Energy & Environment

Disastrous Disconnect: Coal, Climate And Catastrophe In Kentucky

Oct 28, 2019
Illustration by Joanna Eberts / CPI

Editor’s Note: This story is part of a series about the insufficient protections for vulnerable people as natural disasters worsen in a warming climate. The Center for Public Integrity and four partners – the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, High Country News, Ohio Valley ReSource and StateImpact Oklahoma – are contributing stories.

Todd Bentley stepped onto his porch and saw the storm swelling the creek near his home. If this kept up all night, he feared, the creek could overflow its banks and wash out his neighborhood’s road. He headed out into the rain with his teenage son to secure his mother’s trailer across the street.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, Kentucky and West Virginia are among the states with the highest emissions of carbon dioxide per person. They also helped to block the federal government’s most ambitious effort to fight climate change.

Now, an analysis from the Center for Public Integrity finds that those two states were among the ones most often hit by natural disasters during the past decade. Scientists warn that a warming climate makes extreme weather – and disasters such as flash flooding – more likely.

Reporter Sydney Boles takes us to Pike County, in Kentucky’s coal country, where vulnerable communities have suffered repeated flooding. It’s a place where coal politics, climate policy and catastrophe all connect.

Protesting miners block train tracks in morning fog.
Sydney Boles / Ohio Valley ReSource file photo

Coal miners who went without pay when mining company Blackjewel declared bankruptcy this June are one step closer to receiving lost wages. The checks come weeks after some of the miners ended a long-running protest, and months after the federal Department of Labor first intervened to allege the company violated labor laws in the month before it folded.

Anti-Rockwool signs like this one can be seen throughout the Eastern Panhandle. Photo taken in Aug. 2018.
Liz McCormick / West Virginia Public Broadcasting


More than 100 people spoke at a public hearing in Shepherdstown this week hosted by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection

The hearing was for two proposed stormwater-related permits to be issued to Denmark-based Rockwool in Ranson, Jefferson County.

Us & Them: Three Tales of Coal

Oct 24, 2019
WV Archive

For decades, coal was king in West Virginia. It paid good wages, paid the bills for many local services through taxes, and kept small towns alive. But more of our nation’s electricity is starting to come from other sources like wind and solar power. Coal is losing out.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, for decades, coal was king in West Virginia. But as more of our nation’s electricity is starting to come from other sources, coal is on the decline. On the latest episode of West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s program Us & Them, host Trey Kay has a conversation about coal and its future in Appalachia with journalist Ken Ward, who has covered the coal industry for decades here in the state. We hear part of that interview.

Wikimedia Commons

Tap water delivered by more than 2,000 water systems across the Ohio Valley contain pollutants, many harmful to human health, even though they mostly meet federal drinking water standards. That’s according to a newly-updated database released by the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization. 

 

Brittany Patterson / WVPB

Adversity isn’t new to Appalachia. We’ve faced boom and bust cycles for over a century. This episode of Inside Appalachia looks at some of those struggles and various efforts to curtail them. We’ll hear stories about West Virginia’s overwhelmed foster care system, to questions about what is killing off apple trees. And we’ll explore the research behind job creation programs ⁠— many of which are supported by federal grants. Do they bring long-term economic impact to Appalachia? 


Pipe ready for construction.
Seth Perlman / Associated Press

Federal regulators are putting a temporary stop to most construction on the Mountain Valley Pipeline amid litigation over key project permits.

New Kentucky Memorial Honors Miners Who Died From Black Lung

Oct 15, 2019
The memorial lists hundreds of local miners who have died from black lung.
Sydney Boles / Ohio Valley ReSource

Coal miners and family members of miners who have died from black lung disease gathered Sunday in Whitesburg, Kentucky, to dedicate a new memorial to miners who perished from the workplace disease.

While Appalachian coal country has several memorials to mining disasters, this is believed to be the first memorial to remember the thousands of men and women who died from black lung.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, we can learn a lot from the natural world -- things our ancestors knew that many of us have forgotten. A program in Pocahontas County wants to teach about those things -- and use nature as a classroom as well. Eric Douglas has the story.

