Sydney Boles

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.


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.

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.

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.

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. 

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.


Screen shot livestream from Congressional hearing.

A Congressional panel heard testimony and had some sharp questions Thursday about the epidemic of black lung disease among Appalachian miners. Labor leaders are calling on federal regulators to strengthen protections for miners and several lawmakers wanted to know why the country’s top mine safety agency is not doing more in response to the dramatic increase in the preventable but deadly disease.

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.

Preview of April 4 Eastern Standard

Apr 1, 2019

Coming up on this week's edition of Eastern Standard: Who should regulate anti-pollution regs for the Ohio? What is a realistic path to the future for Appalachian Kentucky? What's happening in hemp as the industry revs up in the wake of deregulation?

Courtsey CVI

A congressional subcommittee will hear testimony Thursday in support of a bill that would help clean up and redevelop surface mine land. The bill enjoys bipartisan support, but still faces hurdles.

The Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, OH

 On the night of July 24, 1916, a nautral gas explosion near Cleveland trapped workers in a waterworks tunnel beneath Lake Erie. Rescuers sent in to recover the trapped men were themselves by "noxious fumes"
The Cleveland authorities knew just who to call: Garrett Morgan, an inventor who had recently given a demonstration of his breathing contraption.

Morgan arrived at the scene still wearing his pajamas. With his strange breathing device strapped to his face, Morgan, along with his brother and another brave volunteer, descended into the muddy disaster site.

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.”