MN&WR: Breath is Free

  • Benny Becker of WMMT and the Ohio Valley ReSource highlights the struggle and immense strength of the Branham family of Pike County, Kentucky whose father at the age of 38 was diagnosed with the most severe form of black lung disease and rendered unable to work.
  • Howard Berkes of NPR in collaboration with Benny Becker and the Ohio Valley ReSource reports on the data revealing an alarming increase of the form of black lung Mackie Branham Jr. is experiencing across all of Central Appalachia.
  • WMMT’s Kelli Haywood shares the progress of The City Built on Coal Project funded in Jenkins, Kentucky by the National Endowment for the Arts – Our Town Program, and the unveiling of a new mural at one entrance to Jenkins.

 

The Branham Family - Mackie Jr., Amber, and 4 children Photo by Benny Becker

The Branham Family – Mackie Jr., Amber, and 4 children
Photo by Benny Becker

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in The Great Gatsby,  “A new world, material without being real, where poor ghosts, breathing dreams like air, drifted fortuitously about…like that ashen, fantastic figure gliding toward him through the amorphous trees.”

Sometimes as we are considering what to do to bring new life to our old coal towns that are fighting to eek out an existence, it can feel like we are “breathing dreams like air”.  In this episode of Mountain News & World Report, we’re exploring the fact that nothing – not even breath – is free. Our dreams will be achieved only through the hardest of work, and as many coal miners across the century have found, even the right to breath freely isn’t always a guarantee.

It seems like a new world, that in all its material and tangible things, seems only a ghost of the one some of us once knew here. Our first piece was produced by Benny Becker, the WMMT and Ohio Valley ReSource reporter in Whitesburg, Kentucky.  Benny and the ReSource have been working with NPR to investigate Black Lung in the central Appalachian coalfields.  New data shows there’s been a dramatic increase in the number of coal miners diagnosed with the worst form of black lung. The story begins in Pike County, Kentucky, where Dr. James Brandon Crum will introduce us to Mackie Branham Jr. and his family pictured above.

Over the past several months, clinics across Appalachia have been telling reporter Howard Berkes and NPR the same thing, again and again: something is terribly wrong.  There are more and more cases of the worst stage of the deadly coal miners’ disease, Black Lung.  A hundred cases were reported across the country in the last five years, and federal researchers confirmed today a recent sharp spike in one clinic in Kentucky.  But, the clinics contacted by NPR report a thousand cases across four states. 

Finally, WMMT’s Kelli Haywood brings us the story of The City Built on Coal Project.  Community members in the city of Jenkins partnered with local artists,  Appalshop, and city government in an effort to creatively keep the dignity of the place they call home despite hard economic times.  They applied and secured the funding of a National Endowment for the Arts – Our Town Program Grant to complete a three part public art project to be enjoyed by locals and tourists alike.  Jess Solomon, a Cultural Agent, describes creative place-keeping like this, “…the active care and maintenance of a place and its social fabric by the people who live and work there. It is not just preserving buildings but keeping the cultural memories associated with a locale alive, while supporting the ability of local people to maintain their way of life as they choose.”  

See the Jenkins Mural Project unveiling at our partner project’s website – Making Connections News.

 

Mountain News & World Report is a bi-weekly production of WMMT, and new episodes air every other Thursday at 6pm on WMMT, with a repeat broadcast the following Sunday morning at 10:30.  To listen to previous episodes, check out our streaming archives.

Coal Report for December 14, 2016

 

Ruby Couch of Knott Co. Kentucky - Coal Miner 35 years Photo by Staci Davidson (Ruby's Daughter)

Ruby Couch of Knott Co. Kentucky – Coal Miner 35 years
Photo by Staci Davidson (Ruby’s Daughter)

President Obama signed the stop-gap spending bill early Saturday morning which was passed by the Senate with one hour to spare on Friday.  Democrats from the coal states had threatened government shutdown if the bill did not include measures to ensure retired coal miners would keep the full benefit package promised them in 1946 by the Truman administration which provides lifetime healthcare and pension benefits for union miners and their families.  The original agreement was that coal companies would pay royalties into a benefit fund for union miners as well as deducting a portion from the miners’ paychecks to be placed into the fund.   Continue reading Coal Report for December 14, 2016

Mtn. Talk Monday: Anthony Flaccavento and Bottom Up Economics

For this episode of Mountain Talk Monday, WMMT brings you Anthony Flaccavento’s recent book talk held at the University of Virginia at Wise.  His book Building a Healthy Economy from the Bottom Up: Harnessing Real-World Experience for Transformative Change was published this year by the University of Kentucky Press and features six components to building a sustainable economy in regions going through the worst economic hardship.  Flaccavento highlights those six components in his talk and gives real world examples of their effectiveness in communities across the country.  

Read more about Anthony Flaccavento – here.  Purchase his book.  And visit the Bottom Up Economy website to learn more and view the Take 5 with Tony videos where Flaccavento shares more about this and related topics.

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Mountain Talk is WMMT’s twice-weekly community space for conversation, airing each Monday & Wednesday from 6-7 p.m.  Mountain Talk programs focus on a variety of topics related to life in the mountains, including: food, community issues, art, health, and more.  Click here to hear past programs.

Coal Report for December 7, 2016

 

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Retired Miner’s Health Benefits Update

Congressional leaders say legislation to support health care benefits for retired miners could be attached to a must-pass spending bill this week. Becca Schimmel reports.

The United Mine Workers of America has accused Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of blocking action on the Miner’s Protection Act, a bill to fund pensions and health benefits.

McConnell: “I haven’t been preventing one at any point. The issue is miner’s health care and I’ve advocated that the House add miners health care to the CR the continuing resolution that we’ll be voting on next week.”  