Scott Allen, who runs Pettit Creek Farms in bone-dry Bartow County, Ga., poses for a photo Oct. 7, 2019.
Jeff Martin / Associated Press

— Across a vast expanse of the South stretching from Texas to Maryland, there are growing concerns for the cattle, cotton and corn amid a worsening drought fueled by this summer’s record high temperatures.

One of the bullseyes marking the nation’s driest areas is Bartow County, Georgia, where extreme drought has kicked up buckets of dust and left cattle pastures bare. The farm country northwest of Atlanta is among the hardest hit spots in a dozen Southern states where more than 45 million residents are now living in some type of drought conditions, the most recent U.S. Drought Monitor report shows.

Jesse Pratt Lopez/100 Days in Appalachia

We’re in the midst of the 2019 hurricane season, and people in the Bahamas are still digging out from Hurricane Dorian. In 2018 hurricane Florence hit the coast of North Carolina, which left 51 people dead and caused $24 billion in damage in the state. 

Blackhawk Mining says it's closing three mines and two preparation plants in West Virginia amid weak global coal markets.

The Kentucky-based coal company on Tuesday announced the idling of its facilities in Logan and Mingo counties.

Fat Bear Week 2019 officially ended Tuesday night. And the winner is ...

No. 435, or if you prefer a name, Holly.

Fat Bear Week has been an annual event for the past five years in Katmai National Park and Preserve in southwestern Alaska. The idea is to publicize and celebrate the process of bears eating as much as they can to build up crucial fat reserves in advance of winter hibernation.

Why Worker Training Programs Alone Won’t Save Coal Country

Oct 8, 2019
Participants in a West Virginia worker training program offered by Coalfield Development Corporation.
Rebecca Kiger / Ohio Valley ReSource

Bobby Bowman mined coal in West Virginia for 12 years before his employer shut down.

“I don’t think that mine will ever open again,” he said.

Bowman lives in Welch, in the south of the state, where he worked at the Pinnacle Mine, which shut down almost exactly one year ago, putting him and about 400 others out of work. After waiting a month in hopes someone would buy Pinnacle and the mine would reopen, Bowman decided to do a four-week training program offered by the United Mine Workers Career Center. He enjoyed it and earned a certification in heavy equipment operation. But when he came back home, he struggled to find a job in the field. So Bowman took matters into his own hands.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, Charleston hosted the annual West Virginia Book Festival during the weekend. Organizers estimate the event draws between 3,000 to 5,000 attendees each year.

But some would-be attendees promised not to show up and others came to protest this year. Emily Allen has more about the event and the conservative sci-fi author in this year’s speaker line up, Orson Scott Card, whose presence created the stir.

Court To Weigh Fight Over Pipeline Across Appalachian Trail

Oct 4, 2019
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

The Supreme Court will consider reinstating a permit that was tossed out by a lower court that would allow construction of a natural gas pipeline through two national forests, including parts of the Appalachian Trail.

The justices said Friday they will hear appeals filed by energy companies that want to build the 605-mile Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the Trump administration, which initially approved the project.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, growing up in poverty makes it difficult to access good opportunities and to succeed in our society. But when you live in an area of concentrated poverty, the struggles intensify. That’s according to new information from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Eric Douglas brings us the story.

National Integrated Drought Information System

Federal officials say drought conditions in West Virginia are worsening as unusually high heat continues to beat down on the region.

Blackjewel Miners Likely To Receive Pay In DOL Deal

Oct 3, 2019
An attorney briefs miners attending the Blackjewel bankruptcy hearing.
Courtesy of Ned Pillersdorf

The U.S. Department of Labor and a company associated with Blackjewel agreed this week to put nearly $5.75 million toward coal miners left unpaid in the company’s chaotic bankruptcy.

