Mountain News & World Report: A Former Miner Turns to Farming; Working from Home to Stay in Appalachia; Thoughts on POWER+ & the Future of Appalachian Communities

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Stacy Ritchie, who is currently finishing a Digital Works class at the Teleworks Hub in Hazard, Ky. Teleworks is trying to match local people with jobs that would allow them to work from home here in the mountains.

As the market for Appalachian coal continues to suffer, and with experts projecting that even if the coal industry recovers across the country, the local coal market will likely never bounce back to the way it was even a few years ago, this edition of WMMT’s Mountain News & World Report focuses on new economic opportunities for mountain people.

We hear a story from WMMT’s Mimi Pickering & Destiny Caldwell about Teleworks USA (formerly Kentucky Teleworks), an initiative of the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program that works to connect Appalachian people with opportunities to work from home here in the mountains, no matter where their employer might be.

We also hear a commentary from Dungannon, Va. resident Beth Bingman on why she thinks local legislators should be advocating for President Obama’s proposed POWER+ Plan, which, among other things, would allocate $1 billion to coalfield communities to give people employment in the cleaning up of abandoned coal mine sites.  (This originally appeared as an op-ed in the Roanoke Times; read it here.)

And we hear another commentary from Gwenda Johnson of Elliott County, Ky., who shares some of her thoughts about Appalachian communities & our region’s future.

But we begin the show with a story from producer Catherine Moore, who discusses the region’s coal employment crisis and tells the story of one miner, from Letcher County, Ky., who found a new source of income in his garden.

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

Coal Report for July 1, 2015

the Big Sandy Power Plant in Louisa, Ky.  to comply with mercury emissions rules that were just blocked by the US Supreme Court, Big Sandy will shut down one of its two coal-burning generators in June, and will convert the other to run on natural gas. // photo by Shawn Poynter & found at http://irjci.blogspot.com/2012/12/aep-subsidiary-to-stop-burning-coal-at.html

Former Kentucky state representative Keith Hall has been convicted. The Lexington Herald-Leader reports that Hall, who was also a coal operator, was found guilty of paying some $46,000 in bribes to a state mine inspector. In exchange, prosecutors said that the inspector, Kelly Shortridge, would look the other way on safety and environmental violations at mines that Hall owned in east Kentucky, and would also allow Hall to mine outside of his permitted area. Hall didn’t deny paying Shortridge, but said the money was given for legitimate reasons. But prosecutors presented evidence suggesting that Hall tried to hide these payments by routing them through a shell company. Back two years ago, the Herald-Leader reported that Hall had called the state to complain that he had already given Shortridge “a small fortune” and said that the inspector was shaking him down for more because he “liked the Benjamins.” The FBI and the US Attorney’s office opened their investigation after reading these stories in the paper. Hall had been an influential member of the Kentucky House of Representatives, and was tasked with regulating the coal industry, as chair of the Tourism Development & Energy Committee and vice-chair of the Natural Resources Committee. Hall is scheduled to be sentenced in September. He faces up to 10 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines.

In a 5-4 decision, the US Supreme Court has blocked a federal rule that limited mercury pollution at power plants. The New York Times reports that the EPA says it was legally obligated to issue this rule under the Clean Air Act, due to the threat that mercury and other toxic emissions from power plants pose to public health. The rule was finalized in 2012, and actually went into effect in April of this year. But now, as a result of a lawsuit brought by coal industry groups and around 20 states, the Supreme Court blocked the mercury rule, because they say the EPA did not consider the cost of the rule early enough in the process of drafting it. The EPA says it did consider cost, and that it found the benefits to outweigh the Continue reading Coal Report for July 1, 2015

What’s Cookin’ Now: Junior Chefs!

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Cheyenne & Aaron in action at the recent Junior Chef competition

In the June edition of The Multiverse’s Only Live Radio Cooking Show (that we know of), host Jenny Williams welcomes two special guests to the Appalshop kitchen–Aaron & Cheyenne, Perry County Central High School’s representatives at the recent Junior Chef Competition, which was held as a part of the Ky. Dept. of Agriculture’s Farm to School Program.  In this program, Jenny, Aaron, & Cheyenne put together a pizza with feta cheese, chard, chicken, & pepper-infused honey, and speak about local farm-to-school programs, summer feeding programs, and some of the many other goings-on related to home-grown agriculture here in the mountains.

Also, tune in on Wednesday, July 1 at 6 p.m. for a live, brand-new What’s Cookin’ Now!

For more on What’s Cookin’ Now, including recipes, photos, essays, and more, check out their always-delightful blog: whatscookinnow.org.

To hear past episodes of the show, check out the streaming archives.

