Coal Report for December 7, 2016

 

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Retired Miner’s Health Benefits Update

Congressional leaders say legislation to support health care benefits for retired miners could be attached to a must-pass spending bill this week. Becca Schimmel reports.

The United Mine Workers of America has accused Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of blocking action on the Miner’s Protection Act, a bill to fund pensions and health benefits.

McConnell: “I haven’t been preventing one at any point. The issue is miner’s health care and I’ve advocated that the House add miners health care to the CR the continuing resolution that we’ll be voting on next week.”  

McConnell indicated the miner’s health care will be attached to the spending bill congress must pass to avoid a government shutdown. However, it’s unclear if that will include money for miner’s pension benefits. A group of senators including West Virginia democratic senator Joe Manchin have pledged to block senate proceedings until action is taken on the miner’s bill.

Manchin: “If we don’t stand for the people that made this country as great as it is then we stand for nothing.”

 If congress doesn’t act during this lame duck session more than sixteen thousand retired miners could lose their benefits by the end of the year. For the Ohio Valley ReSource, I’m Becca Schimmel in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Grassroots Petition to McConnell: Get Moving on RECLAIM Act

Greg Stotelmyer

LONDON, Ky. – A grassroots message is being sent to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: it’s time for swift action to pass legislation that would help both the economy and environment in distressed coal communities. Three organizers, including Katie Dollarhide of Letcher County, delivered a petition with nearly 10,000 signatures Monday to McConnell’s district office in London. 

Dollarhide blames McConnell for stalling action on the RECLAIM Act, which would move $1 billion over five years from the Abandoned Mine Lands Fund into areas hit hard by the decline of the coal industry.

“He’s the very person who could pick this up and lead it like a champion,” she said. “I’ve been embarrassed, I’ve been let down, I’ve been mad. Step up is what we’re saying to Mitch McConnell.”

Dollarhide said she is a registered Republican and has voted for McConnell in the past. Another Kentucky Republican, Representative Hal Rogers introduced the RECLAIM ACT in the House ten months ago. It proposes creating economic opportunities by reclaiming abandoned mine sites.

A recent poll showed there is overwhelming public support for tapping into the federal fund to spur economic development in Appalachia, including Kentucky, where more than 11,000 coal-mining jobs have been lost since 2009. With Congress about to go on its long holiday recess, Dollarhide said the petition speaks to the coal region’s urgent needs.

“It says to make this happen immediately,” she added. “This is our chance. If they wait until next session or another time, it’s weakening us more and it’s making us more of a helpless community.”

Another petition has also been delivered to McConnell, urging him to allow the Miners’ Protection Act to get to the Senate floor. That legislation would protect healthcare and pension benefits for tens of thousands of former coal miners and their families.

Alpha Natural Resources and West Virginia Settlement

West Virginia regulators have settled a lawsuit brought against Alpha Natural Resources over concerns about the coal producer’s reclamation obligations as it emerges from bankruptcy. Glynis Board reports.

BOARD: West Virginia regulators have settled a lawsuit brought against Alpha Natural Resources over concerns about the coal producer’s reclamation obligations as it emerges from bankruptcy. Glynis Board reports.

Alpha is one of the biggest coal companies in the country. A Virginia court approved its bankruptcy plan in July. But in November, Alpha revealed an additional 100 million-dollars in unaccounted-for expenses.

West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection worried that the burden could leave the company unable to pay for reclamation of damaged mine lands. So the state agency filed a lawsuit against Alpha that sought to hold executives accountable should Alpha fail again after bankruptcy.

Under the settlement announced this week, the DEP has agreed to dismiss the complaint. In exchange, Alpha agreed to post its Boone County headquarters as collateral, appraised at $6.3 million, and and post an additional $8M in limited guarantees to cover the company’s obligations.

For the Ohio Valley ReSource, I’m Glynis Board in Wheeling, West Virginia.

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 wmmtfm@appalshop.org.