The July 1 bankruptcy of one of the nation’s largest coal companies left 1,100 coal miners in Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia out of work and without weeks of pay.

Something odd is happening to streams and rivers on the high plains of Kansas and Colorado. Some have disappeared.

"We would go and visit these streams, and in many cases it's like a dirt bike channel. It's no longer functioning as a stream," says Joshuah Perkin, a biologist at Texas A&M University who studies the fish that live in these streams.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, author Crystal Wilkinson is this year’s Appalachian Heritage Writer-in-Residence at Shepherd University.

Wilkinson grew up in Kentucky with her grandparents. Her work celebrates being black in Appalachia. Liz McCormick spoke to Wilkinson last week. Here’s an excerpt from the interview beginning with Wilkinson sharing one of her short stories from her book, "Blackberries, Blackberries".

Energy, heat, money, thermostat, heat pump, furnace
Dave Mistich via Tableau Public

While many states are adopting policies to make homes, cars and appliances more energy efficient, a new report finds states in the Ohio Valley are moving in the opposite direction.

 

Are 1,600 New Coal-Fired Power Plants Being Constructed Today?

Oct 1, 2019
Conesville coal plant
Brittany Patterson / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

The president of the United Mine Workers of America  -- a union representing coal miners, many of them in West Virginia -- sees a future for coal in electricity generation despite concern that coal’s carbon emissions could bring about climate change. 

In a Sept. 4 speech at the National Press Club in Washington, the union’s president, Cecil E. Roberts, touted the number of coal-fired power plants being constructed internationally.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, communities along the Tug Fork River in Mingo County are touting their waterway as a draw for outdoor recreational events. But there’s still a lot of work to be done in the river, to make sure it’s safe and clean. 

Emily Allen joined a group of volunteers and state workers yesterday [Monday] as they removed hundreds of old tires from the river.

Water Is Unaffordable For Nearly Half Of Kentucky County's Residents, Report Finds

Sep 30, 2019
Martin County relies on a water treatment plant that was built in 1968.
Benny Becker / Ohio Valley ReSource file photo

A new report finds nearly half the residents of Martin County, Kentucky, cannot afford water service. Local activists with the Martin County Concerned Citizens are ringing alarm bells about water affordability as the beleaguered county faces another likely water rate increase in the coming months.

Since the ReSource first reported on its water crisis two years ago, Martin County has become the prime example of rural communities struggling to maintain aging water systems.

Montana is under emergency conditions after an intense winter storm dumped record amounts of snow along with a life-threatening combination of bitter cold and stiff winds. In the town of Browning, 48 inches of snow fell from Friday to Sunday, the National Weather Service says.

Despite coming in late September, the 19.3 inches of snow that just fell over two days in Great Falls is second to only one other two-day total in the city — in any month. The only time the city recorded more snow in two days was during a winter storm more than 10 years ago.

West Virginia Morning
West Virginia Public Broadcasting

On this West Virginia Morning, as the Ohio Valley’s coal industry continues to decline, many coal-dependent communities are left asking, ‘What’s next?’

For some, a different kind of natural resource could be the key. Energy and environment reporter Brittany Patterson visited one community in southwest Virginia that is betting big on outdoor recreation – and getting some help from an unusual local resident.

Appalachia’s Deep History Of Resistance

Sep 27, 2019
Becky Crabtree sits chained in her 1971 Ford Pinto, suspended over a trench at a Mountain Valley Pipeline construction site on her property in Monroe County, W.Va..
Appalachians Against Pipelines

When a group of Kentucky miners decided to block a coal-laden train from leaving a bankrupt mine in July, they weren’t just laying claim to missing paychecks.

The miners in Harlan County won attention across the United States for their willingness to put their bodies on the line for their beliefs. In doing so, they’re invoking the long-entrenched spirit of civil disobedience and direct action in the Appalachian Mountains. The mine wars of the early 20th century led to the rise of American unions in the 1930s and 1940s, but it’s not just coal miners who have laid claim to a history of activism.

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