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

Jorfer, Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. Appeals Court in Washington, D.C., hears arguments Tuesday, Sept. 27, in the case West Virginia v. EPA, challenging the federal Clean Power Plan. That’s the centerpiece of the Obama Administration’s attempt to address climate change by limiting CO2 emissions from power plants.

The challengers include 27 state attorneys general. One in particular, West Virginia’s Patrick Morrisey, has positioned himself as the champion of fossil fuel interests fighting government regulation.

“This rule simply devastates coal, coal miners, coal retirees and their families and puts at risk thousands of good paying jobs and affordable energy for our state,” Morrisey wrote in a recent opinion piece.

West Virginia’s Attorney General is not from the Mountain State, he’s from the Empire State. After a failed Congressional bid in New Jersey the New York native set his sights on West Virginia.

Nicole Erwin | Ohio Valley ReSource

It’s harvest time and a semi full of corn just pulled onto the scales at Seven Springs Farm in Cadiz, Kentucky. On the scale, the analytics work begins: moisture content, weight, production rates, and more are all recorded.

This is just one truck and many more will follow with much more to be stored and later sold for ethanol production. Just one of the farm’s bins can hold as many as 350,000 bushels, or 16.8 million pounds.

These trucks of corn are just one bite of a mouthful of big data that this local farm’s server can no longer swallow. As the farm’s production and technology manager, it’s Nick Woodruff’s job to keep track of it all.

“The way things communicate now and interact has changed a lot in the last couple years, Woodruff said.

So has the size of the farm: what started at just 2000 acres covers 36,000 today. When the farm was smaller and “clouds” still just meant white puffy things in the sky, farm data were stored on site. Now, everything is transmitted to a cloud server owned by John Deere, the tractor company.

Opioid High: Students Face A Different Kind of Test

Sep 11, 2016
Aaron Payne | Ohio Valley ReSource

It’s not just about notebooks and pencil boxes anymore: the opioid epidemic means back-to-school supplies now include things like emergency overdose treatments and drug prevention plans.

Many schools in the Ohio Valley region are using random drug testing despite doubts from addiction treatment experts about whether the tests really work to deter abuse.

A Tragedy, Then Testing

A new testing program takes effect this year in Belpre, Ohio, where students have witnessed the consequences of opioid abuse first hand.

On a recent Friday night, the Belpre High School football team made the trip to face Trimble in the second week of high school football.

Among the team leaders are Logan Racy and Aric Ross, who are both in their senior seasons.

Becca Schimmel

Thousands of retired coal miners will rally in Washington, D.C., on Thursday to urge Congress to shore up a fund that supports their pensions and benefits. Area lawmakers from both sides of the aisle were at the National Press Club in Washington to speak in support of the Miner’s Protection Act.

West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin called for an immediate markup and passage of the bill in the Senate Finance Committee, where it has been bottled up for most of the year. Manchin wants Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, and Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch, of Utah, to work together to pass the bill.  

All we’re asking for is the compassion to do the right thing, fulfill the commitment, a promise that was made,” Manchin said.

Manchin is referring to a pledge dating to the 1940s, when Congress intervened in a national coal strike and established a health and welfare fund for miners. The agreement used royalties on coal production to create a retirement fund for miners and their dependents in cases of sickness, disability, death and retirement.

Southwings and Vivian Stockman

The prestigious National Academy of Sciences recently announced a comprehensive study on the health effects of the controversial coal mining practice known as mountaintop removal. For coalfield residents who have long questioned what impact the dust, blasting, chemicals and water contamination was having, the announcement comes as welcome news, if somewhat overdue.  

A decade of efforts to research the health effects of living near mountaintop removal mining have often run into industry opposition, political roadblocks, and bureaucratic delays. After decades of questions and concerns there is now reason to believe that answers are on the way.

Longstanding Concerns

Concerns about how surface mining affects the people of Appalachia are nearly as old as the practice itself. West Virginia first regulated surface mining in 1939, and statements of concern and protest have long been a part of the culture in the central Appalachian coalfields.

Kenn W. Kiser, morgueFile.com

Coal-producing states are preparing for arguments next month in the federal appeals court case known as West Virginia v. EPA, challenging the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

The case has major implications for the country’s policy on climate change. But some experts and industry leaders say the outcome is not likely to bring coal back from its decline in the power market.

