Energy & Environment

Blackjewel Miners Block Railroad to Demand Pay from Bankrupt Coal Company

Jul 30, 2019
Protesting miners blocked the tracks in the morning fog.
Sydney Boles / Ohio Valley ReSource

Some coal miners left without pay by the bankruptcy of coal company Blackjewel LLC are protesting by blocking a coal train in eastern Kentucky.

The stand-off began early Monday when five miners blocked the train from leaving the Cumberland, Kentucky, plant. Despite police asking them to leave, miners spent the night blocking the railroad to protest Blackjewel moving coal while miners have yet to be paid.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, the latest episode of Inside Appalachia focuses on some of the region’s waterways.

While the Mountain State is blessed with an abundance of beautiful streams and rivers, it’s not hard to find areas littered with trash, too. And rainy weather can easily wash these remnants into the waterways, contaminating the river ecosystems, and posing a health risk to people.

One man in Morgantown has taken it upon himself to clean up the trash in his area, sometimes using unconventional methods. Folklife reporter Caitlin Tan brings us the story.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, across Appalachian coal country, people are looking for productive ways to reuse land damaged by surface mining. A 2018 study found that an area roughly the size of Delaware has been mined over the years. The Ohio Valley ReSource’s Liam Niemeyer reports that some researchers see promise in fast-growing grass that can help restore damaged lands and maybe help both the economy and environment.

Brittany Patterson / WVPB

A federal public health agency is launching a study this fall that will evaluate Berkeley County residents’ exposure to the PFAS group of chemicals, which includes PFOA, or C8.

 

Natural gas pipe for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline sits in a yard Feb. 27, 2019, near Morgantown, W.Va.
Larry Dowling / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

A federal court has thrown out two key permits for the 600-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

U.S. 4th Circuit Court Chief Judge Robert Gregory said in an opinion issued Friday that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service didn't adhere to its mandate to protect endangered species when it fast-tracked re-issuing two permits to the natural gas project proposed to go through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina.

Blackjewel coal mine
Mead Gruver / AP Photo

 

A federal bankruptcy judge has approved a plan by West Virginia-based Blackjewel LLC to begin the sale of its coal mines and other assets. 

At the heart of the proposal, Tennessee-based Contura Energy Inc. will be the “Stalking Horse Purchaser,” or initial bidder, for three of Blackjewel’s surface mines. 

Power Plant: How Grass Might Generate Fuel, Help Fix Damaged Mine Lands

Jul 26, 2019
West Virginia University Professor Jeff Skousen among giant miscanthus on an old mine site.
Brittany Patterson / Ohio Valley ReSource

Down bumpy back roads deep in central West Virginia, a flat, bright green pasture opens up among the rolling hills of coffee-colored trees.

Wildflowers and butterflies dot the pasture, but West Virginia University Professor Jeff Skousen is here for something else that stands above the rest of the Appalachian scenery – literally.

Thick stalks of green-yellowish grass reach up 10 feet into the air like a beanstalk out of a fairy tale, and Skousen is dwarfed by it.

Retired Coal Miners on Capitol Hill Push for a Fix to Pension System

Jul 25, 2019
Sam Ball, a retired coal miner from Virginia, testified before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources.
House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources

A rush of retired coal miners and advocates were in Washington this week, pushing members of Congress to protect their pensions.

About 40 members of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) arrived on Capitol Hill Tuesday, July 23, to meet with lawmakers and voice their concerns during a congressional hearing Wednesday.

Led by production from its Powder River Basin, Wyoming produces 40 percent of U.S. coal.
U.S. Geological Survey

A buyer for some of bankrupt coal company Blackjewel’s mines has emerged. 

In a court filing Thursday, July 25, the West Virginia-based company said Contura Energy Inc., which operates both surface and underground coal mines across Appalachia, had agreed to be a “Stalking Horse Purchaser” or initial bidder for three of the company’s surface mines. 

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, similar to West Virginia, Ohio has a law that can force landowners to lease their underground mineral rights to energy companies. The Allegheny Front’s Julie Grant takes a closer look at what happens when people there say no to fracking. It's the latest story in The Allegheny Front's series, Who’s Listening?

Court Tosses Lawsuit in 1968 Farmington Mine Explosion

Jul 24, 2019
In this Nov. 21, 1968, file photo, smoke pours from the burning Llewellyn portal of the Mountaineer Coal Co., where 78 miners are trapped near Farmington, W.Va.
AP file photo

A federal appeals court has thrown out a lawsuit filed by the families of 78 men who were killed in a 1968 mine explosion in West Virginia.

The ruling Wednesday by the 4th U.S. Circuit Appeals affirms a 2017 ruling by a federal judge.

Mackie Branham views a lung X-ray with Dr. James Brandon Crum, who was among the first physicians to note an uptick in black lung diagnoses
Howard Berkes / NPR

Democratic members of Congress introduced legislation Tuesday to provide additional funding for coal miners suffering from black lung. The bills came as a contingent of Appalachian miners afflicted with the disease lobbied lawmakers for more support. 

“It doesn’t only take your health. It takes your identity,” Barry Johnson said of the disease. Johnson is a fourth-generation coal miner from Letcher County, Kentucky, who made the trip to Washington with his oxygen tank in tow. 

Courtesy: Shell Chemicals

 

West Virginia lawmakers heard testimony Tuesday from a top Department of Energy official that the federal government is prioritizing building out a petrochemical industry in Appalachia.

W.Va. House of Delegates Majority Whip Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, speaking during a floor session.
Perry Bennett / West Virginia Legislative Photography

House of Delegates Majority Whip Del. Paul Espinosa has been hired as the Public Affairs Manager for the controversial Rockwool insulation plant in Jefferson County.

