Mountain News & World Report: Ideas from Wales to Deal with Declining Coal Jobs; A Report from Boone County, WV

an old outcropping of coal in Wales // photo by Tom Hansell of the After Coal project; more at http://aftercoal.com

In this edition of WMMT’s Mountain News & World Report, we bring you two stories focused on the economic crisis our region is facing as the coal industry continues to decline.

We begin with a story from a local community hit hard by recent coal layoffs–Boone County, West Virginia.  Over the past two years, some 1,800 coal miners have lost their jobs there, which is 1/5 of the county’s workforce.  And after Alpha Natural Resources issued new layoff warnings for Boone County this summer, that number could soon grow.  To see how all this is affecting the folks that live there, Catherine Moore, of West Virginia Public Broadcasting and the What’s Next WV project, visited Boone County earlier this summer.

And just as coal from Boone County and all of central Appalachia powered America’s industrial growth throughout the 20th century, coal from Wales played a similarly pivotal role in the United Kingdom. But coal mining in Wales virtually ended in the 1980’s. In our second story, we hear from a project from Appalachian State University called After Coal: Welsh and Appalachian Mining Communities, which is searching for ideas for the Appalachian economy by looking at how Wales dealt with the loss of its coal jobs. WMMT’s Aaron Pardieu has this report on how community foundations and other forms of investment could help.

Mountain News & World Report is a bi-weekly production of WMMT. To hear previous episodes, check out our streaming archives.

Coal Report for August 28, 2014

"Blair Mountain Fighting" by Charleston Gazette - http://www.wvculture.org/HiStory/labor/mwnews.html (originally published in the Charleston Gazette, 10 September 1921. Via Wikipedia.)

Another coal miner was recently killed on the job, this time close to home, in southwest Virginia.  SNL Energy reports that Michael Justice, who was 41 years old, was killed at CONSOL Energy’s Buchanan Mine in Buchanan County, Virginia.  He was a maintenance supervisor underground.  Initial reports suggested that he was electrocuted, and CONSOL said he had been repairing a roof bolting machine just before the accident.  The Buchanan Mine produces more coal than any other mine in central Appalachia, but this is the fourth fatality at the mine since 2004.  Overall, this marks the ninth coal fatality in the US this year and the second in Virginia.

Back in April, after several rounds of closures and layoffs, James River Coal declared bankruptcy. James River was heavily invested in central Appalachian coal, and fell victim to an issue faced by many local operators—because it’s so much more expensive to mine, central Appalachian coal has struggled.  Since declaring bankruptcy, the company has been looking to sell off assets, and the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports this week that a judge has approved the sale of several James River complexes. Blackhawk Mining, which is based in Lexington, will buy the Hampden Complex in West Virginia, the Continue reading Coal Report for August 28, 2014

Mountain Talk: Appalachian Transition Fellows

The full cohort of Appalachian Transition Fellows // you can find more info about the program at http://www.appfellows.org

In this edition of WMMT’s Mountain Talk, we discuss the Appalachian Transition Fellowship Progam, a new initiative aimed at encouraging a new generation of Appalachian leaders while also working to diversify the regional economy.  The first class of Fellows, fourteen young people from throughout the region, recently started working with nonprofits, local governments, and businesses across six Appalachian states on projects working to create jobs and sustainable livelihoods.  In this program, host Mimi Pickering speaks with Fellows Joshua Outsey, Mae Humiston, and Eric Dixon about their work and experiences in the region so far.  We also hear from Kierra Sims of the Highlander Center, which is coordinating the program and mentoring the Fellows.

For more on the program and this year’s Appalachian Transition Fellows, check out their website: www.appfellows.org.  To hear previous episodes of Mountain Talk, WMMT’s regular community conversation, head to our streaming archives.

Coal Report for August 6, 2014

the Twilight Surface Mine surrounding the Jarrell Family Cemetery. The Twilight Mine is one of many affected by recent layoff notices in West Virginia. // Photo from Vivian Stockman; www.ohvec.org, and found via http://wvrecord.com/news/262994-family-says-mountaintop-removal-mine-damaging-cemetery. Flyover courtesy of SouthWings.org

More coal mine layoffs are likely to hit central Appalachia, this time in West Virginia.  The Charleston Gazette reports that Alpha Natural Resources has notified over 1,100 West Virginia coal miners that they could soon be laid off.  The workers affected come from 11 different mines across six counties, including the Twilight and Black Castle surface mines in Boone County, the Republic Surface mine in Raleigh County, the North Surface Mine in Mingo and Logan Counties, and the Superior, Reylas, Freeze Fork, and Trace Fork Surface mines in Logan County.  Alpha blamed the potential layoffs on weak coal markets in the US and overseas, and pollution regulations at coal-fired utilities.  But Alpha also blamed just how expensive coal from this region is to mine, saying “Central Appalachia mines haven’t been able to keep up with the fast pace at which coal demand has eroded and prices have fallen.”  The company warned that further layoffs in our region could be coming over the next year.

Despite the expensive cost of local coal, Eastern Kentucky coal production increased by 15% in the second quarter of 2015, the Mountain Eagle reports (the story was originally reported by the Lexington Herald-Leader here).  Production was up in 17 of southeast Kentucky’s 18 coal counties.  The Kentucky Coal Association said a large reason for this was the unusually cold Continue reading Coal Report for August 6, 2014

Mountain News & World Report: Looking to Wales as Coal Declines; The Letcher County Farmers’ Market; Entrepreneurship Development in Southeast Ky.

photo from the Letcher County Farmers' Market, the first farmers' market in the country designated as a Summer Feeding site by the USDA

In this edition of our program, we hear about a variety of ideas and programs all dedicated to the idea of strengthening and diversifying central Appalachia’s economy.  WMMT’s Mimi Pickering reports on a new entrepreneurship assistance program in Southeast Kentucky.  We also hear a story from WMMT’s Elizabeth Sanders on the Letcher County Farmers’ Market, which recently became the first farmers’ market in the country to be designated as a Summer Feeding Site by the US Dept. of Agriculture, meaning that children under the age of 18 can receive free, healthy meals there every week over the summer break.