Mtn. Talk Monday: Standing Rock

If you’re on social media like us, you’ve likely heard about Standing Rock — the Dakota Access Pipeline and the water protectors who are working to stop it. We set out to educate ourselves on what’s going on and how we’re connected here in the mountains.  For this edition of Mountain Talk Monday, we speak with Crystal Willcuts Cole, a Lakota woman living in Big Stone Gap, VA, with connections to Standing Rock; DL Hamilton and Karan Ireland, from Charleston, WV, both of whom recently returned from Standing Rock; and Christopher Boulay, a military veteran from Evarts, KY, who is in voluntary deployment to Standing Rock with thousands of other veterans. We also bring you a song from the camp and the latest on yesterday’s Army Corps of Engineers announcement and the response from Energy Transfer Partners (who own the pipeline).

Join your hosts, WMMT Community Correspondents Tanya Turner, Jonathan Hootman, and Elizabeth Sanders for Mountain Talk Monday: Standing Rock.

Indigenous Environmental Network

Indigenous Environmental Network

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.

CAW: Rural Road Erosion in Coalfields Appalachia #1

WMMT is excited to share our newest Special Feature which will be heard in Mountain News & World Report, Mountain Talk, Morning Dispatch and more…  Central Appalachia Wonders (CAW): You ask the questions that have been on your mind about the Central Appalachian region – WMMT listening area, and together we can find the answers.  If your question is chosen for a segment, you can be involved in reporting as much or as little as you’d like, and we’ll broadcast the answer on-air.  Those listeners who have a question chosen will also receive a WMMT t-shirt for their contribution.

For our first segment, CAW received a question from John Skaggs:

What is driving the problem with rural road erosion we are seeing in East Kentucky? Construction technique, maintenance schedule, weather?

WMMT’s Kelli Haywood sat down with Jason Forson, Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Southeast Kentucky Community & Technical College, and Mike Hansel, Environmental Manager with a Regional Energy Company, to dive in to the possible answers to John’s question.

SKCTC Assistant Professor Jason Forson and his BBQ Science Project

SKCTC Assistant Professor Jason Forson and his BBQ Science Project

Mike Hansel Environmental Manager taking soil samples at the site of a former gas station on Marion Branch in Kentucky

Mike Hansel Environmental Manager taking soil samples at the site of a former gas station on Marion Branch in Kentucky

Coal Report for Novemeber 30, 2016

 

Benny Becker | Ohio Valley ReSource David Boggs of Cumberland, Kentucky: “He’ll put the coal business back together.”

Benny Becker | Ohio Valley ReSource
David Boggs of Cumberland, Kentucky: “He’ll put the coal business back together.”

Trumped: Coal’s Collapse, Economic Anxiety Motivated Ohio Valley Voters

Ohio Valley ReSource reporters asked Trump voters what they hope he will do as president.

MONTAGE OF VOTER VOICES:  “More than Obama did! We need jobs.” “I don’t think Trump is some savior. He’s not a savior. But he is somebody with a different perspective.” “I will keep my fingers crossed that he can effect some real change in this country.”

We also asked some questions of the data… how county-by-county vote results match up with some key economic information about the region. The results offers some insights and raise some questions about what motivated Trump voters here.

One obvious factor: anxiety over the collapse of coal. Here are eastern Kentucky Trump supporters Judy Collier and David Boggs. 

“Our coal jobs are gone here in eastern Kentucky and we need jobs./“He’ll put the coal business back together and straighten this country up a little bit, maybe.”

Resource data reporter Alexandra Kanik looked at the votes for Clinton and Trump in the counties in the three-state region that produce the most coal.

KANIK:  “The top coal producing counties in the region, they had 2, 3 sometimes 6 times the support for Trump.”

Trump seized on coal’s decline and pinned the blame on federal regulations. West Virginia University history professor Hal Gorby says that fits a long pattern in regional politics.

