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.

Nicole Erwin/Ohio Valley ReSource

The federal government shutdown is over but some Ohio Valley farmers are still dealing with its effects as they try to sign up for federal relief payments and find ways to substitute for  missing information caused by a delay in important government reports.

Black Lung Clinics Call For Action

Jan 29, 2019
Ohio Valley ReSource

In the wake of an NPR and Frontline investigation into the surge in black lung disease, a coalition of black lung clinics is calling for action from federal regulators. The government’s top mine safety official says he has no plans to change rules on dust exposure.

The National Coalition of Black Lung Clinics said in a statement that the federal government has more than enough data on the risks of current mining practices to justify implementing new measures.

Glynis Board

Cyndi Kirkhart has some 26,000 square feet of warehouse space at the Facing Hunger Food Bank in Huntington, West Virginia, where she is executive director. That sounds like a lot of space. But very little of it is cooler space.

"This is the only cooler we have,” Kirkhart said, stepping into a walk-in cooler the size of a large closet filled with half-gallon containers of milk. “This is Kentucky milk, and this is West Virginia.”

By Mary Meehan

CEO Mike Halligan pushed open the door to a huge warehouse serving 50 Kentucky counties. Pallets of beans, pineapple, bottled water, and rice wrapped in a clear plastic stretch to the top tier of the scaffolding, which warehouse workers call “the sky”.

Similar pantries serve 2.5 million people receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, of SNAP, benefits across the Ohio Valley.

Sydney Boles/Ohio Valley ReSource

Nancy and Rich Potter had the kind of marriage that made other couples jealous. He’d take her on spontaneous trips. She’d wear her Daisy Dukes just for him.

Joyce Birman said her late husband, George, made a terrible first impression. It was his apology for it that made her fall for him, hard.

Vickie Salyers’ husband, Gene, loved hunting and fishing, but he loved being a father and grandfather most of all.

 

FSA Offices Reopen To Confusion and Disarray

Jan 17, 2019
USDA

The United States Department of Agriculture is reopening Farm Service Agency offices across the country Thursday, Friday and Tuesday. Agency staff will help process loans affected by the federal government shutdown. There are reports that many Ohio Valley farmers showing up were turned away.

The Farm Service Agency office in Mayfield, Kentucky, is so quiet you can hear the tick of the Department of Agriculture-branded clock on the wall. Eleven employees usually make up this busy office. Only three were called in Thursday morning.

Senate Committee Video

During a sometimes contentious confirmation hearing Wednesday on his nomination to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler was pressed by members of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works about the impact of the government shutdown on the agency.

Wheeler noted one casualty of the ongoing partial government shutdown, now in its fourth week, is that a long-awaited plan on regulating the PFAS group of chemicals has been delayed.  

Mary Meehan

  A slender, black, rectangle, the Juul fits easily in the palm of your hand. You don’t light it, you trigger it with a click of a finger. The mist that is exhaled is so fine it’s hard to see. The nicotine is delivered via a pod the size of a AAA battery, with each pod containing the equivalent of 20 cigarettes.

That combination of small size and potent power have made the Juul the vaping device of choice for many teen users. A group students from Casey County, Kentucky, affirms those features make “Juul-ing” – yes it has become a verb – rampant in class.

Trump Doubles Down On Trade War As Farmers Feel Pain From Tariffs

Jan 15, 2019



As President Donald Trump addressed farmers at a national conference Monday Ohio Valley agriculture leaders said they are standing by his effort to renegotiate trade deals. But some leaders cautioned that costly tariffs on farm products need to end soon.

President Trump doubled down on his fight for better trade deals during his speech to American Farm Bureau Federation members at their convention in New Orleans.

“We’re turning all of that around with fair trade deals that put American farmers, ranchers and in fact put America first,” Trump said.

MSHA

 This year, under the Trump administration, MSHA decided to remove POV status for the Affinity mine in an agreement with the company that resolved litigation on the matter, despite a continued record of spotty safety performance at the mine.