But we begin our program with a piece that looks for ideas to help the economy here in the mountains by heading across the ocean–to Wales.    After Coal: Welsh and Appalachian Mining Communities is a project of Appalachian State University that is examining the current economic situation in central Appalachia in the context of Wales, an area that also had to deal with the sudden loss of coal jobs.  In this report, which is all the more relevant given the news of 1,100 coal layoffs in West Virginia last week, WMMT’s Melanie Harsha reports on a windfarm being developed in former coal communities in Wales.

Mountain News & World Report is a bi-weekly production of WMMT. To hear previous episodes, check out our streaming archives.

Coal Report for July 23, 2014

former West Virginia coal miner Robert Bailey testifies at a Congressional hearing on benefits for black lung disease on July 22, 2014 // photo from the C-SPAN coverage of the event, which can be viewed at: http://www.c-span.org/video/?320593-1/hearing-black-lung-medical-claims

More coal mine layoffs have hit central Appalachia, as the bottom continues to fall out on the market for metallurgical coal, which is used to make steel.  In the latest news, Arch Coal has announced that it will idle the Cumberland River complex in Wise County, Virginia and Letcher County, Ky., The Mountain Eagle reports.  This will close two underground mines, including the Trace Fork mine near Eolia, and in all, 213 full-time employees will lose their jobs.  This is part of an industry-wide trend—as SNL Energy reports, benchmark prices for met coal have reached a seven-year low, and there is a massive global oversupply.  So met coal mines are closing.  Just in the past month, it has come out that Cliffs Natural Resources is idling the Pinnacle Mine in West Virginia, and that Alpha Natural Resources will permanently close the Cherokee mine in Southwest Virginia.  Patriot Coal also recently cut staff at two other met coal operations in West Virginia.

SNL also reports that this latest closure will affect two counties that have already been hit hard.  Not counting the new layoffs, since the end of 2011, Wise County, Va. has lost 801 coal jobs, leaving just over 1000 in the county.  Letcher County, Ky. has also gone from 1,014 coal jobs in 2011 to just 445.  Part of the reason lies in how expensive local coal is comparatively.  Bloomberg reports that while it takes 43 employee hours in Kentucky to fill one rail car of coal, in Wyoming, it just takes 4 employee Continue reading Coal Report for July 23, 2014

Remembering Willard Hall

(l-r) "Big" Willard Hall, Angie Hall, & "Little" Willard Hall at a Bluegrass Express Live! concert

WMMT is grieving with the loss of a dear friend.  “Big” Willard Hall was a legendary figure on the radio, spending over 25 years as the volunteer host of the Scuttlehole Gap Get-Together bluegrass program on WMMT.  Every week, across Appalachia and around the world (since the internet stream began), Willard’s warm personality shone bright and clear over the radio through his voice–you could listen to Willard for half an hour on a Tuesday morning and feel like you’d known him your whole life.

Willard also spent countless hours going above-and-beyond for WMMT, including his work as the longtime host and emcee of the Bluegrass Express Live! on-air bluegrass concert programs.  His passion for bluegrass music was second-to-none, and he was a fixture in the mountain bluegrass scene.

But more than anything he did for WMMT, Willard was–and will always be–a part of this radio station.  He’s sewn into the fabric of this place.  And he was a treasured friend to all of us.  No matter who you were, whether Willard even knew you or not, you’d get a wave and a smile.  It’s almost impossible to imagine this station without him, and we miss him dearly.  Please keep the whole Hall family in your hearts and prayers.

Coal Report for July 16, 2014

the scene of a fatal accident--found to be the company's fault--that took the life of miner Richard Coots in Letcher County, Ky. in 2011. Richard's brother Jeromy was fired earlier this year one day after speaking out about safety issues at a Harlan Co. mine // photo from MSHA via http://www.msha.gov/FATALS/2011/FAB11c16.asp

A coal miner in Harlan County was fired this Spring, just one day after he spoke out about unsafe working conditions, the Huffington Post reports. The story starts back in October of 2011, when coal miner Richard Coots, who was just 23, was killed at a Letcher County mine in a machinery accident that was found to be caused by coal company negligence. Richard’s little brother Jeromy Coots was with him in the mine when he was killed. Jeromy is now 22, and earlier this year, he was working at Arch Coal’s Clover Fork No. 1 mine in Harlan County as a roof bolter. But conditions at that mine were also found to be unsafe. Jeromy was asked to work without an Automated Temporary Roof Support System, or ATRS, which helps protect roof bolters in case of rock falls. Working without one is illegal and dangerous. Jeromy’s attorney, Tony Oppegard, said “For a company to require miners to bolt without the ATRS is really playing Russian Roulette with that miner’s life.” And Jeromy was hit by falling rocks several times while working. Eventually, he spoke up, telling his foreman that after what happened to his brother, he had to say something about the unsafe conditions. He was reportedly told the company didn’t want to use the ATRS safety system because it took too much time. And the next day, Jeromy was fired. Arch Coal, the company that fired him, is the second-largest coal producer in America.

Many politicians have accused the EPA of overreach when it comes to coal regulation. But according to the Charleston Gazette, a federal appeals court has ruled that the EPA was actually right when it sought to reduce pollution in streams near Continue reading Coal Report for July 16, 2014