Coal Report for June 24, 2015

Former Kentucky Rep. Keith Hall speaking on the House floor in 2013; Hall’s trial on bribery charges began this week. // photo from LRC (Ky.) Public Information

More coal layoffs are coming to southeast Kentucky. The Harlan Daily Enterprise reports that 25 miners have been laid off by Alpha Natural Resources, as Alpha has decided to idle the North Fork Number 7 mine, which is in Letcher County near the Harlan County line. 20 more miners will be kept on to perform the idling work, or to be transferred to the North Fork Number 6 mine, which straddles Letcher County and Wise County, Virginia. The Number 7 mine that is closing just started producing coal last year. But it was a metallurgical mine, and the met coal market has hit record lows over the past year. Alpha blamed this weak market for the idling, and said they don’t currently have any plans to re-open the mine.

Speaking of Letcher County, according to the Mountain Eagle, Letcher and Leslie Counties in Kentucky have both lost more than 70% of their coal jobs just since the last quarter of 2011. And according to SNL Energy, if you measure the eight counties in America that have lost the most coal jobs, all eight of them are in Central Appalachia: Boone and Mingo Counties in West Virginia, Pike, Harlan, Perry & Letcher Counties in Kentucky, and Wise & Buchanan Counties in Virginia. Coal is certainly hurting nationwide, and the Energy Information Administration says this is largely because of the Continue reading Coal Report for June 24, 2015

Coal Report for June 17, 2015

A shovel loading coal at Peabody Energy's North Antelope Rochelle opencut coal mine in Wyoming. // image via wikimedia commons at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Liebherr_T282C_Coal_Haul_Truck.png

A shovel loading coal at Peabody Energy’s North Antelope Rochelle opencut coal mine in Wyoming. Peabody has received some bad news so far this month. // image via wikimedia commons at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Liebherr_T282C_Coal_Haul_Truck.png

Things keep getting worse for Peabody Energy, the largest privately owned coal company in the world. According to Reuters, because Peabody has been losing so much money, federal regulators are now investigating whether Peabody should be able to continue the practice known as “self-bonding.” By law, coal companies are supposed to buy insurance as they work, to make sure that their mine sites can be reclaimed if the company goes under. But “self-bonding” is a sort of a loophole provided by the government, that says if coal companies are in good enough financial shape, they don’t have to pay for this insurance, which could run into the billions for some operators. The assumption is that if the company is doing well, they’ll still be good for the reclamation costs if things hit the fan. But Peabody is losing so much money that it may not qualify anymore for this exemption from buying insurance.

In more bad news for Peabody, a former employee has brought a class-action lawsuit against the company. According to the St. Louis Business Journal, the lawsuit alleges that Peabody irresponsibly and illegally invested too much of its company employee retirement plan in its own stock. Peabody stock has plummeted by 88% since late 2012, and because of this, tens of millions of dollars have allegedly been lost from the employee retirement plan. The lawsuit says it was Continue reading Coal Report for June 17, 2015

Mountain News & World Report: Designing a New Way to Treat & See Water in a Mountain Town; Floating the Clinch River; Edith Wright on Fishing in Dickenson Co., Va.

In this edition of Mountain News & World Report, we hear a variety of stories related to water in the mountains.

We hear about boating on the Clinch River in southwest Virginia, the latest in an ongoing series of radio stories produced in conjunction with a new oral history project being compiled by the Clinch River Valley Initiative.

We also hear a story from the WMMT archives, where the late storyteller Edith Wright talks about fishing and floating down the creek in a washtub in Dickenson County, Va.  This story was produced by longtime WMMT staffer Buck Maggard, and first aired on Mountain News in 1992.

But we begin the show with a conversation between former WMMT producer Sylvia Ryerson and her sister Hazel.  There issues affecting the health of central Appalachia’s waterways, including acid mine drainage, other heavy metal pollution, serious sewage issues, and more.  As a graduate student in Architecture, Hazel decided to create a model for addressing this water pollution for her Master’s thesis.  The design is a demonstration project that could theoretically happen in downtown Whitesburg, Ky. (see photos above!), and it shows how cleaning our water could also create public spaces to re-connect us to our waterways.

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

Mountain Health Monthly, Program 3: Women’s Health

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In this edition of WMMT’s Mountain Health Monthly, host Carrie Lee-Wells leads a discussion that hits upon a range of different issues related to women’s health here in the mountains.  She’s joined on this episode by Kayla Wells, who is currently a student at Frontier Nursing University, and topics they discuss include mammograms, pap smears, cervical cancer, osteoporosis, depression, and more.

Mountain Health Monthly airs on the 4th Monday of every month at 6 p.m. on WMMT. Each show, host Carrie Lee-Hall (a licensed nurse practicioner) welcomes local guests of all kinds to discuss health issues important to mountain communities. To hear past shows, check out our streaming archives.

Appalachian Love Stories, Episode 2: Joe Tolbert

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Joe Tolbert is a native of Knoxville, TN, and is the Lead Digital Storyteller at the Carpetbag Theater in Knoxville.  In this episode of Appalachian Love Stories, WMMT’s Rance Garrison speaks with Joe about race, spirituality, Joe’s experience in Knoxville as an urban Appalachian, and why he has decided to make his home in the region.

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.  To hear more episodes, click here.