Courtesy Merritt Family

I’m not usually one to name-drop but my brother Pat Meehan is Santa Claus. A real, professional Santa.

Sitting in his home office fresh from work, he’s wearing black suspenders and a red T-shirt. There at least six other Santa outfits in his closet including beach Santa. His thick, white beard (yes, a real one) shimmers faintly with glitter.

It goes without saying that Pat is really into being Santa. He’s been doing it for 40 years.

But even Pat understands how the 

Sydney Boles/Ohio Valley ReSource

With just days left before a Congressional deadline, advocates for black lung treatment are still pushing Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell to secure funding for miners’ benefits.

About two dozen people demonstrated Wednesday near McConnell’s regional office in London, Kentucky, carrying placards reading “Black Lung Kills” and singing along with a banjo tune modified for the occasion.

Sydney Boles/Ohio Valley ReSource

On a cool but clear November day about a dozen residents from eastern Kentucky’s coal mining region crowded into the lobby of an office building in the small town of London, Kentucky. That’s where Kentucky’s powerful senior senator, Mitch McConnell, has his local field office.

McConnell’s staff let the local advocates for black lung treatment into the office a few at a time to make their case for funding the federal Black Lung Disability Trust Fund.

 

Census Data Show Some KY Counties Among Nation’s Poorest

Dec 14, 2018
Alexandria Kanik/Ohio Valley ReSource

New data from the Census Bureau show eastern Kentucky is still struggling with poverty and lagging far behind national and state averages in terms of income.

Sydney Boles/Ohio Valley ReSource

Jason Walker spends $50 per month on bottled water. He spends three hours each week standing by the small stream that runs near his house, pumping creek water into a thousand-gallon tank.

“You have to catch the creek at the right time when it’s clear,” Walker said. “Whatever you pump, whatever the creek looks like, is what you’re going to pump, and that’s going to pump right into your house.”

 

EPA Rule Rollback Aimed at Boosting Coal Plant Development

Dec 5, 2018
OVR

  The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce it is rolling back Obama-era regulations that required newly-built coal plants to strictly limit carbon emissions.

Industry advocates argued the rule made it nearly impossible to build new coal plants because it required the installation of expensive carbon capture technology.

But experts say it’s unlikely that the EPA’s rollback will reverse the trend.

Brittany Patterson/Ohio Valley ReSource

More than 100 people braved freezing temperatures to both listen and have their say in front of Ohio environmental officials at a recent hearing in Belmont County, Ohio. For the three dozen or so people who testified, the stakes were high.

Ohio Valley Still Leads Nation In Overdose Deaths

Nov 29, 2018
Mary Meehan

New federal data show the Ohio Valley again led the nation in rate of fatal drug overdoses last year. The data confirm what local officials have reported: synthetic opioids are fueling the increase.

West Virginia and Ohio had the nation’s highest rates of fatal drug overdoses in 2017 with 57.8 and 46.3 deaths per 100,000 people respectively.

Kentucky had the fifth-highest rate at 37.2 deaths per 100,000.

The new data from the Centers for Disease Control show the rates for these three states were above the national average

of 21.7.

 

OVR

As Appalachian coal miners suffer from a historic surge in black lung disease, a federal trust fund that supports some of those miners has been scheduled to lose a significant portion of its funding.

A new tax bill in Congress includes a provision to extend the coal excise tax that supports the trust fund.

With just weeks to spare, House Republicans unveiled a broad tax bill this week that includes one more year of revenue from the tax supporting the black lung disability fund.

CDC

Health officials are tracking record-breaking rates of sexually transmitted disease, including a resurgence of some infections which had been considered rare, such as gonorrhea and syphilis. These STDs are on the rise amid cuts to public health budgets dedicated to testing, prevention, and public outreach.

Brittany Patterson

When Jennie and Brian Kahly decided to move to a 150-acre family farm in West Virginia’s Preston County, they thought a lot about what type of farmers they wanted to be.