Rockwool made the announcement in a press release Tuesday.

Brian M. Powell / Wikimedia

West Virginia lawmakers passed a bill on Tuesday that will give a $12 million tax cut to a struggling coal-fired power plant in Pleasants County. 

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, a federal district judge last week ordered the release of a government database that tracks the shipments of every single prescription pain pill manufactured in the U.S. In an analysis of that data, reporters at the Charleston Gazette-Mail and The Washington Post found between 2006 and 2012, 76 billion oxycodone and hydrocodone pills were shipped to pharmacies across the country.

Three reporters at The Washington Post were responsible for the analysis that shows just how concentrated the epidemic was in Appalachian communities, including database editor Steven Rich. He spoke with 100 Days in Appalachia’s Ashton Marra about the reporting.

Brittany Patterson / Ohio Valley ReSource

Members of the West Virginia Legislature heard testimony Monday in support of reviving policy solutions to address the state’s growing number of abandoned and unplugged natural gas wells.

 

Coal Miners to Hit Capitol Hill for Black Lung Funding

Jul 22, 2019
Barry Johnson wears an oxygen tube to assist breathing.
Sydney Boles / 100 Days in Appalachia

Dozens of Appalachian coal miners plan to visit Capitol Hill Tuesday to ask lawmakers to bolster funding for the black lung disability trust fund, which miners depend upon when no responsible company can be identified to pay for needed health care.

Jeff Gentner / AP Photo

This story was updated on 7/22/19 at 4 p.m. EST.

 

New research published this week finds communities across the county, including in West Virginia, can expect weeks of dangerously hot days in the coming decades if action to reduce global heat-trapping pollution isn’t taken.

 

 

Zachary Loughman / West Liberty University

The West Virginia Division of Highways is providing nearly $180,000 to West Liberty University to determine the effects of construction activities on endangered crayfish.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, a decade ago, not many people had heard much about fracking for natural gas. Since then, the gas industry has literally changed the landscape in northern West Virginia, southern Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio. 

For some people, that has meant new jobs or payments to lease their land. But the thousands of new well pads, pipelines, compressor stations, and waste injection wells haven’t been welcomed by everyone. Thousands of complaints have been filed with the state about everything from gas leaks and crumbling roads to odors and noise people blame on energy development.

Liz McCormick / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

After the 2014 Elk River chemical spill in the Kanawha Valley, the West Virginia Rivers Coalition created the Safe Water WV initiative. The idea is simple: to strengthen a community’s connection to their drinking water and encourage them to work together to better protect it.

A couple years ago, Jefferson and Berkeley Counties decided to build off that initiative in a unique way – using the conservation of farmland and Civil War battlefields as a model for drinking water protection.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, after the 2014 Elk River chemical spill in the Kanawha Valley, the West Virginia Rivers Coalition created the “Safe Water WV” initiative.

The idea is simple -- to strengthen a community’s connection to their drinking water and encourage people to work together to better protect it. A couple years ago, Jefferson and Berkeley Counties decided to build off that initiative in a unique way -- using the conservation of farmland and Civil War battlefields as a model for drinking water protection. Liz McCormick explains.

Peabody Energy, Inc.
Wikimedia Commons

This story was updated on 7/16/19 at 4:35 p.m. EST.

A coal company with mines in Kentucky and West Virginia has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Father Jim Sichko, a Catholic priest and motivational speaker based in Lexington, paid the electric bills of about 200 out-of-work coal miners in Harlan on Monday.
Will Wright / Lexington Herald-Leader

A priest in Kentucky handed out more than $20,000 on Monday to miners struggling to pay bills after the coal company they work for filed for bankruptcy protection.

People crowded Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Harlan as Father Jim Sichko signed checks for more than 100 miners who are currently out of work, news outlets reported.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, best-selling author Sheila Redling from Huntington has written nine books. After losing her will to write for a time, she is back on track and more books are on the way. Inside Appalachia associate producer Eric Douglas spoke with her about the importance of protecting your ability to write. And she has some advice for other writers.

How a Carbon Tax Could End Some Coal Towns, or Fund a New Future

Jul 15, 2019
Kudzu grows near a coal preparation plant in eastern Kentucky.
Jeff Young / Ohio Valley ReSource

Declining coal tax revenues place coal-reliant counties in Appalachia at risk of fiscal collapse, according to new research from the centrist Brookings Institution and Columbia University. Policies designed to prevent further climate change would accelerate that decline, the report found, but could also provide a new stream of revenue to help communities rebound from coal’s demise.

Updated at 4:32 p.m. ET

Barry reached Louisiana's central coast, near Intracoastal City, on Saturday morning as a Category 1 hurricane, the National Hurricane Center said, before weakening to a tropical storm.

The storm has already brought flooding to New Orleans, where tornado warnings have been issued.

Residents across other parts of Louisiana have also been bracing for flooding — forecasters predict up to 25 inches of rain across much of southern Louisiana and southwest Mississippi, leading to dangerous, life threatening flooding.

Matt Rourke / AP Photo

In Washington, D.C., the House of Representatives passed amendments to end military use of toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS in firefighting foam and food packaging, and to expand efforts to monitor for PFAS pollution.


West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

More than a hundred coal miners and family members gathered Wednesday in Whitesburg, Kentucky, in an attempt to get their pay from failed mining company Blackjewel. The country’s sixth-largest coal company filed bankruptcy last week, and many of Blackjewel’s 1,100 workers across Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia are suddenly out of work. As Brittany Patterson reports, most are still waiting for back wages as well as answers about the company’s future.

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