Mtn Talk Monday: The Get Together – A Multicultural Symposium

When people think of Central Appalachia these days, it seems often the next words are “Trump Country”, or white working class. Is Central Appalachia homogenized? Are we a diverse group of people? What is the legacy of diversity in the coalfields of Appalachia? Big Sandy Community and Technical College in Prestonsburg, Kentucky is delving in to the answers at their symposium on March 30th from 8:30am – 4:30pm called – The Get Together. In this episode, host Kelli Haywood speaks with Janie Beverly and Greta Slone who are members of the Diversity Committee for the college and helped to put together the events for the symposium. The group talks about diversity in Appalachia and just where we are with that these days. To reserve seating for the symposium email [email protected]

Mountain Talk is WMMT’s twice-weekly community space for conversation, airing each Monday & Wednesday from 6-7 p.m.  Mountain Talk programs focus on a variety of topics related to life in the mountains, including: food, community issues, art, health, and more.  Click here to hear past programs.

Coal Report for March 22, 2017

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President Trump’s budget proposal is asking Congress to pull the funding for the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan which is currently in litigation in federal court.  The president also promised a rally in Louisville, Kentucky that he has more plans for changing legislation in order to put the industry back on its feet and miners back to work, however, he did not offer the crowd any details to support the statement.  As the executive branch continues promises and actions in hopes of boosting the coal industry, Peabody Energy, which is the largest privately held mining company in the United States, has gotten approval for its amended bankruptcy exit plan and is expected to emerge from Chapter 11 in April.  The St. Louis-based coal company expects its new equity to trade on the New York Stock Exchange, separate from its existing ticker symbol BTUUQ.

 

Ohio Valley ReSource – Mine Safety Changes

Lawmakers in both Kentucky and West Virginia are working to loosen mine safety regulations. Glynis Board has details.  

Kentucky passed a bill this week that reduces the number of underground mine inspections. The state used to require six inspections a year. Now it’s one. Lawmakers in West Virginia are considering similar legislation. The introduced bill is more drastic and would change the mining inspection program to a “compliance assistance” program.  Kentucky attorney and mine safety expert Tony Oppegard says these bills won’t result in increased coal production or even a better business climate, they’ll just make mining more dangerous.  “West Virginia has no mine safety law anymore if that passes. It’ll be a joke. And Kentucky’s is about a step above a joke.”  West Virginia Coal Association’s Chris Hamilton says given tightening budgets, states would be better served to leave mine inspections to existing federal investigators who already inspect each mine four times a year, and instead focus state dollars on safety training programs. But even he thinks West Virginia’s bill goes too far.  “Going from four to one inspection might be a little too drastic; why not go with two inspections and two compliance visits?”  West Virginia’s bill is currently being reworked by lawmakers, according to the bill’s lead sponsor Randy Smith.

The Kentucky state government has passed a bill which will lift a ban on building nuclear power plants in the state.  Gov. Bevin is in support of the bill.  According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Kentucky is one of only 15 states who restrict nuclear power facilities.  Representatives from the coal producing regions of the state are not happy with the bill’s passing saying it will cause further decline in Kentucky’s already struggling coal industry.  Republican Rep. Steven Rudy from western Kentucky said (quote), “Should this bill become law, as a matter of fact, it will take a decade or more, probably decades, before an applicant could possibly wade through the regulatory environment before bringing a reactor online.” (end quote)  In 2014, 93% of Kentucky’s electricity was produced by coal.  It has since fallen to 83% as coal fired power plants are being replaced by cheaper to obtain and burn natural gas.  Lawmakers in western Kentucky are hoping the highly skilled workers left behind by the 2013 closing of a uranium enrichment plant in the area will be able to find work in a nuclear facility.  The bill requires Kentucky officials to review the state’s permitting process to ensure costs and “environmental consequences” are taken into account.

 

Owensboro Municipal Utilities announced that it plans to stop using coal completely for power generation by 2023.  The utility expect Unit 1 of the Elmer Smith Facility on KY 144 to stop burning coal as soon as 2019.  The plant plans to convert to burning solely natural gas.