Diversifying Power 

Coal from central Appalachia has been “keeping the lights on” in the U.S. for nearly a century, so perhaps it’s no surprise that West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is leading dozens of other states — including Kentucky and Ohio — and many industry groups in opposition to the new carbon emission standards.

At a May event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Morrisey said the Clean Power Plan is a disincentive for coal production.

Nicole Erwin | Ohio Valley ReSource

On 120 acres in Marion, Kentucky, small-scale farmer Joseph Mast is taking an innovative approach to provide for his growing family of nine.

Mast belongs to an Amish community and is reluctant when it comes to media. He makes a concession, however, when the conversation involves sustainable farming.

“I’ll talk grass any day,” said Mast.

Mast is a grass farmer using something called high intensity grazing, also known as rotational grazing. Herds of animals are left to graze on a small area of pasture, but moved several times a day to new forage, mimicking the way grasslands and grazers naturally interacted long ago.

Rotational grazing conflicts with conventional thinking on livestock and overgrazing. The theory has always been that too many animals on a plot will trample and destroy fertile grounds. But Mast sees evidence that the practice is working and he believes that his small farm is becoming a part of much larger solution for sustainable agriculture.

Becca Schimmel | Ohio Valley ReSource

Trade has emerged as a potent issue this election season, with the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, a flash point in the political debate. The stakes are high for the Ohio Valley region, where thousands of workers and billions of dollars in goods could be affected by the outcome of this trade agreement.

Very different sides of the trade story can be found at  two manufacturing companies in southern Kentucky: conveyer-belt maker Span-Tech and auto parts maker Trace Die Cast.

These businesses are just 30 miles from each other, but when it comes to their views on trade, they’re worlds apart. Their differences can tell us a lot about why trade is such a contentious issue and what it means for our region.

51fifty at the English language Wikipedia

For those working daily to treat addiction tied to the opioid epidemic in the Ohio Valley, resources have been limited. Beginning this week doctors will have a little more to work with.

The federal government will allow doctors to treat more patients with buprenorphine, a medication that can help ease people away from addiction.

While the science supports this treatment, some remain skeptical. Visits to three treatment centers in the region show the different approaches people in the recovery community are taking. In the fight against the addiction crisis, it appears there is no single silver bullet.

“Hi, James”

In a Louisville halfway house for inmates and parolees, a group of men gathered to offer support to one another as they work through addiction in a Narcotics Anonymous meeting.

Pixabay

You are Letcher County, Kentucky. You are rural, mountainous, and in the heart of the central Appalachian coalfields. Your economy is not in good shape. Fox News has called your largest town “the poster child for the war on coal.” You are offered funds to build a new federal prison. It could bring jobs but also brings up troubling moral issues. What do you do?

Call it the prison builder’s dilemma: Letcher County and other rural areas are wrestling with a choice between a potential economic boost and the ethical burden of becoming the nation’s jailers.

Coalfield economies have been hit hard by the industry’s recent decline and Eastern Kentucky’s 5th Congressional District has been among the most affected. Today it has the second-lowest median household income in the country, and the second-lowest rate of labor force participation.

In recent years, a big chunk of the money flowing into the region has come through the Bureau of Prisons. Three federal penitentiaries have been built in the district, and now, money has been set aside to build a fourth — in Letcher County.

Kara Lofton, WVPB

People in West Virginia are still recovering from floods that tore through communities like vengeful gods. When you look at the pictures and videos of the June flood – thick, brown, furious, unrelenting – it’s not hard to imagine how our ancestors believed supernatural beings were behind the devastation.

Today, of course, we have better insight into the natural forces at work, and science shows us that the damage from nature’s wrath has a lot to do with human behavior.

The National Weather Service described the West Virginia disaster as a 1000-year event, a term meteorologists use to describe the rare probability of such extreme rains. Many scientists who study the climate, however, warn that our warming atmosphere is increasing the likelihood and severity of flooding disasters. Further, a review of emergency planning shows that while risk of extreme rainfall is on the rise in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia, the states are not doing enough to prepare for the rising waters.

