Ohio Valley ReSource

WKU Public Radio is part of a new regional journalism collaborative known as the Ohio Valley ReSource.  It's made up of public media stations across Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia.  The collaborative will focus on the changing economy in the region and its effect on jobs, healthcare and infrastructure. 

Each station taking part in the Ohio Valley ReSource is hiring a reporter to contribute to the effort.  WKU Public Radio's reporter is Becca Schimmel, who will be based in the Bowling Green newsroom. 

The Ohio Valley ReSource is made possible by member stations and through a grant from the Corporation For Public Broadcasting. 

Ways to Connect

Coal Ash Uncovered: New Data Reveal Widespread Contamination At Ohio Valley Sites

Jun 18, 2018
Google Earth Engine

For generations, coal power has fueled American prosperity. But for each shovelful thrown into the furnaces, a pile of ash was left in its place.

Today, as coal’s dominance in the power sector wanes, those piles of ash have grown into mountains as coal ash became one of the largest waste streams in the country, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.


How We Made Sense Of Confusing Coal Ash Data

Jun 18, 2018
Alexandra Kanik

The Environmental Protection Agency describes the 2015 coal ash rules as “self-implementing,” meaning utilities had to comply with the rules but the federal government would not oversee or enforce them. Instead, the EPA required utilities to publish the results of their groundwater testing on their websites.

The rules were written that way so that citizens could file lawsuits against utilities for contaminating groundwater or not following the regulations.

Steve Pavey, Hope In Focus

Anti-poverty activists say they will continue a campaign of demonstrations and civil disobedience throughout the Ohio Valley despite arrests at some events and being blocked from Kentucky’s capitol building.

The Poor People’s Campaign has rallied in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia and campaign leaders returned to Kentucky Wednesday after the group was denied access at earlier demonstrations.


Still from White House video

President Donald Trump told the Department of Energy to “prepare immediate steps” to stop the closures of coal and nuclear power plants in the Ohio Valley region that are no longer economical to operate.

But a number of energy analysts say the administration’s unprecedented effort to prop up struggling utilities will do little to solve their underlying problems and will likely end up costing consumers more.  


UN Jean-Marc Ferre

The United Nations has just published a report on poverty in the U.S. based on a fact-finding tour that included parts of the Ohio Valley.

The UN report says that of the 40 million poor Americans about 5.3 million live in “Third World conditions of absolute poverty.”

 

The study also suggests recent tax reforms will worsen the situation for U.S. citizens and ensure that the country remains the most unequal society in the developed world. UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights Philip Alston was the report’s lead author. In an interview with the Ohio Valley ReSource, he said poverty has significant human rights implications.

“I think that if people are really living in very poor circumstances their ability to exercise a lot of their basic civil rights is greatly impaired,” he said.


Benny Becker

A new study from the Government Accountability Office finds that the federal fund supporting coal miners with black lung disease could be in financial trouble without congressional action. As NPR has reported, the GAO found that the fund’s debt could rise dramatically at the same time that black lung disease is surging.

Most federal benefits for coal miners disabled by back lung are paid from the Department of Labor’s Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, which covers the cost for companies that have gone bankrupt.


Bruce Parsons, KVEC

Student teams from across the coalfields of eastern Kentucky came together at the Knott County Sportsplex, bringing with them drones that they themselves had built. It was time for the climax of this year-long project. A basketball court had been separated with nets, and padded gates marked a circuit course for the little flying machines.

Seth Hatfield was one of dozens thumbing the joysticks on a remote control, and making last minute adjustments to four colorful propellers on top of a machine that had taken a full school year of teamwork to build. It was time for the drone race.


Kimberly Shatney

Shortly after this story aired West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice announced that the state had secured federal funding needed to help Pine Grove finish a nearly $50,000 repair project for its failing sewer system.

According to a Thursday, May 31, news release from the governor’s office, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, confirmed final approval this week for a public assistance grant requested by Pine Grove. The $37,000 grant reflects a 75 percent cost share from FEMA. Pine Grove was among the communities included in a federal disaster declaration prompted by last summer’s flooding in north-central West Virginia.

Justice said a civil contingency fund under the governor’s control will provide the remaining 25 percent, or just over $12,000, for repairs at Pine Grove which include repairing units for dozens of individual property pump wells.


Becca Schimmel

The Trump administration has made good on a promise to impose steel and aluminum tariffs on some major U.S. trading partners, including the European Union, Canada and Mexico.

The U.S. commerce department exempted the EU, Canada and Mexico from a 25 percent tariff on steel and 10 percent tariff on aluminum in March. Those exemptions were set to expire in May, but countries were given one more month. U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced Thursday the exemptions were expiring and the tariffs will go into effect at midnight. The President is still able to cancel or extend those exemptions.


Brittany Patterson

On a recent chilly Tuesday morning, about 20 people filed along a winding dirt path leading deeper into West Virginia University’s Arboretum in Morgantown.

Armed with binoculars, smartphones and hiking boots, the group had one goal — spot and identify the chittering birds hidden in the trees above.

LeJay Graffious with the Mountaineer Audubon chapter led the bird walk.


Aaron Payne

Meredith Jensen is doing some gardening on a sunny day in a secluded part of Athens, Ohio.

“I’m working on our pollinator garden beds,” she said. “Which are a bunch of fun flowers that’ll help attract butterflies, bumble bees, you name it.”

Her partner Jamie Betit pushes a full wheel barrow to fill the other raised beds.

“We’ve got horse and goat compost here that’s packed full of nutrients, topsoil and ash,” he said.


Rebecca Kiger

Far from the ocean and Puerto Rico’s famous beaches, narrow roads wind into mountains not unlike the country roads of our home, West Virginia. After hours of driving we reach a rural community in the island’s center called Tetuan Tres. Like so many places in rural Appalachia, you don’t come here accidentally.

We’ve come to learn more about how families here are recovering from natural disaster, and what it might teach us about the ways West Virginia communities can cope with devastating floods.


Jerry Helton

The Appalachian coalfields are in the midst of an epidemic of severe black lung disease. The debilitating and even deadly disease has recently begun to affect miners as young as 30. Dust from coal mines has scarred these miners’ lungs, so little of the air they breathe gets absorbed. In central Appalachia, researchers say, one in every five experienced miners have some form of impairment, and one in every 20 now have the most advanced and disabling form of black lung.

A new study shows that as black lung cases have surged there has also been a dramatic increase in one very expensive and risky surgical treatment — lung transplant. A new set of lungs can make it easier to breathe again, but the surgery introduces a whole new set of medical issues. Most transplant recipients die within 5 years.


Nicole Erwin

LaRue County, Kentucky, dairy farmer Gary Rock sits in his milking parlor, overlooking what is left of his 95 cow operation.

“Three hundred years of history is something that a lot of people in our country cannot even talk about,” Rock said.

That’s how long the farm has been in his family. While the land has turned out tobacco, soybeans and other crops over the years, since 1980 dairy has nourished the family in and out of tragedy.

“In 2013, we had an F2 tornado that totally destroyed all the facilities here except the one we are sitting in, which is the milk parlor itself,” Rock said. If that had been lost, he said, he would not have rebuilt.


Revolution

J.D. Vance, author of the best-selling memoir “Hillbilly Elegy,” returns to his native Kentucky this week. But Vance isn’t selling books this time. He’s leading a bus tour of well-heeled venture capitalists looking for investment options in the region.

Vance worked with AOL founder Steve Case to line up big-name investors for what they call the “Rise of the Rest” tour. Vance is now managing partner for the Rise of the Rest Fund, which names Jeff Bezos of Amazon and former Google executive Eric Schmidt among its investors.


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