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

Mending Mining Country: Three Ways Trump Could Help Miners And Coal Communities

May 15, 2017
Alexandra Kanik

At a March ceremony to sign an executive order reversing Obama-era environmental regulations, coal miners were arranged on stage around President Donald Trump as he took up his pen.

“You know what it says, right?” Trump asked the miners. “You’re going back to work.”

From his campaign rallies to White House events, President Donald Trump has surrounded himself with coal miners and promised to restore their collapsed industry.

Peabody Energy, Inc., via Wikimedia Commons

Can coal make a comeback? That’s the title of a new report from Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy. Researchers there analyzed the factors leading to the coal industry’s sharp decline over the past six years and assessed the Trump administration’s efforts to revive it.

The report casts doubt on the chances for a significant increase in production and employment, and downplays the role of environmental regulations and the so called “War on Coal,” a common rhetorical theme for coal country politicians and President Trump.

Trevor Houser with the economic research company Rhodium Group is a co-author of the Columbia study. His report begins with analysis of what’ was driving the dramatic decline in the coal industry since 2011.


Alexandra Kanik

The Ohio Valley’s addiction crisis has brought another health problem, as rising numbers of needle drug users are contracting a serious form of heart infection called endocarditis. The rate of endocarditis doubled in the region over a decade, and many patients require repeated, expensive treatment and surgery as they return to drug use and once again become infected.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, annual Medicaid spending on endocarditis is more than $700 million, a number likely to rise if treatment does not change to also address the growing health impact of substance abuse.

Doctors at the University of Kentucky are creating a team approach to address endocarditis and the addiction contributing to it. It’s a challenge that has forced them to change traditional practices, break down walls between different medical practices, and get to the heart of the problem.

McConnell Plays Dual Role In Miners’ Benefits Saga

May 4, 2017
becca schimmel

Retired miners will not lose their health benefits, as had been feared, thanks to last-minute action from Congress. However, Congress did not act on the miners’ faltering pension benefits fund, which supports some 43,000 retired miners in the Ohio Valley region.

The health and pension benefits had been connected in legislation in Congress called the Miners Protection Act, but were split in the final push to include benefits protections in a federal spending bill.

Both the successful extension of the health benefits and the failure to act on pensions have a lot to do with one key player: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

 


Becca Schimmel

United Mine Workers retirees are celebrating a permanent fix for health benefits secured in the federal spending agreement Congress reached over the weekend. However, the deal left them with more work ahead to shore up faltering pension funds.

Coal retirees have been fighting to secure benefits for nearly five years. With benefits set to expire at the end of April, the omnibus spending bill agreed upon by Congressional negotiators secured healthcare funding for more than 22,000 retirees and beneficiaries.

UMWA communications director Phil Smith called it a huge relief.

Alexandra Kanik

By most measures, health outcomes in the Ohio Valley region are not very good, with many parts of Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia ranking near the bottom among states.

But a team of health researchers may have found a few places within the region that stand out. They see them as potential ‘bright spots’ -- places with some health measures better than expected for the region.

Now the researchers want to know why these communities fare better and whether the lessons can be applied elsewhere.

Residents of West Virginia’s smallest county give different answers when asked to describe their home.

“There is here a very strong sense of community," a local reverend said.

“The people are friendly. They’re helpful,” according to a woman working with a local non-profit operating in one of the county’s poorest areas.

Lacy Hale

Updated story:

Organizers say they have postponed a counter-rally organized by local youth due to “previously unforeseen credible threats to the safety of our attendees and our community,” according to organizer Ariana Velasquez.

The “Rally for Equality and American Values” had previously been moved from a centrally located city park to the local college campus, which is further from downtown and is a weapon-free zone.

Earlier this week, the city issued a ban on masks and hoods, which Pikeville City Manager Donovan Blackburn described as stemming from online rumors that counter-protest groups could be coming into town with the intention of inciting riots.

Office of Sen. Manchin

Congressional leaders are cautiously optimistic that a budget deal could protect health benefits for retired miners.

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, said the Senate will back permanently extending health benefits for more than 22,000 retirees and beneficiaries.

Manchin said he spoke Wednesday with President Trump who said he supports the miners. Without Congressional action, miners benefits will expire at the end of the month.

At a press event in Washington, West Virginia’s Republican Sen. Shelley Moore Capito also called for a permanent fix, but she’s not declaring victory yet.

