Remembering Willard Hall

(l-r) "Big" Willard Hall, Angie Hall, & "Little" Willard Hall at a Bluegrass Express Live! concert

WMMT is grieving with the loss of a dear friend.  “Big” Willard Hall was a legendary figure on the radio, spending over 25 years as the volunteer host of the Scuttlehole Gap Get-Together bluegrass program on WMMT.  Every week, across Appalachia and around the world (since the internet stream began), Willard’s warm personality shone bright and clear over the radio through his voice–you could listen to Willard for half an hour on a Tuesday morning and feel like you’d known him your whole life.

Willard also spent countless hours going above-and-beyond for WMMT, including his work as the longtime host and emcee of the Bluegrass Express Live! on-air bluegrass concert programs.  His passion for bluegrass music was second-to-none, and he was a fixture in the mountain bluegrass scene.

But more than anything he did for WMMT, Willard was–and will always be–a part of this radio station.  He’s sewn into the fabric of this place.  And he was a treasured friend to all of us.  No matter who you were, whether Willard even knew you or not, you’d get a wave and a smile.  It’s almost impossible to imagine this station without him, and we miss him dearly.  Please keep the whole Hall family in your hearts and prayers.

Coal Report for July 23, 2014

former West Virginia coal miner Robert Bailey testifies at a Congressional hearing on benefits for black lung disease on July 22, 2014 // photo from the C-SPAN coverage of the event, which can be viewed at: http://www.c-span.org/video/?320593-1/hearing-black-lung-medical-claims

More coal mine layoffs have hit central Appalachia, as the bottom continues to fall out on the market for metallurgical coal, which is used to make steel.  In the latest news, Arch Coal has announced that it will idle the Cumberland River complex in Wise County, Virginia and Letcher County, Ky., The Mountain Eagle reports.  This will close two underground mines, including the Trace Fork mine near Eolia, and in all, 213 full-time employees will lose their jobs.  This is part of an industry-wide trend—as SNL Energy reports, benchmark prices for met coal have reached a seven-year low, and there is a massive global oversupply.  So met coal mines are closing.  Just in the past month, it has come out that Cliffs Natural Resources is idling the Pinnacle Mine in West Virginia, and that Alpha Natural Resources will permanently close the Cherokee mine in Southwest Virginia.  Patriot Coal also recently cut staff at two other met coal operations in West Virginia.

SNL also reports that this latest closure will affect two counties that have already been hit hard.  Not counting the new layoffs, since the end of 2011, Wise County, Va. has lost 801 coal jobs, leaving just over 1000 in the county.  Letcher County, Ky. has also gone from 1,014 coal jobs in 2011 to just 445.  Part of the reason lies in how expensive local coal is comparatively.  Bloomberg reports that while it takes 43 employee hours in Kentucky to fill one rail car of coal, in Wyoming, it just takes 4 employee Continue reading Coal Report for July 23, 2014

Coal Report for July 16, 2014

the scene of a fatal accident--found to be the company's fault--that took the life of miner Richard Coots in Letcher County, Ky. in 2011. Richard's brother Jeromy was fired earlier this year one day after speaking out about safety issues at a Harlan Co. mine // photo from MSHA via http://www.msha.gov/FATALS/2011/FAB11c16.asp

A coal miner in Harlan County was fired this Spring, just one day after he spoke out about unsafe working conditions, the Huffington Post reports. The story starts back in October of 2011, when coal miner Richard Coots, who was just 23, was killed at a Letcher County mine in a machinery accident that was found to be caused by coal company negligence. Richard’s little brother Jeromy Coots was with him in the mine when he was killed. Jeromy is now 22, and earlier this year, he was working at Arch Coal’s Clover Fork No. 1 mine in Harlan County as a roof bolter. But conditions at that mine were also found to be unsafe. Jeromy was asked to work without an Automated Temporary Roof Support System, or ATRS, which helps protect roof bolters in case of rock falls. Working without one is illegal and dangerous. Jeromy’s attorney, Tony Oppegard, said “For a company to require miners to bolt without the ATRS is really playing Russian Roulette with that miner’s life.” And Jeromy was hit by falling rocks several times while working. Eventually, he spoke up, telling his foreman that after what happened to his brother, he had to say something about the unsafe conditions. He was reportedly told the company didn’t want to use the ATRS safety system because it took too much time. And the next day, Jeromy was fired. Arch Coal, the company that fired him, is the second-largest coal producer in America.

Many politicians have accused the EPA of overreach when it comes to coal regulation. But according to the Charleston Gazette, a federal appeals court has ruled that the EPA was actually right when it sought to reduce pollution in streams near Continue reading Coal Report for July 16, 2014

Coal Report for July 9, 2014

graphic from the latest edition of Kentucky Coal Facts, found at http://energy.ky.gov/Coal%20Facts%20Library/Kentucky%20Coal%20Facts%20-%2014th%20Edition%20(2014).pdf

For the first time since 1911, Western Kentucky produced more coal last year than Eastern Kentucky did.  And according to a new report from the state (Kentucky Coal Facts 2014), they did it with fewer miners.  Western Kentucky production fell by 2.8 percent last year, to 40.9 million tons.  But production in Eastern Kentucky, fell by 19%, to 39.8 million tons.  In terms of employment, eastern Kentucky has lost 38% of its coal jobs since mid-2011, and by the end of 2013 the region was down to 7,436 jobs in total.  By contrast, coal employment in Western Kentucky was relatively stable and stood at 4,449 by the end of the year.  So in all, last year Western Kentucky produced more coal than Eastern Kentucky, with nearly 3,000 fewer employees.  The report also said that Kentucky power plants remained the largest market for Kentucky coal in 2013, but that the value of Kentucky coal exports to foreign countries did increase by 21.5 percent last year to a record high of $87.3 million.

