Kevin Willis

News Director

Kevin is the News Director at WKU Public Radio.  He has been with the station since 1999, and was previously the Assistant News Director, and also served as local host of Morning Edition.  He is a broadcast journalism graduate of WKU, and has won numerous awards for his reporting and feature production.  Kevin grew up in Radcliff, Kentucky and currently lives in Glasgow.

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Environment
3:33 pm
Wed May 28, 2014

Ranking Puts Kentucky No. 1 in Rate of Carbon Dioxide Pollution

The Paradise Fossil Plant in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky
Credit Tennessee Valley Authority

A new report on U.S. power plant emissions says Kentucky has the highest rate of carbon dioxide emissions in the nation.

The report was produced by environmental advocacy groups, energy companies, and Bank of America.

Kentucky topped the ranking of states emitting the most carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour of power produced, followed by Wyoming, West Virginia, and Indiana. Tennessee ranked 26th.

Dan Bakal is Director of Electric Power at CERES, one of the environmental groups that prepared the report. He says states like Kentucky can follow the example of Ohio, which has decreased its carbon emissions in recent years.

“They have really made a move to diversity their energy mix by shifting away from coal, increasing natural gas, increasing renewable energy, and also investing in energy efficiency in a very cost-effective way,” Bakal said.

Supporters of the coal industry—including Kentucky U.S Senator Mitch McConnell—say increased federal regulation is costing jobs and hurting local economies in places like eastern Kentucky.

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Politics
4:51 am
Wed May 21, 2014

Now That It's Official, How Will McConnell-Grimes Contest Play Out?

Kentucky voters return to the polls Nov. 4 to choose between Sen. Mitch McConnell and Alison Lundergan Grimes.
Credit Abbey Oldham

A look ahead at November's McConnell-Grimes Senate Matchup

With Tuesday’s U.S. Senate primary now behind them, Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell and Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes can now invest 100 percent of their time, effort, and money into the November 4 general election.

Sen. McConnell beat Tea Party activist and Louisville businessman Matt Bevin in the GOP primary by about 25 points, and Grimes easily won her party’s contest.

While he ultimately lost, Bevin’s candidacy exposed divisions within the Kentucky Republican Party that Democrats hope will benefit them in the fall.

A great deal of attention is now going to be paid to efforts by the McConnell campaign and its supporters to heal any lingering wounds between so-called “establishment” Republicans and Tea Partiers. At rallies across Kentucky in recent months, Tea Party supporters have assailed the Senate Minority Leader as someone who talks like a conservative while in the commonwealth, but votes with liberals when in Washington.

Bobby Alexander, with the Central Kentucky Tea Party Patriots, told WKU Public Radio at a recent rally in Elizabethtown that McConnell has forgotten what it means to be a Republican.

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Health
2:07 pm
Fri May 16, 2014

Cancer Research Partnership Between U of L and Owensboro Gets $5.5 Million Grant

The James Graham Brown Cancer Center in Louisville has been partnering with Owensboro Health in an effort to create new cancer vaccines.
Credit The University of Louisville

One of Kentucky’s most well-known cancer treatment centers is receiving a multi-million dollar grant to find new treatments and vaccines.

The James Graham Brown Cancer Center at the University of Louisville announced Friday that they have been given a three-year, $5.5 million dollar grant from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.

The Center’s director, Doctor Donald Miller, says the grant will help continue a partnership between U of L and Owensboro Health that is exploring the use of plant-based pharmaceuticals and vaccines.

“We have two vaccines--one for cervical cancer, one for colon cancer that are ready to move forward  into early phase clinical trials, and this grant will primarily support the testing of those vaccines over the next three years,” Dr. Miller said.

The grant will also seek to further develop plant-based drugs that would allow a higher concentration of anti-cancer drugs to be delivered to tumors.

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Agriculture
5:06 pm
Thu May 15, 2014

Comer is Confident Heading Into Friday Hearing Over Hemp Lawsuit

James Comer is suing the federal government after agents confiscated hemp seeds designated for a University of Kentucky-led pilot project.
Credit Kentucky Dept. of Agriculture

Kentucky’s Agriculture Commissioner says he’s looking forward to a court hearing Friday over his department’s lawsuit against the federal government.

James Comer this week sued three government agencies—the U.S. Justice Department, the Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Customs and Border Protection--as well as U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, over a 250 pound shipment of hemp seeds that is being held by federal customs officials in Louisville.

Language in the latest federal Farm Bill allows certain states that have adopted a regulatory framework to plant hemp for the first time in decades, and Kentucky passed a law allowing pilot hemp planting projects run by state-funded universities.

But Comer says federal agents in Louisville have continued to come up with reasons why the latest hemp shipment must be held. The Commissioner says a hearing is set for 1 p.m. eastern time Friday before a federal judge in Louisville.

“We believe that it’s a good sign, that we’re going to be in front of a federal judge this soon after filing a motion," the Monroe County native told WKU Public Radio. "So, hopefully we can get the seeds, because these seeds are going to the University of Kentucky. It’s not like these seeds are going to some shady, upstart business somewhere.”

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Agriculture
12:02 pm
Thu May 15, 2014

Comer Postpones Hemp Seed Planting Following Standoff with Federal Officials

Planting industrial hemp in the U.S. has been illegal for decades, but seeds are being planted in Rockcastle County, Kentucky, Friday.

Kentucky's first legal planting of hemp seeds in decades is being postponed.

Officials from the Kentucky Agriculture Department, Kentucky State University, and pro-hemp groups were scheduled to plant hemp seeds Friday in Rockcastle County as part of a pilot project following the recent relaxing of state and federal rules regarding the crop.

