rolling hills of coffee-colored trees.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced this week a proposal to tighten the rules on who qualifies for food stamps through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). USDA estimates more than three million people across the country would lose SNAP benefits in an effort to prevent fraud. Anti-hunger advocates in the Ohio Valley say the more than two million people in the region who use the benefits would be impacted.


Sydney Boles/Ohio Valley ReSource

 

  Democratic members of Congress introduced legislation Tuesday to provide additional funding for coal miners suffering from black lung. The bills came as a contingent of Appalachian miners afflicted with the disease lobbied lawmakers for more support. 

“It doesn’t only take your health. It takes your identity,” Barry Johnson said of the disease. Johnson is a fourth-generation coal miner from Letcher County, Kentucky, who made the trip to Washington with his oxygen tank in tow. 

Becca Schimmel

The U.S. House of Representatives voted Thursday to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, more than double the current $7.25 rate, which has not changed in a decade. The bill is unlikely to clear the Republican-controlled Senate, where Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has said he will not take it up.

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.


Jeff Young/Ohio Valley ReSource

Declining coal tax revenues place coal-reliant counties in Appalachia at risk of fiscal collapse, according to new research from the centrist Brookings Institution and Columbia University. Policies designed to prevent further climate change would accelerate that decline, the report found, but could also provide a new stream of revenue to help communities rebound from coal’s demise.

The report published by Brookings and the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia quantified how much of a coal-producing county’s budget came from coal, via severance taxes, property taxes, and contracts such as royalties and lease bonuses. Then authors analyzed what it might mean for those county governments if the U.S. instituted a modest price on carbon emissions. The report found that under such a policy, counties that are reliant on coal would be at risk of defaulting on bonds, failing to provide basic services such as waste removal or infrastructure maintenance, and even bankruptcy.


Steve Rhodes via Creative Commons

A new report from the Congressional Budget Office shows increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour would boost the wages of 17 million workers and lift about 1.3 million people out of poverty. But the CBO warns that could also result in more than one million lost jobs and could diminish overall income for others.

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.

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