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.

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.’”

epa.gov / United States Environmental Protection Agency

  The EPA proposed the so-called Affordable Clean Energy rule back in August.

The rule is more broad than its predecessor, the Clean Power Plan, which aimed to cut greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

It puts the onus on states to come up with individual plans to reduce emissions on a plant by plant basis. For example, the rule urges states to help coal-fired power plants install technologies to reduce emissions.

Mary Meehan

The political ads in the Ohio Valley are playing on what seems like a constant loop. That’s not unusual for election season. But what is unusual this year is how many ads focus on health care. Consider this one from Kentucky Republican Andy Barr, who’s facing a tough challenge in the 6th Congressional District from Democrat Amy McGrath.

Ohio Valley Resource: Trump Signs Opioid Package

Oct 25, 2018
Creative Commons

  A year after President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency, he signed a bipartisan bill Wednesday to bolster law enforcement efforts and expand addiction treatment and resources.

Aaron Payne reports on how the bill could affect the Ohio Valley, which suffers some of the nation’s highest rates of addiction and overdose deaths.
 

Ohio Valley Resource: McConnell on Black Lung Fund

Oct 25, 2018
Creative Commons

Amid a surge in cases of black lung disease, concerns are rising about the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, which provides federal benefits to some coal miners with the disease.

A tax that funds those benefits is scheduled to fall by over 50 percent at the end of the year unless Congress acts. Now Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says there’s a plan to keep the trust fund from sliding further into debt.

Ohio Valley Resource: Pensions at the Polls

Oct 22, 2018
AARON PAYNE

In the months before midterm elections, thousands of Ohio Valley workers and retirees have rallied over an often overlooked issues: Pensions.

There are serious questions about whether pension funds for miners, teamsters, teachers, and others will remain solvent. As labor leaders look to Congress for action, those questions are coming up in the region's midterm campaigns. 

Listen to Ohio Valley Resource's Becca Schimmel in this special report. 

The Ohio Valley Resource is made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and WEKU.

Jessie Wright/WVPB

The Justice family companies’ difficulties paying taxes over the years are well documented. But tax collectors haven’t been the only ones trying to recover debts from companies once operated by West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice and now in control of his family.

A review of court documents by the Ohio Valley ReSource found at least five cases in which judges ruled that Justice family companies failed to pay suppliers for goods or services.

 

Wikimedia Commons

The commission has for months now been considering a proposal that would roll back its oversight of water pollution control standards along the Ohio River.

The 8-state body says standards set by member states will protect water quality in the Ohio. And the board argues the federal EPA will provide adequate oversight.

But at a meeting Thursday, the committee tasked with making recommendations to the commission said it needed more time.

ORSANCO Director Richard Harrison says thousands of people have weighed in on the proposal.

Rebecca Kiger

After decades of addiction to heroin and prescription opioids, Wendy Crites finally made a clean break.

“For the first time in my life I just wanted to be off of it,” she said from her home in Ranson, West Virginia. “I hit rock bottom.”

Last year the ReSource profiled Crites, a single mother getting by on low-wage jobs during her first year of sobriety.

 

Courtesy the office of Sen. Sherrod Brown.

Retired coal miners and coal community activists are on Capitol Hill this week urging action on two important issues for miners: pensions and black lung benefits. Advocates say funds supporting both pensions for retired miners and the federal benefits for those sickened by black lung disease are at risk if Congress does not act. 

Pension Problem

Jess Wright/WVPB

As President Trump attempts to revive the struggling coal industry, the administration’s top regulator for mine safety used a recent lecture at West Virginia University to lay out his priorities for the agency charged with keeping miners safe.

Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health David Zatezalo outlined the Trump administration’s priorities for the Mine Safety and Health Administration, or MSHA.

Mary.Meehan

In a comprehensive new report on the opioid crisis, the U.S. surgeon general writes that stigma remains a major barrier to treatment and urges a more supportive approach to those in need.

Surgeon General Jerome Adams wrote in his Spotlight on Opioids report that stigma has prevented people with opioid use disorders from seeking treatment.

Aaron Payne/Ohio Valley ReSource

New data from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health show a rare bright spot amid the opioid crisis. Fewer high schoolers in the region appear to be using opioids.

School officials in the Ohio Valley want to continue that trend with more school-based programs designed to help prevent substance use disorders. But these are not the same drug prevention programs many people remember from their school days.

 

WEKU.Fm

The federal government released today a report on substance abuse and mental illness across the country. Dr. Elinor McCance-Katz  leads the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. She said there are some positive changes.

“One of the most important findings from this national survey and data set is the very steep decline in new users of heroin from 2016, 170,000 new users of heroin, this dropped by more than half to 81,000 new users in 2017.”

In spite of the good news, the study showed there are still nearly 900,000 heroin users in the United States. 

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