MN&WR: Ohio Valley ReSource and Regional Journalism

This is an episode dedicated to the Ohio Valley ReSource, a regional news collaborative of seven radio stations across three states. WMMT is one of those stations, and our reporter Benny Becker represents eastern Kentucky in the OVR.

  • Benny Becker has the story of the troubled past of water quality in Martin County, Kentucky and how many have lost trust in their water and their government. (This piece was recently picked to air on NPR.)
  • Aaron Payne delivers the startling statistics and stories behind the region’s infants born to addicted mothers in – Born Addicted: The Race to Treat the Ohio Valley’s Drug Addicted Babies. Payne is based in Athens, Ohio at WOUB.
  • WMMT’s Kelli Haywood speaks with Jeff Young who is the managing editor of the Ohio Valley ReSource and works from WFPL in Louisville, Kentucky, about the importance of regional journalism and the OVR model in these questioning times.
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Read more about Martin County, Kentucky’s water woes at – Troubled Waters: A Coalfield County Loses Trust in Water and Government by Benny Becker.

Read more about neonatal abstinence syndrome and the region’s babies born addicted at – Born Addicted: The Race to Treat Ohio Valley’s Drug-Affected Babies by Aaron Payne.  

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 February 15, 2017

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The Kentucky government’s Administrative Regulation Review Subcommittee met Friday afternoon to consider the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet’s proposal for new regulatory changes on how utilities store and dispose of coal ash from coal fired power plants. Gov. Matt Bevin’s administration suggested changes that would eliminate the state’s public permitting process for some landfills and man-made ponds that store coal-burning waste like ash and scrubber sludge, which can contaminate groundwater and dirty the air. As reported by the Courier-Journal, representatives of the state’s utility companies say that the changes would prevent duplication of federal standards already in place. The final version of the Energy and Environment Cabinet’s proposal requires electric utilities to give the state advance notice about their plans to establish new landfills or ponds to store coal ash. However, it doesn’t require a formal review of the companies’ construction plans by state regulators or give room for any public involvement. After hearing both concerns about the proposal and support for it, committee members agreed they needed more time to review the proposed changes and delayed a vote on the matter until at least March.

Eastern Kentucky’s Own Hell has been the place of discovery by the University of Kentucky, Rice University, and the University of Oklahoma of a new enzyme that could help the antibiotic daptomycin work better. The group published its findings in a recent edition of the journal Nature Chemical Biology. The research team is calling the enzyme PriB which is a streptomyces species they are referring to as “RM-5-8” where the R and M reflects the hell in which they found the strain. Ok, I know you’re asking – say what? Eastern Kentucky’s Own Hell is another name for the Tiptop Underground Mine Fire in Bulan, Kentucky in Breathitt County that has been burning for only God knows how long. Ruth Mullins a local resident found the fire and there are at least nine opening spanning Breathitt and Perry Counties. The research team found this new helpful enzyme in the smoke vents of the fire. PriB is a soil dwelling bacterium. So, it seems that hell has some benefits for the living, despite the fact that the International Journal of Coal Geology published in 2009 that outgassing from the Ruth Mullins mine could cause unhealthy air quality in nearby towns.

The first large scale clean coal power plant has been declared operational. The Petra Nova project, not far outside of Houston, TX, captured carbon dioxide from the process of coal combustion for the first time in September 2016, and has now piped 100,000 tons of it from the plant to the West Ranch oil field 80 miles away, where the carbon dioxide is used to force additional oil from the ground. They’re calling it “the world’s largest post-combustion carbon capture system.” The United State’s second plant to try carbon capture technology is the Kemper Power Plant in Mississippi, which was to be the world’s first and largest. is millions of dollars over budget and still has not opened. The last scheduled date for it to become operational was January 31, 2017. The Kemper Plant would work opposite of the Petra Nova system which captures the carbon after the burning of the lignite coal it consumes in that it will turn lignite coal, into a gas called syngas, stripping out some carbon dioxide in the process. The syngas is burned for electricity and the CO2 is then again shipped to an oil field to aid in additional oil recovery. So, it will capture the carbon before the coal is burned. The Kemper Plant has now reached nearly $7 billion in construction costs which is double the original estimate, and when it becomes operational will be the most expensive power plant ever constructed.

Fun Fact: In 1917, a writer wrote a piece for the Lincoln Evening Journal called Looking Forward. In it, he describes 2017 as a world that is no longer dependent on coal for energy. The author envisioned a future where technology would be able to harvest energy from the sun and run it through pipes for electricity.

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]

Mtn. Talk Monday: Forest Farming Medicinal Herbs and Edibles & Appalachian Harvest Herb Hub

Host Kelli Hansel Haywood speaks with representatives of Appalachian Sustainable Development and the Appalachian Beginning Forest Farmers’ Coalition about the possibilities of creating an income from forest farming in Appalachia. They discuss the whys, hows, and whens of cultivating medicinal herbs, edible mushrooms, and more under the forest canopy. The group gives details on upcoming workshops so that you can become involved. Also, highlighted is the progress of creating the Appalachian Harvest Herb Hub in Duffield, Virginia that will allow farmers to clean, dry, package, and potentially sell their product to a worldwide market. www.appalachianforestfarmers.org

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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.