“We went ahead and made a list of values, and one of those values was to minimize our fossil fuel use,” Jennie said. “That doesn't mean we don't use fossil fuels. It means we make a conscious effort to minimize them.”

Installing solar panels was high on their wish list. After two years of planning, this fall Possum Tail Farm began running on sunshine.

Houston Chronicle

A nominee for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission played a part in the Trump administration’s plan to bail out struggling coal-fired power plants.  That nominee, Bernard McNamee faced tough questions Thursday from Senators during his confirmation hearing.

If confirmed, McNamee would join four other commissioners at FERC. The independent agency regulates the sale and transmission of electricity, as well as interstate oil and natural gas pipelines.

McNamee has a long history of working on energy issues, both in the private and public sectors.

Jacob Ryan

Business owner and political candidate Matt Bevin expressed disdain for OSHA regulations. Then, he became governor of Kentucky.


Read this story, part of the series Fatal Flaws, an investigation by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, the Ohio Valley ReSource, and The Center for Public Integrity.

Recanvass in six Kentucky House districts

Nov 14, 2018
Wendy Barnett

County officials will review election results in six Kentucky House districts that were narrowly decided on Election Day. 

Republicans won 59 seats in the House last week, while Democrats won 35. 

Candidates in six races have requested a check of vote totals—known as a “recanvass”. 

A recanvass is being held Thursday in District 27, which covers Meade County and a portion of Hardin County. Republican Nancy Tate leads Democrat Jeff Greer in that race by six votes.

Department of Mine Reclamation

A new report has identified 20 ready-made projects across the Ohio Valley that could help clean up and re-purpose abandoned coal mine sites. Brittany Patterson has more.

Solar farms in Virginia, a green energy subdivision in Kentucky, 88 miles of mountain biking trails in Ohio and a meat processing plant in West Virginia.

These are some of the projects that could be undertaken on abandoned coal mine sites across the Ohio Valley according to a new report by a coalition of regional advocacy groups called Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition.

State Worker Safety Plans: "The Good, The Bad And The Ugly"

Nov 14, 2018
Photo courtesy of Evelyn Hinton

  Twenty-eight states and territories regulate workplaces themselves, rather than defer to the feds. Some of these programs are effective; others, like Kentucky's, fall short.

 

Read this story, part of the series Fatal Flaws, an investigation by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, the Ohio Valley ReSource, and The Center for Public Integrity.


 

J. Tylor Franklin

When a worker is killed on the job in Kentucky, a state agency is supposed to find out what happened. But a review of state records and a recent scathing federal report show that agency is not properly investigating workplace fatalities. These shortcomings leave workers at risk and leave families with unanswered questions.

As part of the series, Fatal Flaws, Jeff Young of the Ohio Valley ReSource tells the story of one such family. They say the state’s failures added to their grief and harmed their chances to get justice for their son’s death.

Fatal Flaws: How Kentucky Is Failing Its Workers

Nov 12, 2018
Michelle Franks

Kentucky failed to properly investigate nearly every workplace fatality for a two-year period. Kentucky's workers count on the state to force companies to fix dangerous work conditions. But when workers die, the state agency responsible for investigating falls short. 

Excerpt from the federal audit.

A Data Dive Into The Ohio Valley Midterm Election Results

Nov 7, 2018
Wendy Barnett

The “Blue Wave” that broke in some midterm races around the country hit a “Red Wall” in the Ohio Valley, and while the Democrats will take control of the House in Washington, the partisan makeup of the Congressional delegations for Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia remains unchanged.

Sydney Boles

The rain started around 10:30 p.m. By midnight, the creek in front of Elvis and Laura Thackers’ house had swelled to a mighty flood, uprooting trees, moving boulders and surging right up to the couple’s front steps. The Thackers decided to abandon their home. But when they got into their Jeep, they found the flood had washed the road away, leaving them trapped.

“Water was everywhere,” Laura Thacker remembered. “I said, ‘You don’t know how big it’s going to get.’”

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