Top 8 W.Va. News Stories of 2015

Dec 17, 2015

A real Appalachian front porch.

What do Don Blankenship, heroin, and pepperoni rolls have in common? They’re all on our highly-unscientific list of top stories for 2015.

On this week’s Front Porch podcast, Rick Wilson, Laurie Lin and Scott Finn tell us why they believe these eight stories are the most important for West Virginia in 2015. Do you agree?

In no particular order…

Miners rally outside an event featuring President Obama.
Credit Dave Mistich / WV Public Broadcasting

8. Collapse of the coal industry

Bankruptcies and thousands of lost jobs hit West Virginia seemingly all at once this year. Republicans successfully have blamed President Obama, the EPA and the Clean Power Plan.

Rick Wilson lays more of the blame on depleted coal seams and the natural gas boom. But either way, it’s led to…

7. State budget woes

The decrease in coal and natural gas severance taxes has led to a $115 million shortfall in state revenues so far this fiscal year. State employees face “draconian” cuts to their health insurance plan.

Lin and Wilson agree that any major tax reform is off the table. Even if lawmakers increase the state tobacco tax, more cuts seem inevitable.

House Speaker Tim Armstead and Senate President Bill Cole confer.
Credit Martin Valent / West Virginia Legislative Photography

6. GOP takes over W.Va. Legislature for the first time in eight decades

Even GOP leaders seemed surprised to take over both the state Senate and House for the first time in more than 80 years, Lin said.

The Legislature passed a raft of tort reform measures, but many big priorities, such as right to work and charter schools, are likely to come up in January.

5. The Great Pepperoni Roll War

Sheetz convenience stores considered replacing West Virginia-made pepperoni rolls with those made in (GASP!) Pennsylvania.

Credit The Clarksburg Post

This coal miner’s staple is a West Virginia culinary treasure, and the social media outrage led Sheetz officials to reconsider, and stick with a West Virginia baker.

4. Don Blankenship Trial

Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship was convicted on a misdemeanor charge of conspiring to violate mine safety laws.

Wilson said he was surprised a major coal operator was even indicted – much less convicted.

Don Blankenship outside the federal courthouse in Charleston
Credit Joel Ebert / The Charleston Gazette-Mail

“How sad is it that the penalties for SEC and corporate reporting stuff are much more severe than those that involve the lives of working people,” Wilson said.

3. Heroin/Prescription Painkiller Abuse Epidemic

West Virginia has the highest rate of overdose deaths in the U.S. - 34 drug overdose deaths per 100,000 residents.

The West Virginia counties shaded dark red have the highest heroin overdose rates.
Credit Dave Mistich / West Virginia Public Broadcasting / via Tableau

The crisis brought President Obama to West Virginia to discuss his efforts to deal with the epidemic.

You can find out more about this epidemic in our series, “The Needle and the Damage Done,” as well as an interactive map showing which counties have the worst problem.

2. Photos of Appalachia create controversy

Earlier this year, Jesse and Marisha Camp were driving through McDowell County when they were confronted by angry residents who believed they were taking photos of their children.

Credit http://photographyisnotacrime.com

No one was injured, but Marisha Camp recorded the tense encounter.

Later, Vice.com published "Two Days in Appalachia," a photo essay that generated a social media firestorm for how it portrays folks in eastern Kentucky.

Did Vice send photographer Bruce Gilden to Appalachia to make us look like freaks? And how does this feed into existing stereotypes of people here?

Credit Bruce Gilden, Vice

These were some of the most popular stories on our website this year. Wilson says these stereotypes of Appalachia are as strong as ever.

1. The Front Porch begins!

“April 2015 shall go down in history, man,” Wilson said.

Subscribe to "The Front Porch" podcast on iTunes or however you listen to podcasts.

An edited version of “The Front Porch” airs Fridays at 4:50 p.m. on West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s radio network, and the full version is available above.

Laurie Lin, a guest and Rick Wilson

Share your opinions with us about these issues, and let us know what you'd like us to discuss in the future. Send a tweet to @radiofinn or @wvpublicnews, or e-mail Scott at sfinn @ wvpublic.org

The Front Porch is underwritten by The Charleston Gazette Mail, providing both sides of the story on its two editorial pages. Check it out: http://www.wvgazettemail.com/