Energy & Environment

Courtesy Tonia Casey

Food banks and pantries across the Ohio Valley are seeing spiked demand as an unprecedented surge of people continue to file for unemployment benefits, with food banks facing weeks long delays to get certain products. Meanwhile, some farmers are facing a financial crisis, sitting on excess food they can’t sell — food that could be directed to food banks and pantries. 

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Thousands of people in eastern Kentucky and parts of West Virginia remain without power Thursday after strong winds downed power lines across multiple counties. 

Glynis Board / West Virginia Public Broacasting

A West Virginia-based coal plant operator has announced that it’s filing for bankruptcy due to weak demand for electricity. Longview Power LLC, which operates one of the newest and most efficient coal-fired power plants in the U.S. hailed by the Trump administration as a model for coal’s future, announced in a Tuesday press release that it would seek to restructure its debts and ownership structure under the Chapter 11 bankruptcy process. 

 

Coal Country: Can A Play About A Mine Disaster Help Bridge A National Divide?

Apr 5, 2020
Joan Marcus / The Public Theater

 

The actors deliver their lines from a sparse stage — just a few benches around them and 29 modest lights above. For the most part they speak directly to the audience, sharing memories of the lives of husbands, sons, fathers and nephews, some of the 29 men who died on April 5, 2010, when an explosion ripped through the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia.  

It’s a powerful performance, made even more so by the realization that nearly all of the actors’ dialogue is drawn directly from court transcripts and hours of interviews with about a half dozen people who lived through that tragic day and the many long days that followed.

“Coal Country,” which opened in New York’s storied Public Theater, introduced New York theater-goers to the real lives of families affected by the tragedy.

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The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection this week released a long-awaited plan to update the state’s water quality standards.

looney ridge surface coal mine
Brittany Patterson / Ohio Valley ReSource

Coal companies owned by the family of West Virginia Governor Jim Justice have agreed to pay more than $5 million in overdue mine health and safety fines and fees.

Sydney Boles / Ohio Valley ReSource

On a blistering August afternoon in Cumberland, Kentucky, David Pratt, Jr. stood in the middle of a two-lane highway, holding a sign that read “COAL MINERS AND TRUCKERS AGAINST CORPORATE AMERICA.” A few yards away, his father, David Pratt Sr., who is graying but still muscular, leaned back in a lawn chair perched precariously on the crossties of a railroad. His eyes focused on the spot where the tracks disappeared around the bend and more than $1 million worth of coal idled in train cars.

Kudzu grows near a coal preparation plant in eastern Kentucky.
Jeff Young / Ohio Valley ReSource

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Thursday filed a lawsuit against coal operator ERP Environmental Fund, Inc. alleging the company has racked up hundreds of violations, laid off employees, and walked away from its mining operations, leaving environmental obligations unfulfilled. 

According to documents filed with the Kanawha Circuit Court on March 26, ERP holds more than 100 permits at numerous mine sites across West Virginia. With the exception of one permit, all were acquired in 2015 from Patriot Coal Corporation during the company’s second bankruptcy. 

The United Mine Workers of America is asking federal regulators to set uniform, enforceable guidelines to help protect coal miners from contracting COVID-19. 

 

During the 2020 state legislative session, we asked you what energy and environment issues were on your mind. We got a lot of great responses, but one area in particular stood out —  many of you had questions about West Virginia's renewable energy policies. 

Like Huntington, West Virginia, resident Jennifer Leist. She asked: “What are the obstacles keeping West Virginia from advancing with more renewable energy in our state? What can we do to help with the problem?”

This year, West Virginia lawmakers debated a handful of different bills related to solar energy. One proposal that could exponentially increase the amount of solar installed across the Mountain State passed. 

coal
Mead Gruver / AP Photo

As states across the Ohio Valley order the closure of non-essential businesses to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, coal mines will remain open. But as with many industries, the global pandemic is straining the coal sector, and some experts say the already struggling industry could face intense challenges in the months ahead as electricity demand flags and international exports stall. 

Brittany Patterson / WVPB

Energy producers, utilities and energy sector workers across the Ohio Valley are adjusting operations and bracing for continued economic impacts as the fast-moving coronavirus pandemic continues to unfold.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, coal miners with black lung disease met recently to discuss the 2020 legislative session, and we hear from Aetna Better Health, which was selected last year by the state Department of Health and Human Resources to help manage health services for foster children.

