Remembering Buffalo Creek, 43 years later

Drawing made by a child survivor of the Buffalo Creek Flood

Thursday, February 26th marks the 43rd anniversary of the catastrophic Buffalo Creek Flood, which killed 125 people and left some 4,000 more homeless when a coal waste dam burst in Logan County, West Virginia.  In this episode of Mountain Talk (push play above to hear it), which aired on last year’s anniversary, Appalshop filmmaker Mimi Pickering hosts a special program commemorating the disaster, featuring audio from the 1975 Appalshop film “The Buffalo Creek Flood: An Act of Man.”  We also hear from two special guests: Jack Spadaro, who was hired as part of the state’s investigative team following the flood and then worked as a inspector for OSM and MSHA, and Shaunna Scott, Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of Graduate Studies at UK, who has been researching the impact of the Martin County, KY sludge spill and emergency planning responses in the aftermath of the spill.

For more information on Buffalo Creek:

Appalachian Love Stories, Episode 1: Carmen Davis

Carmen Davis

Carmen Davis

Carmen Davis is a recent college graduate, a musician, and a member of the STAY Project’s steering committee. In this episode of Appalachian Love Stories, Bill Wireman of Seminary, Va. sat down to speak with her about experiences growing up in southwest Virginia, the sense of community that her work brings her, and why she has decided to stay in southwest Virginia.

Appalachian Love Stories is a series of audio portraits co-produced by WMMT & the STAY Project.  STAY stands for ‘Stay Together Appalachian Youth,’ and is an organization of youth, ages 14-30, from throughout Central Appalachia who are all working toward stronger local communities and bringing about positive change in the region.  This series profiles some of those young people, in their own words, with a special emphasis on low-income youth, youth of color, and the LGBT community.

Coal Report for February 20, 2015

West Va. billionaire & coal operator Jim Justice // photo from Forbes via

West Va. billionaire & coal operator Jim Justice // photo from Forbes via

Despite huge losses in the coal industry in our region in recent years, things could get even worse in 2015, according to The Mountain Eagle.  The Eagle summarizes a report from Energy & Environment News where one analyst said this year could be the “worst year in years.”  Two coal companies with local operations have taken huge losses: just in the last quarter of last year, Alpha Natural Resources lost $122 million, and Arch Coal lost $371 million.  And those companies will likely continue to cut back in 2015.  Alpha idled several West Virginia mines last year, causing massive layoffs, and more layoffs are likely to come.  Arch said its central Appalachian output could fall this year to a low that is “unprecedented.”  Coal use across the country is projected to drop by 50 million tons this year, and with coal prices depressed all over the world, especially in the metallurgical coal market, exports haven’t been able to pick up the slack the way many in the industry had hoped.

Speaking of metallurgical coal, billionaire coal operator Jim Justice has bought back–for just pennies on the dollar–a West Virginia coal company that he sold just a few years ago.  According to the Charleston Gazette, the company is Bluestone Coal, which isn’t operating at the moment but owns metallurgical coal mines, reserves, and complexes in McDowell & Continue reading Coal Report for February 20, 2015

Mountain News & World Report: President Obama Proposes $1 Billion for Coalfield Communities; Celebrating Black History in Appalachia w/Mabel Parker Hardison Smith

before & after shots of a reclamation project done by the Ky. Abandoned Mine Lands Program on an old refuse pile in Letcher County, Ky.  // photos from

before & after shots of a reclamation project done by the Ky. Abandoned Mine Lands Program on an old coal refuse pile in Letcher County, Ky.  The new federal budget is proposing $1 billion in funding for reclamation projects in coalfield communities // photos from

It’s no secret that central Appalachia is facing a number of challenges at once.  While in recent years the coal industry–and the local workforce as a whole–has sharply declined, our region has also long had problems with our land, including the fact that abandoned coal mines & sites all over Appalachia are causing water pollution, mudslides, rockslides, and many other issues affecting local people, the environment, and the economy.  But a plan put forth in the newly-proposed federal budget is hoping to tackle both of these issues at the same time: in what the White House is calling its Power Plus plan, President Obama has proposed to allocate $1 billion dollars from the federal Abandoned Mine Lands fund to put people to work over the next 5 years cleaning up abandoned mine sites in coalfield communities.  If this budget were to pass, a huge portion of that billion dollars could soon be coming to central Appalachia, to fund reclamation projects to try to help jump-start our region’s economy.   We begin this edition of Mountain News & World Report with a report from WMMT’s Parker Hobson on this proposed plan, and what impact it could have.

Also in this show–during this black history month, we celebrate some of the rich diversity that is deeply embedded throughout Appalachian culture & history with excerpts from the 1985 Appalshop documentary Mabel Parker Hardison Smith.  The piece profiles Mabel Smith, who was both a longtime, highly-respected teacher  in Lynch, Ky., and a highly-talented gospel organist.  WMMT’s Mimi Pickering brings us this adaptation of the film documentary, which was originally produced by Anne Lewis.

Mountain News & World Report is a bi-weekly production of WMMT, and new episodes air every other Thursday at 6pm on WMMT, with repeat a broadcast the following Saturday morning at 10:30.  To listen to previous episodes, check out our streaming archives.