Alexandra Kanik

McKenzie Cantrell is an employment lawyer affiliated with the Maxwell Street Legal Clinic, in Lexington, Kentucky, where she works with low-income refugees and immigrants to uncover instances of wage theft and income disparities. Cantrell, who is also a state representative for part of Jefferson County, Kentucky, travels and gives presentations about employment law, wage theft and what workers' options are if they have problems with compensation.

“Sometimes you can just see on someone’s face, the fact that they have lost money over the course of their career, and it really affects you as someone who doesn’t want to see working people lose money and struggle in a low-income job,” Cantrell said.

Many of Cantrell’s clients work in the service and construction sectors, and many are women and minorities.

Mary Meehan | Ohio Valley ReSource

At a moment when food aid agencies are working to provide healthier food to the poor and the elderly, President Donald Trump has proposed a 21 percent cut in funding for the agriculture programs that support them.

It’s a move that advocates say is bad for people who need food and local farmers who provide it.

To understand why folks are worried is to understand Appalachia’s dependence on food programs. Research at West Virginia University found 15 percent of people there are food insecure. A study in Athens, Ohio, showed half of the families enrolled in Head Start couldn’t count on regular meals. And in Kentucky, where one fourth of children in poverty cope with hunger, God’s Pantry program director Danielle Bozarth struggles to keep up. She said it’s unclear what specific food-related programs might be hurt by budget cuts.

Wikimedia Commons

Farmers in the Ohio Valley are waiting to see how President Trump’s choice to lead the Agriculture Department might affect their fortunes. Concerns over trade have held up a confirmation vote for nominee Sonny Perdue, and trade is also on the minds of regional growers.

Farmers here have been big winners under the North American Free Trade Agreement, and while farm country voted overwhelmingly for Trump, his talk about scrapping NAFTA has farmers like Jed Clark nervous.

Clark and his father farm 5,000 acres in western Kentucky’s Graves County, where they grow corn, wheat, soybeans and tobacco. Right now, Clark is thinking mostly about corn. Yellow corn is used mostly to feed livestock and the white corn is for human consumption. One of every four rows of it will go to Mexico.

Benny Becker

Federal health researchers are visiting health clinics and medical schools in the Appalachian coalfields to recruit allies in the fight a resurgence of black lung disease. The worst form of the disease may affect as many as 5 percent of experienced working miners in the region, and the researchers fear that rate could be even higher among retired miners. 

Medical students filled an auditorium at the University of Pikeville, Kentucky, to hear the latest on this scourge of coal communities, a disease many think should be history by now.

If we come to your town there’s generally something bad going on there,” said Dr. Scott Laney, an epidemiologist with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH. He was part of a research team that identified a resurgence in the worst form of black lung disease in a study published late last year. 

Courtesy CVI

When President Donald Trump visited Kentucky for a recent rally he returned to a common theme from his campaign: environmental regulations are job-killers.

“I have already eliminated a devastating anti-coal regulation,” he said, referring to a measure he recently signed overturning a Department of Interior stream protection rule. “And that is just the beginning,” the president continued, pledging to turn the Environmental Protection Agency “from a job killer into a job creator.”

But in parts of coal country environmental regulations aren’t killing jobs, they’re creating them. Stream restoration made possible under the Clean Water Act is a multi-billion dollar industry and some former coal miners are finding work thanks to this revenue stream.

Howard Berkes/NPR

A bipartisan group of legislators has asked President Donald Trump to make more money available for black lung health clinics as they face an increase in cases of the disease among coal miners.  

More than 20 clinics would benefit from the $3.3 million increase lawmakers are requesting. The clinics provide miners with health screenings, medical care, and assistance in securing black lung benefits.

The lawmakers wrote in a letter to the president and the White House budget director that the level of funding for clinics has been frozen for the past five years.  

Defunding Appalachia: Coal Communities Resist President’s Budget Cuts

Mar 27, 2017
Rebecca Kiger

Danny Ferguson didn’t like what he saw happening in Lincoln County, West Virginia, where he grew up. The downturn in the coal industry had hit hard, and young people had few job options beyond some fast food places.

“We don’t have nothing else for them to be employed,” Ferguson said. “Lincoln County is in bad shape and Coalfield seemed like the only one willing to take a chance in that area.”

That’s the Coalfield Development Corporation, where Ferguson now works as a crew chief to mentor and train young people in carpentry and other skills. Trainees earn pay while getting experience as they reclaim old buildings, restore furniture, and install solar energy stations. Ferguson said the program offers hope in an otherwise bleak situation.

“The coal is dead, but they’re trying to find something for these kids to go do instead of nothing.”

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