But Agriculture Commissioner James Comer announced Thursday that the event has been postponed following a standoff between his department and federal officials over a detained shipment containing 250 pounds of hemp seeds.

The Agriculture Department filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the federal government, in an effort to get the shipment released by customs officials in Louisville.

Kentucky lawmakers passed a law allowing hemp to be planted as part of university-based research projects. Hemp advocates say the crop's fiber and oilseed can be used to make rope, paper, bio-fuels, cosmetics, and healthy foods.

In 1970, the federal government placed hemp on the list of Schedule One drugs, making it illegal to grow.

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Health
3:18 pm
Thu May 8, 2014

Land Selected for Site of Hardin County's First YMCA

Hardin County is one step closer to having its first ever YMCA facility.

A steering committee announced Thursday afternoon the selection of a 14 acre site in Elizabethtown where the YMCA will be built. Hardin County Schools Superintendent Nannette Johnston is chair of the committee, and says the project could have a positive impact on the community’s health.

“One of the alarming factors that I have seen is that when our student-athletes have physicals, the hospital has shared with us that they’re seeing an increase—even in our student-athletes—of cases of high blood pressure, weight problems, and some who are even on some kind of blood pressure medication,” Johnston told WKU Public Radio.

The Hardin County YMCA will be a branch of the Greater Louisville chapter of the organization.

The privately-owned land selected for the project is on Veteran’s Way in Elizabethtown behind the Best Buy store. Johnston says the property owner has agreed to make a sizeable donation to the effort, meaning the land will be bought below market level.

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Agriculture
2:34 pm
Thu May 8, 2014

Hemp Seeds Facing One Final Hurdle Before Making It Into Kentucky Soil

Hemp seeds will soon be legally planted in Kentucky for the first time in decades.

A shipment of hemp seeds from Italy has made it to Kentucky, but there’s a problem.

Customs officials in Louisville have so far refused to release the 250 pound shipment to the state Agriculture Department.

While Kentucky law was recently changed to allow the growing of hemp for university-run research projects, federal customs officials are still leery of signing off on the seed shipments. State officials say the confusion is holding up hemp seeds from getting to project locations in the commonwealth.

“I spoke with a customs official in Chicago, and once I advised her of what the law is, and what we’re doing at the Department of Agriculture, customs in Chicago released the seeds to Louisville, and now it’s just a question of getting everyone on the same page,” said Holly Harris VonLuehrte, chief of staff at the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.

VonLuehrte told WKU Public Radio Thursday afternoon that she thinks customs officials will sign off on the hemp seeds within “the next 24 hours.”

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Science
4:24 pm
Wed May 7, 2014

WKU Professor Who Served on Climate Panel Says Kentucky Can't Afford Complacency

WKU Professor of Geography and Geology Rezaul Mahmood
Credit Abbey Oldham

WKU Prof. Rezaul Mahmood talks about the National Climate Assessment.

A WKU professor who served on the panel behind the recently released national climate change report says Kentucky hasn’t been as impacted by climate change as several other states.

But Dr. Rezaul Mahmood says that could change in the coming years.

The WKU Geography and Geology Professor is one of about 60 members of the National Climate Assessment Development and Advisory Committee. The group’s 1,100 page report, released Tuesday, says the impacts of climate change are being seen across the country.

While Kentucky hasn’t seen the degree of temperature change that some western and east-coast states have experienced, the WKU Professor says policy makers and residents in the commonwealth shouldn’t be complacent.

“If changes in other regions happen, that will eventually impact Kentucky, Dr. Mahmood said. "For example, if watersheds in other states are getting lots of rain, or not enough rain, eventually our water supply is going to be affected."

Dr. Mahmood says one way Kentucky has been proactive about climate change has been the creation of a comprehensive drought plan that coordinates efforts at the state and local levels.

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Education
4:10 pm
Wed May 7, 2014

North Hardin High School Marching Band to Perform in 2015 Macy's Thanksgiving Parade

Members of a Hardin County music group got a big surprise Wednesday.

The North Hardin High School Marching Band has been selected to perform in next year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. Macy’s Parade officials worked secretly with school personnel to surprise band members with the news Wednesday afternoon at the school in Radcliff.

Band members were called to the gym for the surprise announcement that they were selected out of hundreds of applicants to be one of ten marching bands to participate in the 2015 parade.

Lexington’s Paul Laurence Dunbar High School marching band is performing in this year’s Macy’s Parade.

Politics
5:42 pm
Tue May 6, 2014

Now That Conway's In, Who Else Might Run for Kentucky Governor?

Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer is strongly considering a run for governor in 2015.
Credit Kentucky Dept. of Agriculture

The list of confirmed 2015 Kentucky candidates for governor grew Tuesday, when Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway announced he was running for the office.

He joins Republican and former Louisville Metro Council member Hal Heiner, who announced earlier this year his gubernatorial bid.

Kentucky political observers will now turn their attention on a handful of other potential candidates for governor.

Kentucky House Speaker Greg Stumbo has said he is strongly considering a run for Governor, but only if Democrats hang on to their majority in the state House.

Stumbo was the running mate for gubernatorial candidate Bruce Lundsford in 2007, a ticket that lost the primary to Steve Beshear and Daniel Mongiardo.

Other potential Democratic 2015 candidates include state Auditor Adam Edelen and former U.S. Congressman Ben Chandler, who is currently executive director of the Kentucky Humanities Council.

Former state Auditor Crit Luallen announced last month that she won’t run for governor.

On the Republican side, the most high-profile would-be candidate appears to be Agriculture Commissioner and Monroe County farmer James Comer.

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