Coal Report for February 13, 2015


a rendering of the FutureGen carbon-capture coal-fired power plant that had been under construction in Meredrosia, Ill. // photo via wikipedia at

Because the market for central Appalachian coal has continued to weaken, the sale price of TECO Coal has been reduced by $30 million, The Mountain Eagle reports.  TECO Coal is the parent company of Perry County Coal, Premier Coal, and Pike-Letcher Coal Partners, all of which operate locally.   The operations are ultimately owned by TECO Energy, which operates utilities in Florida and New Mexico.  But TECO has been trying to get out of the coal business, and agreed last year to sell TECO Coal to the Martin County-based Booth Energy.  TECO had asked for $170 million, but because the market for local has continued to slide, TECO agreed to cut its asking price down to $140 million instead.  And Booth Energy will actually only have to pay $80 million of that cost up front, with the other $60 million only being paid if certain production levels are reached.  So it could end up that TECO Coal ultimately gets sold for less than half of the original asking price.

The Charleston Gazette reports that Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship has filed a lawsuit against Alpha Natural Resources, because Alpha announced that it won’t be paying any of Blankenship’s current or upcoming legal fees. Blankenship will stand trial on April 20 for four counts relating to the Upper Big Branch Disaster of 2010.  Blankenship is suing Alpha because he claims that when Alpha bought Massey in 2011, they agreed to cover future legal costs that Continue reading Coal Report for February 13, 2015

Mountain News & World Report: Revisiting the ‘War on Poverty’ in East Ky.; Clinch River Baptisms; an Appalachian Love Story

  • Hollis West, a veteran of the 'War on Poverty' in southeast Ky. in the 1960's

2014 marked the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson famously declaring America’s War on Poverty from a front porch in Martin County, Ky.  Today, while poverty has decreased, eastern Kentucky continues to rank last in the nation in terms of health, wealth, and well-being.  And when the War on Poverty is talked about, it’s often written off as a failure.  But as the SOAR initiative tries once again to tackle the issues our region faces (and with the next big SOAR summit coming up in Pikeville on Monday, Feb. 16th), in this edition of WMMT’s Mountain News & World Report, we look backwards to the War on Poverty to ask–what really happened?  And what can we learn from it?  WMMT’s Sylvia Ryerson & Mimi Pickering spoke with two veterans of the War on Poverty who were on the front lines in Eastern Kentucky: Hollis West, (pictured), and Robert Shaffer.  Sylvia Ryerson brings us their story to begin our show.

Also in this program, you’ll hear about what it’s like to get baptized in the Clinch River, with selections from a new oral history project being undertaken by the Clinch River Valley Initiative on life, culture, & history on the Clinch.  And we close our show with the latest installment from the Appalachian Love Stories series profiling young people who have chosen to stay & work in Appalachia; in this segment, we hear from Joe Tolbert of The Carpetbag Theatre in Knoxville, Tn.

Mountain News & World Report is a bi-weekly production of WMMT, and new episodes air every other Thursday at 6pm on WMMT.  To listen to previous episodes, check out our streaming archives.

Speak Your Piece: 02.04.15

In the latest edition of the weekly trip ’round the rickety wooden rollercoaster that is Letcher County’s weekly anonymous expression of opinion, advice, & admnotion, Speak Your Piece:

Hey, you complaining about the “vulgar dancing” at the community center–you’re no Elvis!  Allegations of local corruption!  And let me get this straight–we’re not allowed in your bathroom, but you’re allowed in ours?  And more!

Our thanks as always to The Mountain Eagle.  You can hear Wiley Q. (pictured, beneath the ballcap) read Speak Your Piece live each Wednesday near 5 o’clock on WMMT, and you can hear previous installments at our streaming archives.

Coal Report for February 4, 2015

In his newly-proposed federal budget, President Obama has allocated $1 billion to help Appalachian communities who have been hard-hit by the downturn in the coal industry. The Lexington Herald-Leader reports that the money would come from the federal Abandoned Mine Lands, or AML fund, and it would go toward a variety of coal mine reclamation projects. The $1 billion would be disbursed over a period of five years, and would not require any tax increases. The idea, roughly, seems to be to clean up some of the many issues from old mine sites that have long affected the health & economy of Appalachian coalfield communities, and give local people employment in the process. The AML fund, where the money would come from, is a federal pot of money funded by a tax on every ton of coal that’s mined. It has had billions in it for years, but critics have said that too little of that money ever actually gets spent. So this plan is intended to free up some of that money for reclamation work in communities that need it–and employment–the most.

The Herald also reports (see link above) that President Obama also allocated even more money for Appalachia in his proposed budget, including tens of millions for job training programs for laid off miners and entrepreneurship assistance programs, and nearly $100 million more for infrastructure projects in the region.  He also propposed $2 billion in tax credits for the development of new carbon capture & storage technology that could reduce the pollution from burning coal at power plants. And the budget would also help keep afloat the healthcare & pension funds of some 100,000 retired coal miners and their families. This proposed budget faces a difficult road in Congress, however. Despite the potential assistance for Appalachian kentucky, Senator Mitch McConnell and Rep. Hal Rogers both expressed disapproval for the Continue reading Coal Report for February 4, 2015