In this year’s state budget, Kentucky’s General Assembly slashed the state’s mine safety budget from $15 million to $10 million, and details have now emerged on where the cuts are coming.  The Louisville Courier-Journal reports that Kentucky’s mine safety staff will be cut from 142 employees overall to 88.  Specifically, the work that had been done by 69 Continue reading Coal Report for July 9, 2014

Mountain News & World Report: Defining Appalachian Food, & Agriculture’s Potential Role in Our Economic Future

the spread at the recent Appalachian Food Summit in Hindman, Ky.

There are certain places in the United States, and particularly in the South, known worldwide for their food traditions – Louisiana for its cajun jumbalaya; Memphis for its barbecue; Georgia for its shrimp and grits.  Appalachia isn’t usually on that list.  But a recent event in Hindman, Ky. set out to change that, and to put the region on the map as a unique location in American food traditions.  We begin this edition of WMMT’s Mountain News & World Report with a report from our own Sylvia Ryerson on the inaugural Appalachian Food Summit, which was titled Seeds & Ancestors.

Also in this program, we’ll hear comments from community members who attended a listening session on local food issues that was held recently in Letcher County as a part of the SOAR initiative.  These local residents discuss strengths, weaknesses, and potential opportunities for the use of increased farming and other natural resources to improve the economy in eastern Kentucky.

Finally, we also hear a report from the Public News Service on the diverse ways that immigrants contribute to Kentucky’s economy.

Mountain News & World Report is a bi-weekly production of WMMT. To hear previous episodes, check out our streaming archives.

Coal Report for July 2, 2014

the proposed route of the Coalfields Expressway; 26 miles of the route is said to have been altered for coal mining interests, prompting the federal gov't to order a new environmental impact study

More coal mine layoffs have hit central Appalachia.  These latest layoffs have nothing to do with power plants or the EPA, though—they’re happening at mines that produce metallurgical coal, which is used to make steel.  Met coal prices have plummeted in the last couple years, and many coal operators with met coal operations are either downsizing or closing mines entirely.  In particular, Alpha Natural Resources announced that it will permanently shut down the Cherokee mine near Haysi in Dickenson County, Virginia.  The West Virginia State Journal said that over 120 people will ultimately lose their jobs.  The mine will be totally shut down by the end of September.

And this news came just after layoffs were announced at three other metallurgical mines in the region.  The State Journal also reports that Cliffs Resources Incorporated announced it will idle the Pinnacle Mine in Wyoming County, West Virginia for up to six months.  And the same week, Patriot Coal announced that it has laid off a total of 75 workers at two metallurgical mining complexes in Boone County, West Virginia: the Wells complex in the town of Wharton and the Corridor G complex near Danville.  The layoffs and closures are all a reflection of how depressed the global met coal market currently is.

In other news, the Federal Highway Administration has ruled that Virginia must conduct a full Environmental Impact Continue reading Coal Report for July 2, 2014

What’s Cookin’ Now: Meals to Seal the Deal!

so this photo was actually not from this episode, but seriously, whose deal wouldn't be sealed upon encountering a fridge full of recipes in your date's kitchen?

In this extra-special live-to-tape edition of What’s Cookin’ Now!, hosts Jenny and Jonathan take WMMT’s radio cooking show downtown… to downtown Whitesburg!  This show was taped before a live audience in a real-life bachelor pad apartment on Main Street, and the theme of the evening was Meals to Seal the Deal–what could you make to delight your date, to convince him/her that you’re not so creepy, after all?  Well, in this episode, Jonathan and Jenny suggest, by way of creation: gambas al ajillo (shrimp in garlic oil)!  Pasta carbonara!  Cocktails!  And more!

This show also took place during WMMT’s Spring Fund Drive and served as a fundraiser for our radio station.  Our enormous, enormous thanks to everyone who came, ate, donated, cooked, cleaned, and laughed with us.  Thank you all so much.

OH PS a brand-new What’s Cookin’ Now will air THIS WEDNESDAY at 6 PM on WMMT!  If you’re outside our broadcast area, you can listen live by clicking here.

What’s Cookin’ Now! airs live on the first Wednesday of every month at 6 p.m. For more on the show, check out their blog: whatscookinnow.org, filled with photos, recipes, commentary, and more. And to hear previous episodes, check out our streaming archive.

Coal Report for June 25, 2014

part of Cloud Peak Energy's Spring Creek Strip Mine in Montana, site of a recent fatal coal accident // photo via http://cloudpeakenergy.com/operations/spring-creek-mine/

Another coal miner has been killed on the job, this time in Montana.  The Billings Gazette reports that on Monday, June 23rd, a 230-ton truck crashed through a berm at the Spring Creek strip mine near the town of Decker in southern Montana.  The driver of the truck was killed, but there were no other injuries.  The mine is owned by Cloud Peak Energy, and this is the first fatal accident there since 2006.  There have now been eight coal miners killed at work in the US this year.

In other accident news, SNL Energy reports that a coal operator has been found guilty of “more than ordinary negligence” in a fatal accident in Illinois this past November.  Miner Dallas Travelstead was killed at the MC-No. 1 mine in Franklin County, Illinois, when a large piece of coal became detached from a longwall underground and fell on top of him.  Another miner was killed at the very same mine in May, and the mine has a history of rock falls.  MSHA found there had been loose rock in the Continue reading Coal Report for June 25, 2014