GORBY:  “Rolling back environmental regulations, what’s called the overreach of EPA, sometimes referred to as the ‘war on coal.’ That language has had a lot of support of course before Trump was running for president.”

The “war on coal” is still politically potent but it doesn’t match well with facts. Executives at electric utilities say their move away from coal has more to do with economics than environmental regulation. Natural gas is just cheaper.

Trump supporters also want manufacturing jobs to return. That’s something Trump voters Martin Dofka and Jack Rose of Wheeling both talked about.

DOFKA/ROSE:  “I am hopeful he can do something to bring businesses back to this country.” You see jobs outsourced to Mexico, Canada, China, everywhere but here.”

While free trade helped consumers and some companies, the Ohio Valley’s heavy manufacturing base suffered. Many manufacturing and mining communities fell into economic distress.

ReSource reporter Kanik’s analysis shows several counties with the worst poverty also had the greatest turnout for Trump.

KANIK:  “Martin County, with some of the highest poverty in Kentucky, had 10 times the vote for Trump. In fact, no county in our region with greater than 30 percent poverty went blue.”

The Appalachian Regional Commission says 54 counties in the region are economically distressed. All but one — Athens County, Ohio — went for Trump.

Democratic positions on taxes and government services traditionally favor folks with low incomes. But Professor Gorby says it’s not that simple. Democrats, he says, long ago drifted from a platform that appealed to many working people.

GORBY:  “It’s left a lot of people in the rust belt and Appalachia feeling neglected.”

For the Ohio Valley ReSource, I’m Jeff Young in Louisville.

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 wmmtfm@appalshop.org.

MN&WR: Roads

 

Main Street of Whitesburg in 1911

Main Street of Whitesburg in 1911

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

In this episode of Mountain News & World Report, we’re thinking of roads. Highways, roads, trails, paths… walkways… mountain roads and how they get us from here to there.  In roads and out roads.  Deeply worn roads that have been traveled by generations and new roads, that pave the way to the future.

For our first segment, we’re looking at eating as a road to health instead of dis-ease.  The holiday season means food… sometimes too much of it.  And the Ohio Valley region is already dealing with some of the nation’s highest rates of obesity.  A new way of thinking about food might help.  Mary Meehan of the Ohio Valley ReSource, reports on the promise of a practice called “mindful eating.”

Our second story is from Malcolm J. Wilson and the Humans of Central Appalachia Project. Malcolm spoke with Russell Huff, whose life has in many ways been defined by roads old and new. . As late as the 1970s many inhabited places in Appalachia had no roads, and life was both struggle and adventure.

Finally, WMMT is excited to introduce the first edition of Central Appalachia Wonders, or CAW, where YOU our listener asks questions relevant to our region and community, and together, we scavenge for the answers. the question for this episode is about… you guessed it – roads. John Skaggs asks about the condition of our southeastern Kentucky roads and host Kelli Haywood speaks with Mike Hansel, an Environmental Engineer for a Regional Energy Co., and Jason Forson, Assistant Professor of Astronomy and Physics at Southeast Kentucky Community and Techincal College to get at the answer. Be sure to ask a question of your own and you just might hear the answer on air – Central Appalachia Wonders.

 

caw 

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.

Mtn. Talk Monday: Author Carrie Mullins

Carrie Mullins joins host Kelli Haywood in WMMT studios for this edition of Mountain Talk Monday. Carrie’s debut novel, Night Garden, was released by the Lexington small publisher Old Cove Press in 2015. In Night Garden, Carrie tackles the issue of substance misuse and addiction in Appalachia from the eyes of 17 year old Marie Massey. Through Marie’s pursuit of independence and individual identity, Carrie allows the reader an inside experience with one family’s struggles to maintain livelihood and life in the face of drugs. Kelli speaks with Carrie about the process of writing her book, the realities of the Appalachian experience with addiction, solutions, and the importance of literature tackling the hardest issues working in our communities.

Photo and Cover Art by Nyoka Hawkins

Photo and Cover Art by Nyoka Hawkins

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.