The Coal Report is a weekly production of WMMT. It is assembled from newspapers and press services and reports coal-related material as these sources give it. It does not represent the opinion of WMMT on the matters discussed. Our aim is to reflect both local developments regarding coal and the big picture we’re a part of. For feedback, comments, or questions, email [email protected]

MN&WR: Renewal

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Read more on the first two segments of this episode at Ohio Valley ReSource by following the links above.

Reporter’s Notebook: Kelli Hansel Haywood

Indian Creek Settlement Farm is something to be experienced.  If you’ve ever seen the photos of old homesteads in Central Appalachia when logging was as common as coal mining, and nearly everyone kept livestock, you might have an idea of what the farm looks like.  The sounds, as you will hear in the story, are numerous and calming.  While it’s not the typical yard of our homes now, it feels oddly familiar.  

Tim Sanders and his wife Becky came back to Indian Creek from Arizona to retire and live a self sufficient lifestyle.  It wasn’t long, though, before neighbors and passerby were stopping and asking about the animals Tim and Becky were tending.  And naturally, seeing the heritage breeds of pigs, cows, goats, chickens, and a single turkey, folks began to ask if there was meat for sale.  So, the Sanders family entered into a growing number of coalfields Appalachians who are creating a burgeoning local food economy.

The story of Indian Creek Settlement Farm is the first of several stories about “unconventional farms” in the region that I will be working on throughout the growing season.  Be sure to tune in to Mountain News & World Report to hear about the others, and how local foods are making it onto grocery shelves and in the regions restaurants.  

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 March 15, 2017

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The Kentucky House of Representatives passed House Bill 234, sponsored by Republican Rep. Jim Gooch of Providence. The bill eliminates required mining permits for all the surface area above underground mines. Rep. Gooch said (quote) “With the new Trump Administration in place, we are seeing real relief for coal country, and it is imperative that our state’s government follows suit. This measure will reprieve coal companies of unnecessary costs and help in our efforts to get our coal miners back to work.” (end quote) Continue reading Coal Report for March 15, 2017

Coal Report for March 8, 2017

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43-year-old Jason Kenneth Matthews of Bluefield, Virginia lost his life Monday, February 27th at Southern Coal’s Bishop Prep Plant in McDowell County.  Matthews worked as a plant floor man, and according to a company spokesman, fell to his death just before 10:30 p.m.  His is the second coal mining related fatality of 2017 in the US.  Southern Coal is owned by West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice. Justice released a statement on the mining accident:  (quote) “Tragic accidents like this just break all of our hearts and our state is grateful to have a close-knit mining community that steps up on these most difficult days.” (end quote)  WMMT would like to send our condolences to Matthews’s family, friends, and co-workers.

Affordable Care Act & Miners’ Health (Ohio Valley ReSource)

INTRO: Retired coal miners say their health care options face a one-two punch that could leave many of them in the lurch. A repeal of Obamacare and the expiration of miner’s health protections could make it hard for any coal retiree to get health care. Becca Schimmel has more.

BS: Ohio Valley retirees have been meeting one-on-one with congressional leaders to talk about the risks to their benefits. Some provisions of the Affordable Care Act are especially important to miners. The so-called Byrd Amendment deals with benefits for miners suffering from black lung, and miners hope it will be restored if the Act is repealed. Miners are also concerned about the Act’s pre-existing condition provision. United Mine Workers communications director Phil Smith says the nature of the work makes every retired miner a “walking basket” of pre-existing conditions.

PS: “If they don’t have the health care that they were promised and the miner’s protection act doesn’t pass, and the ACA is out the window then nobody’s going to insure them.”

BS: Smith says the union hopes the miner’s protection act might pass before the end of April, when more than 22,000 miners, widows and beneficiaries could lose their health and pension benefits. Without those guarantees, miners might have to look for health insurance, and many of them have higher rates of cancer, heart disease and musculoskeletal injuries that make insurance harder to get. Smith worries miners won’t be able to afford care. If those retirees wait until they are seriously ill and then seek care at emergency rooms, as many uninsured patients do, rates for those that are insured could go up.

PS: “These are people that don’t have a whole lot of money to start with, exist on a small pension and small social security check.”