Aaron Payne, Ohio Valley ReSource

As the opioid epidemic continues to plague the Ohio Valley with addiction and death, the search for safer methods of pain management has become increasingly urgent.

Advocates for medical marijuana have recently made inroads in the area with growing scientific evidence that the substance currently considered of no medical value by the federal government might be a tool to wean those suffering from chronic pain off of more dangerous drugs

Part of the hope behind such proposals is to offer a safer alternative for chronic pain patients, who are often prescribed opioids. State health data show that in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia, opioids were involved in at least 3,373 overdose deaths in 2014, the most recent year for which figures are available. The Centers for Disease Control found that in 2014 the three states were among the five states with the nation’s highest rates of drug overdose deaths, largely driven by opioids. In Ohio, Gov. John Kasich signed legislation last month that will make Ohio the 25th state with medical marijuana. Legislators in Kentucky recently held the first committee hearing to discuss crafting a similar bill.

The continuing debate is over whether there’s scientific evidence to back up that hope or if it’s just a pipe dream.

Rebecca Schimmel

Miners in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia who helped keep the country’s lights on are worried that their retirement benefits could go dark as a result of a wave of bankruptcies in the coal industry. They hope Congress will approve a bill called the Miner’s Protection Act to shore up the pensions and health benefits promised to union miners.

The bill has been bottled up in the Senate’s Finance Committee but Hill sources say Senate leaders have promised a committee vote before Congress breaks for the summer on July 15.

Joe Holland has been with the United Mine Workers of America for four decades. He worked 10 years as an underground miner for Peabody Energy in Muhlenberg County, in western Kentucky. Born in a company-owned house, Holland is a fourth generation coal miner. His grandmother kept two pictures on the mantle; Jesus and the UMWA’s legendary leader John L. Lewis.“Without Christ y’know they thought they was going to hell, and without John L. Lewis they was going to starve to death,” Holland said.

Benny Becker | Ohio Valley ReSource

Kentucky is working on a multimillion-dollar plan to bring broadband internet to the eastern part of the state, home to some of the country’s most impoverished places. A federal report released this year found that from around a third to nearly half of rural residents in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia lack high-speed internet and the job opportunities that come with it. But a few areas are ahead of the curve. In Kentucky’s Jackson and Owsley Counties, broadband has already arrived and is already creating jobs.

With a population of 1,095, Annville, Kentucky is one of the bigger towns in Jackson County. It’s surrounded by grassy fields and rolling hills, which are the inspiration for the county’s tourism slogan: “Where the Mountains and the Bluegrass Blend.

It’s not easy to find a job in Jackson County. More than a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line. Most people who have jobs work outside the county. For Annville resident Alisha Tanfield, those long costly commutes made it hard to make ends meet. “After you pay gas, you’re not making anything,” she said.

If you’re barely getting by and your livelihood depends on a long commute, car troubles can create a major crisis. When Tanfield’s car broke down she lost what income she had and found herself struggling to provide for her two daughters. Then Tanfield heard about a friend who had found a work-from-home job through the Teleworks USA job board. Tanfield says she’d always been curious about work-from-home jobs but hadn’t tried applying for any because she thought a lot of them are scams.

In Kentucky, High Hopes For Hemp

Jun 27, 2016
Nicole Erwin, Ohio Valley ReSource

This story is from the Ohio Valley ReSource, a journalism partnership that aims to rethink how we use our resources in a shifting economy. With support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, seven public media outlets in Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia — led by Louisville Public Media — formed the ReSource to strengthen coverage of the area’s economic transition and the social changes that come with it. Read more here.

Farmers throughout the Ohio Valley want to revive a crop that was once a staple in the region: hemp. After a ban that lasted more than half a century, the 2014 Farm Bill allowed states to grow hemp in research programs. Growers and processors in Kentucky are aggressively putting that research program to work in hopes of winning a share of the booming market for hemp products.

Hemp cooking oil, nutritional supplements, and more line the back wall of a supermarket in Lexington where cashier Emily King rang up a customer’s purchase.

“Tons of people buy hemp oil,” King said. “We have hemp hearts and other products. We’ve definitely seen an increase in hemp product sales.” The store recently wrapped up its first “hemp week” promotion.

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