MN&WR: Hazard, Kentucky – Boom or Bust?

  • Hazard, Kentucky: Boom or Bust? Take an in depth look at community efforts to revitalize downtown Hazard with WMMT’s Kelli Haywood. An entire half hour devoted to the voices of Hazard sharing their dreams, disappointments, bumps in the road, and successes as they try to rebuild a livable community through food, arts, culture, and more.

Photos by Kelli Hansel Haywood ~top l to r and bottom l to r ~ 1. The Grand Hotel  2. Main Street  3. Samantha Haynes and 3 month old Aurora  4. InVision Hazard Mural

Photos by Kelli Hansel Haywood ~top l to r and bottom l to r ~ 1. The Grand Hotel 2. Main Street 3. Samantha Haynes and 3 month old Aurora 4. InVision Hazard Mural

Photo by Issac Boone Davis

Photo by Issac Boone Davis

Reporter’s Notebook: Kelli Hansel Haywood for WMMT

In its heyday, Hazard, the county seat of Perry County, was one of the larger eastern Kentucky boom towns.  First lumber then coal drove the economy of Perry County, turning Hazard into a major center for commerce in the mountains. In the 1940s the city’s population topped out at over 7,000 people and nearly 48,000 in all of Perry County, but from then both have seen a steady decline with changes in the coal industry.  As seen in towns throughout eastern Kentucky, the latest hit taken by the coal industry has all but devastated downtown Hazard.

For the last decade, as eastern Kentucky has experienced all of this major change, towns have either been adapting or disappearing.  Hazard remains a center of commerce for Perry and surrounding counties.  The big difference is that the business being done in Hazard has been diverted from downtown and to the big chain box stores like Wal-Mart, Food City, Lowe’s, and Big Lots.  As in many towns across America, the days of mom’s and pop’s is all but gone.  Couple that with a loss of coal jobs and you have people living on a tight budget, who have to shop at box stores because of lower prices and not enough good waged jobs to go around.  Unless you have a distinct niche business that will entice people to travel to your location for what you offer, or you are able to compete with the prices of the chain stores, entrepreneurship is more risk than most want to take on.

The people of Perry County have also received negative attention from national media for being one of the worst places to live in the country in no small part due to dismal health outcomes.  Culprits like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, hunger, and cancer are all to blame.  However, Kentucky also leads the nation in acute cases of Hepatitis C with 4.1 cases per every 100,000 residents.  Perry County is one of the top 200 counties nationwide in risk of HepC and HIV outbreak due to the opioid epidemic and needle injected drug use.   The county also has a significant population experiencing homelessness in comparison to population who find their way to Hazard to try to obtain help.

Coalfield communities in Appalachia are often stereotyped as reliant on welfare and unwilling to work or become educated by national media and those from outside of the region.  While there is some truth to all stereotypes, the explanation of them are very complicated.  A lack of access to government assistance would devastate many residents in coalfields Appalachia, and the same is true for Hazard.  This does not mean, however, that they are unwilling to do the work it takes to create a livable community for themselves and their children.  This is directly reflected in the work ethic presented by those working to revitalize downtown Hazard.

It is not simple to live in a struggling community, and sometimes hope is hard to find.  Hazard residents are diligently working to change their downtown into something never seen before in Perry County – a downtown that reflects local arts, culture, and food.  As many Hazard residents will tell you, there isn’t one thing that is going to fix their economy.  They equate the effort as needing to be like a silver buckshot as opposed to a silver bullet.  It seems that the starting point for many in Hazard and Perry County has been going back to what many in Appalachia know how to do – small scale farming.  Through efforts of Community Farm Alliance, which serves the area, North Fork Local Foods was created to operate in Hazard to run Perry County Regional Farmer’s Market and the Perry County Farm to Table Program.

As these efforts start to build, other regional and community organizations are playing a role in addressing Hazard’s crumbling infrastructure.  Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky, the Philanthropic Capital Fund for Southeast Kentucky (FILCAP), Mountain Association for Community and Economic Development (MACED), and InVision Hazard are all busy plugging away to create opportunities for more entrepreneurship in Hazard’s downtown.  Residents are not idealistic when considering what types of businesses might work in a downtown like Hazard’s.  As independent contractor, landscaper, and seamstress Pamela Farrell share in her interview for this story, “It would be great to have a couple of businesses in town, but it would have to be ones that cater to the whole lot of people, not just people with full time jobs that make good.”

Jenny Williams, a professor of English at the Hazard Community and Technical College and a very active volunteer for the revitalization effort, told Willie Davis in 2015 when the interviews that would become this story began, “Everybody should be able to live an artful life and appreciate something beautiful.  Everybody should be able to have a river that is clean, that you can wade in and fish in without worrying about the fish that you pull out of it being inedible.  And, being able to eat someplace that has fresh local, healthy food that’s affordable.  That’s art to us… Another thing I would say is I get that what we need is jobs.  I get that.   I’m not saying that we can live on love and poetry alone.”  In that reality lies Hazard.  The efforts that can amount to so much over time feel very slow in the scheme of things even if they are “baby steps in the right direction.”

