Appalachia

Office of Sen. Joe Manchin

A group of Ohio Valley senators says a watchdog agency’s recent report shows that federal regulators must do more to protect coal miners from silica dust, an especially toxic form of dust created when mining equipment cuts into rock layers near coal seams.

In a Monday morning press release, six Democratic senators, including Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, called the findings in last week’s Inspector General’s report “extremely troubling,” saying the Mine Safety and Health Administration knew what it needed to do to lower miners’ exposure to deadly silica dust.

The senators’ pressure comes after the Department of Labor’s Office of the Inspector General found that MSHA’s standards for exposure to deadly silica dust were out of date, and that the mine safety agency’s sampling methods were too infrequent to guarantee that miners were protected.

Flickr/Creative Commons/Michael Tefft

It wasn’t too long ago that Michael Farmer, a pastor in Charleston, West Virginia, received an email asking him a question that was already on his mind: “As a Black Southern Baptist pastor in West Virginia, what is my role in telling our stories?”

The email was from Ashton Marra, the managing digital editor of a news organization called 100 Days in Appalachia. Marra was inviting Farmer to be a part of a new project, the Appalachian Advisors Network. 

“The Advisors Network is really three parts,” Marra said, “And the first part is a database of creators.” This way, Marra said, rather than national or international news outlets sending a journalist from New York City or Los Angeles to cover rural Appalachia, those same outlets could hire a freelance journalist rooted in those same communities, who could tell a more nuanced story. 


Former Blackjewel Miners Could Get More Money From Proposed Settlement

Sep 2, 2020
Sydney Boles | Ohio Valley ReSource

A proposed $17.3 million settlement of a class action lawsuit would provide additional payment for hundreds of Appalachian coal miners who were suddenly left jobless by the abrupt bankruptcy of the Blackjewel mining company. 

The settlement must be approved by the judge overseeing the complicated Blackjewel bankruptcy case. Although it is not yet final, attorneys for the miners call the agreement a “major victory” in bankruptcy court, a venue that is often not favorable to workers’ claims. 

The combination of protests, legal action, and intervention by the U.S. Department of Labor finally got most of the miners the pay they were owed. The proposed settlement filed Tuesday with the federal bankruptcy court would get each miner an additional payment — the equivalent of 44 days of pay — from the Blackjewel estate for penalties for violating a federal law known as the WARN Act.

Erica Peterson

coalition of progressive policy and environmental groups has released a “blueprint” that provides a framework for how Ohio Valley communities could reap the benefits of federal action to address climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The plan, titled “Reimagine Appalachia” envisions a future economy for the traditionally extraction-based economies of Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania that builds on the region’s other natural resources, creates well-paying jobs and positions the Ohio Valley at the forefront of addressing climate change.

Sydney Boles / Ohio Valley ReSource

On March 17, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam banned gatherings of 10 or more people to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Mehyah Davis, 23, was in his second week of a new job waiting tables at the cryptid-inspired Wood Booger Grill in Norton, Va.

“That week, [my boss] cut the schedule,” Davis recounted. “Everybody only had one shift.”

A week later, the governor banned dine-in service at all restaurants. Davis was out of a job. “I’m about to apply for unemployment as we speak,” Davis said.

The economic toll of coronavirus-related shutdowns has reached even the most rural communities as governments move to stave off an even more dire public health crisis. In Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia combined, more than 750,000 people filed unemployment insurance claims over a two-week period, and economists agree that America has entered a recession.


Sydney Boles / Ohio Valley ReSource

In a conference hall in Pikeville, Kentucky, this September, Gov. Matt Bevin led an eager audience in a countdown. When the audience reached “One!,” a map on the screen behind the governor lit up with the promise of a high-tech future.

After years of delay and scandal, major portions of the commonwealth’s “middle mile” of high-speed internet were complete.

“There are so many negative haters, so many people who pooh-pooh things and say this can’t happen, it’s not possible,” Bevin told the crowd. “But I’ll tell you what. We’ve never quit.”


AMA

Dr. Patrice Harris took the oath in June to become the first African-American woman to serve as president of the powerful American Medical Association, the largest professional association for physicians in the United States.

Harris also brings another unique perspective to the task as someone who grew up in rural Appalachia.

"I was born and raised in Bluefield, West Virginia, in the heart of coal country," Harris said. "My father worked on the railroad. My mother taught school. So I have a unique and personal connection and understanding of the region."


Byron Jorjorian/The Nature Conservancy

A conservation group chose Earth Day, April 22, to announce the purchase of a massive property in Appalachian forest to protect habitat and help wildlife adapt to the challenges of climate change.

The property covers 100,000 acres of forest straddling the Kentucky-Tennessee border. The Nature Conservancy, the nonprofit that made the purchase, said it plans to restore forest health, lease land for sustainable forestry, and provide opportunities for locals to enjoy the wilderness.

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.


Gabe Bullard

There’s no dearth of research on health disparities in Appalachia. But a newly-formed group of researchers at Virginia Tech says there is a dearth of scientific research into why these disparities exist, and how environmental factors could be contributing.

In a literature review published online last month in the journal “Reviews on Environmental Health,” the Virginia Tech researchers call for more community dialogue on the issue, and more focused epidemiological research on environmental health effects in Appalachia.

Roxy Todd

“I’d love to be able to stay here,” said 32-year-old West Virginian Mark Combs. “The people are great. But it’s just dying. If you want to succeed you’ve gotta leave.”

Mark is an actor and an Iraqi war veteran. He thinks there has to be a better life, or at least better economic opportunities, elsewhere. He decided to head west for Los Angeles.

“I think the job market is so much larger out there than what it is here that jobs are going to be really easy to come by,” he said before he set out.