BS: Uncompensated care spending–which is the cost of caring for the uninsured–has gone down since the ACA took effect. With small pensions of about $500 a month miners will have to make some tough decisions of what to pay for. For the Ohio Valley ReSource, I’m Becca Schimmel in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

NAS ON MTR EFFECTS

ANCHOR: A committee with National Academy of Sciences has started work on a study of the health effects of surface mining in central Appalachia. The eleven-member panel gathered yesterday (Tuesday) in Washington, D.C., to hear about earlier research on how mining affects nearby residents. Bill Orem [OAR-um] of the US Geological Survey was among those who addressed the committee. He led a USGS study on the health effects of mountaintop removal mining that began in 2009, but was defunded in 2012 before it could be completed.

Bill Orem [0:16]: Some of the health effects— numerous types of respiratory disease, water quality is another potential impact, things like arsenic and selenium. Unfortunately we didn’t have the opportunity to complete that study so it’s just very preliminary data.

ANCHOR: The committee will look at surface mining in four states— Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, and Tennessee. The study is slated for release in early 2018. A similar study conducted by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences is currently under review for publication in a scientific journal.

The Coal Report is a weekly production of WMMT. It is assembled from newspapers and press services and reports coal-related material as these sources give it. It does not represent the opinion of WMMT on the matters discussed. Our aim is to reflect both local developments regarding coal and the big picture we’re a part of. For feedback, comments, or questions, email [email protected]

Coal Report for February 22, 2017

 Image courtesy of franky242 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of franky242 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Miners wearing hard hats and overalls stood with politicians in suits during the bill signing at the white house. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, thanked the president for supporting the coal industry. “The last eight years brought a depression to eastern Kentucky. And our folks are so excited to have a pro-coal president. And we thank you so much for being on our side.” West Virginia’s democratic senator Joe Manchin said coal miners there represent the economy and the environment, and a balance must be struck. The bill signed dismantles a dept of interior regulation finalized just days before Trump took office. For OVR news I’m Glynis Board.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS), a government agency, found that the Stream Protection Rule that Trump and Congress repealed through the Congressional Review Act would have cost the coal industry an average of 260 coal related jobs yearly. CRS also projected the rule would generate an average of 250 jobs a year. Some of the new jobs would be in high-skilled areas like engineering and biology. Others would require skills that current industry workers already possess, such as bulldozer operations. On average, the cost of complying with the rule would add 40 cents per ton to coal extracted from Appalachian surface mines. Surface mines in two other major production regions would see new costs averaging 60 cents per ton. The severance taxes states collected from mining companies would fall by $2.5 million per year once the rule was implemented, according to CRS. West Virginia and Kentucky would shoulder more than 80 percent of those losses. The rule would have prevented mining within 100 feet streams and tightened requirements for conducting environmental studies and cleaning up mines. Many in the mining industry said that the rule wasn’t an update of pollution preventative measures, but an adding to and replicating of protection that already exists. The CRS job loss numbers are in stark contrast to those produced by The National Mining Association who reported that coal-related employment could fall by 281,000 positions.

Last year, more than 51,000 people in the United States were hired to design, manufacture, sell and install solar panels, according to a new report from The Solar Foundation reports Business Insider. That means the solar industry created jobs 17 times faster than the economy as a whole. The solar industry now employs twice as many people in the United States as the coal industry and roughly the same number of people as the natural gas industry. While solar still accounts for a much far smaller share of U.S. power generation than either of those fossil fuel sources, it’s expanding rapidly, putting a growing number of Americans to work. While the official numbers have not been tallied, early estimates have found that more solar was added to the grid in 2016 than natural gas capacity. Roughly half of the men and women working in the solar industry are installers, who earn a median wage of $26 an hour in a job that can’t be outsourced. In addition, these positions don’t require a bachelor’s degree. President Trump plans to roll back federal policies that foster the growth of clean energy, potentially scrap the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, and eliminate funding for clean-energy research and development. Without these policies, solar will continue to grow, but at an attenuated pace. Corporations like General Motors, Apple and IKEA will keep buying up solar power to cut costs and guard against volatility in the price of fossil fuels. But electric utilities will be less incentivized to shutter existing coal-fired power plants in favor of new renewable energy installations.

The Coal Report is a weekly production of WMMT. It is assembled from newspapers and press services and reports coal-related material as these sources give it. It does not represent the opinion of WMMT on the matters discussed. Our aim is to reflect both local developments regarding coal and the big picture we’re a part of. For feedback, comments, or questions, email [email protected]