Barb Sargent / Courtesy WV DNR

U.S. Forest Service district biologist Shane Jones stands on an overlook high up on West Virginia’s Cheat Mountain. Behind him lush, red spruce trees stand like sentinels on this frozen landscape. As he looks out, small patches of green dot what is largely a view of the barren, brown trunks of leafless hardwoods.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

State lawmakers wrapped up the 2020 legislative session this weekend in Charleston. We’ll hear about what lawmakers did and didn’t accomplish this year on this West Virginia Morning, plus more…


Wendell Smith/Flickr

As spring approaches, ramps are popping up across West Virginia. The Monongahela National Forest on Friday released guidelines for harvesting the wild onion.

 

 

A bill that would create a utility solar energy program in West Virginia is one step closer to becoming law.

On Thursday, despite vocal opposition from some coalfield lawmakers, the House of Delegates passed an amended version of S.B. 583, 75 to 23 with two members not voting. The bill now heads back to the Senate to address two House amendments.

Clean Water Wanted: Contaminated Wells And The Legacy Of Fossil Fuel Extraction

Mar 2, 2020
Sydney Boles / Ohio Valley ReSource

Just three bankruptcies of American coal companies have added more than $800 million in costs to a federal government program that funds health care for disabled coal miners, the Government Accountability said in a report released Wednesday.

An X-ray image of an Appalachian coal miner with black lung lesions.
Adelina Lancianese / NPR

Lynn Estel Stanley was the kind of coal mine foreman who wanted to know if there was a safety problem, and would always be the one to go fix it himself. He was also the kind of miner who refused to slow down, even when his men told him he was overexerting himself. But when he was 69, his doctor told him it was time to stop for good.

Stanley wasn’t surprised. He knew he was getting sick. “It kept getting progressively worse and harder to breathe to the point where I just couldn’t do my job, I didn’t have enough oxygen,” he said.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, a historian of public schooling in the U.S. turned education advocate visited the state over the weekend. She joined in an event celebrating the teachers strike of 2018.

John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation

Award-winning investigative, environmental reporter Ken Ward Jr. announced Monday was his last day at the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Pipe ready for construction.
Seth Perlman / Associated Press

A battle over the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is headed to the U.S. Supreme Court Monday, Feb. 24. Oral arguments are scheduled in the case U.S. Forest Service v. Cowpasture River Preservation Association for Monday, Feb. 24.

We bring you updates on the energy and environment legislation we've been following, and we also meet some students who visited the Capitol to participate in the page program for their local lawmakers.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, an update on the state’s medical cannabis law. We also hear the latest news from the state Capitol, and we hear a report from StateImpact Pennsylvania on landfill pollution.

Residual waste truck in Pennsylvania.
Iris Marie Bloom

Across the Ohio Valley, natural gas drilling waste is trucked from the well pad to disposal sites. The waste contains naturally occurring radioactive elements. 

Freelance science journalist Justin Nobel spent nearly two years reporting on this topic. He interviewed hundreds of scientists, environmentalists, state regulators and industry workers and uncovered never-before-released early reports from the oil and gas industry that highlight the radioactivity problem and its risks to workers and the public.

Energy and Environment Reporter Brittany Patterson spoke with Nobel via Skype about his investigation titled “America’s Radioactive Secret” that was published last month in Rolling Stone.

 

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, we visit Clay County where educators are revamping the idea of home economics class to inspire resilience in student populations. We also bring you a conversation about radioactive natural gas drilling waste.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, there’s more and more conversation about what a transition away from a coal-heavy economy might look like in the state. But for many, it’s a hard reality to swallow.

Kudzu grows near a coal preparation plant in eastern Kentucky.
Jeff Young / Ohio Valley ReSource

On a recent soggy Wednesday evening, dozens of West Virginians packed a conference room inside the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center to discuss the need for a “just transition” for coal-impacted communities.

As the nation grapples with climate change, the need for a fair transition for workers and communities that depend upon coal jobs and revenue has also gained traction.

We’ve passed the deadline for bills to be introduced in the House of Delegates this session. On Monday, that same cut-off will be in the Senate. Host Suzanne Higgins sits down with statehouse reporters Ryan Quinn of The Charleston Gazette-Mail, Taylor Stuck of the Huntington Herald-Dispatch, and Brad McElhinny of WV MetroNews for this week’s roundtable.

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