The question then becomes – will we have the momentum to sustain the work that will attract people who can bring jobs to towns like Hazard while at the same time not overlooking the direct and immediate needs of the regions poor, hungry, and addicted?  Samantha Haynes, a 23 year old mother of three who currently volunteers at Second Chance Mission who serves those in need in Hazard summed up the plight of the area’s young people well when she told me, “This lady told me that it was beautiful downtown.  You know, that’s a beautiful view.  But, do you see what’s underneath that?  I’m not comfortable in that.  I’m not comfortable raising my kids around here knowing that the majority of people want to leave Hazard now, and yet, everybody wants to come home.  There’s nothing here for us, but there’s so much we have.  We’ve got all kinds of creativity from just making stuff to painting, to singing… and just talking.  It’s beautiful… but I want people to know that people like me want that for Hazard.  It just breaks my heart.  I don’t want to leave Hazard.  You know, there’s still a heartbeat here.  It’s not dead.”

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 February 1, 2017

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On January 26th the first coal mining related death in the United States of 2017 happened in a small underground mine near Pikeville, Kentucky. 42 year old Ray Hatfield Jr. of Hi Hat was killed while working on a conveyor belt in the R&C Coal LLC Mine No. 2. Hatfield had 23 years of beltman experience at the time of his death. A preliminary report from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) stated that he “received fatal injuries when he became entangled in a moving belt drive roller. The victim was attempting to shovel near the belt drive when he came in contact with a tandem roller.” The small mine only employs 9 nonunion miners and Hatfield was alone at the time of his death, having not been discovered for several hours. Surviving Hatfield are his wife, a son, and two daughters. The mine has been idled and state inspectors are investigating the accident. WMMT and Appalshop give their condolences to Ray Hatfield’s family, friends, and co-workers. Thank you for your service.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky introduced a Congressional Review Act on Monday, which is a resolution blocking the Interior Department’s Stream Protection Rule, days before the House is set to vote on a similar measure. Obama officials and environmentalists have hailed the rule — which protects waterways from the impacts of mountaintop removal mining — as good for water quality and public health. But the coal industry has said it would kill mining jobs. The Lexington Herald Leader reports that McConnell said of the Stream Protection Rule (quote) “It will cause real harm to real people who support real families in real communities. This regulation is an attack on coal families. It jeopardizes jobs and transfers power away from states and local governments.” (end quote) The House is set to vote on three CRA resolutions this week undoing energy-sector regulations finalized late in the Obama administration. The resolutions target the Stream Protection Rule, a methane leak regulation, and a directive seeking more financial information from drilling and mining firms.

Tens of thousands of retired coal miners in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia face another deadline on expiring healthcare benefits and pensions. Congress funded a temporary extension late last year but that expires in April. Becca Schimmel reports on competing proposals to protect miners benefits. BS: Competing bills from a regional Senate Republican and Democrat differ sharply in support for benefits for retired miners. West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin reintroduced the miner’s protection act, which includes protections for health and pension benefits. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, offered an alternative that would only fund health benefits. And McConnell’s bill ties that funding to other changes in environmental regulations affecting coal mining.

MM: “My legislation calls on congress to work with the incoming Trump administration to repeal regulations that are harming the coal industry and to support economic development efforts.”

BS: United Mine Workers president Cecil Roberts supports the bill reintroduced by Manchin. Groups working on both labor and environmental protections are unhappy with McConnell’s bill. Retired miner Carl Shoupe is with Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, which focuses on economic and environmental issues. Shoupe says McConnell is playing politics with miner’s benefits.

CS: “Everybody wants to work here in eastern Kentucky and Mitch McConnell if he just quit playing politics, direct some of his attention here to eastern Kentucky or to Kentucky for that matter he could help us become a viable state.”

BS: Shoupe doesn’t think the Trump administration will revive the mining industry. He’d like lawmakers to help out-of-work miners find jobs in the clean energy sector.

CS: “We’re figuring it out that coal is not gonna come back and a lot of us are trying to move on and move on into the 21st century,” Shoupe said.

BS: Shoupe says in order for his community to move on miners and their families need the healthcare and pension benefits they worked for and were promised by the federal government.

 

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 January 25, 2017

Image courtesy of alex_ugalek at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of alex_ugalek at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

January 9th, the Kentucky Coal Association President Tyler White announced the association is lending its support to Kentucky H.B. 165. Kentucky’s newly GOP majority in both houses of congress is taking advantage of the opportunity of a Republican governor and president to put forward a bill trying to revive a tax incentive to encourage electric utilities and industries to burn more of the state’s thermal coal. Kentucky still gets about 90% of its electricity from coal, down about 95% a few years ago. Under the newly introduced bill, a state entity consuming additional Kentucky coal would receive a state tax credit of $2 per standard ton. A utility that already purchases 100,000 standard tons of Kentucky coal annually would not get a credit. But, if it raised coal use by 50,000 standard tons, it would receive a $2 credit per ton or a $100,000 tax credit. Continue reading Coal Report for January 25, 2017