McConnell indicated the miner’s health care will be attached to the spending bill congress must pass to avoid a government shutdown. However, it’s unclear if that will include money for miner’s pension benefits. A group of senators including West Virginia democratic senator Joe Manchin have pledged to block senate proceedings until action is taken on the miner’s bill.

Manchin: “If we don’t stand for the people that made this country as great as it is then we stand for nothing.”

 If congress doesn’t act during this lame duck session more than sixteen thousand retired miners could lose their benefits by the end of the year. For the Ohio Valley ReSource, I’m Becca Schimmel in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Grassroots Petition to McConnell: Get Moving on RECLAIM Act

Greg Stotelmyer

LONDON, Ky. – A grassroots message is being sent to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: it’s time for swift action to pass legislation that would help both the economy and environment in distressed coal communities. Three organizers, including Katie Dollarhide of Letcher County, delivered a petition with nearly 10,000 signatures Monday to McConnell’s district office in London. 

Dollarhide blames McConnell for stalling action on the RECLAIM Act, which would move $1 billion over five years from the Abandoned Mine Lands Fund into areas hit hard by the decline of the coal industry.

“He’s the very person who could pick this up and lead it like a champion,” she said. “I’ve been embarrassed, I’ve been let down, I’ve been mad. Step up is what we’re saying to Mitch McConnell.”

Dollarhide said she is a registered Republican and has voted for McConnell in the past. Another Kentucky Republican, Representative Hal Rogers introduced the RECLAIM ACT in the House ten months ago. It proposes creating economic opportunities by reclaiming abandoned mine sites.

A recent poll showed there is overwhelming public support for tapping into the federal fund to spur economic development in Appalachia, including Kentucky, where more than 11,000 coal-mining jobs have been lost since 2009. With Congress about to go on its long holiday recess, Dollarhide said the petition speaks to the coal region’s urgent needs.

“It says to make this happen immediately,” she added. “This is our chance. If they wait until next session or another time, it’s weakening us more and it’s making us more of a helpless community.”

Another petition has also been delivered to McConnell, urging him to allow the Miners’ Protection Act to get to the Senate floor. That legislation would protect healthcare and pension benefits for tens of thousands of former coal miners and their families.

Alpha Natural Resources and West Virginia Settlement

West Virginia regulators have settled a lawsuit brought against Alpha Natural Resources over concerns about the coal producer’s reclamation obligations as it emerges from bankruptcy. Glynis Board reports.

BOARD: West Virginia regulators have settled a lawsuit brought against Alpha Natural Resources over concerns about the coal producer’s reclamation obligations as it emerges from bankruptcy. Glynis Board reports.

Alpha is one of the biggest coal companies in the country. A Virginia court approved its bankruptcy plan in July. But in November, Alpha revealed an additional 100 million-dollars in unaccounted-for expenses.

West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection worried that the burden could leave the company unable to pay for reclamation of damaged mine lands. So the state agency filed a lawsuit against Alpha that sought to hold executives accountable should Alpha fail again after bankruptcy.

Under the settlement announced this week, the DEP has agreed to dismiss the complaint. In exchange, Alpha agreed to post its Boone County headquarters as collateral, appraised at $6.3 million, and and post an additional $8M in limited guarantees to cover the company’s obligations.

For the Ohio Valley ReSource, I’m Glynis Board in Wheeling, West Virginia.

The Coal Report is a weekly production of WMMT. It is assembled from newspapers and press services and reports coal-related material as these sources give it. It does not represent the opinion of WMMT on the matters discussed. Our aim is to reflect both local developments regarding coal and the big picture we’re a part of. For feedback, comments, or questions, email wmmtfm@appalshop.org.

Mtn. Talk Monday: Standing Rock

If you’re on social media like us, you’ve likely heard about Standing Rock — the Dakota Access Pipeline and the water protectors who are working to stop it. We set out to educate ourselves on what’s going on and how we’re connected here in the mountains.  For this edition of Mountain Talk Monday, we speak with Crystal Willcuts Cole, a Lakota woman living in Big Stone Gap, VA, with connections to Standing Rock; DL Hamilton and Karan Ireland, from Charleston, WV, both of whom recently returned from Standing Rock; and Christopher Boulay, a military veteran from Evarts, KY, who is in voluntary deployment to Standing Rock with thousands of other veterans. We also bring you a song from the camp and the latest on yesterday’s Army Corps of Engineers announcement and the response from Energy Transfer Partners (who own the pipeline).

Join your hosts, WMMT Community Correspondents Tanya Turner, Jonathan Hootman, and Elizabeth Sanders for Mountain Talk Monday: Standing Rock.

Indigenous Environmental Network

Indigenous Environmental Network

Mountain Talk is WMMT’s twice-weekly community space for conversation, airing each Monday & Wednesday from 6-7 p.m.  Mountain Talk programs focus on a variety of topics related to life in the mountains, including: food, community issues, art, health, and more.  Click here to hear past programs.

CAW: Rural Road Erosion in Coalfields Appalachia #1

WMMT is excited to share our newest Special Feature which will be heard in Mountain News & World Report, Mountain Talk, Morning Dispatch and more…  Central Appalachia Wonders (CAW): You ask the questions that have been on your mind about the Central Appalachian region – WMMT listening area, and together we can find the answers.  If your question is chosen for a segment, you can be involved in reporting as much or as little as you’d like, and we’ll broadcast the answer on-air.  Those listeners who have a question chosen will also receive a WMMT t-shirt for their contribution.

For our first segment, CAW received a question from John Skaggs:

What is driving the problem with rural road erosion we are seeing in East Kentucky? Construction technique, maintenance schedule, weather?

WMMT’s Kelli Haywood sat down with Jason Forson, Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Southeast Kentucky Community & Technical College, and Mike Hansel, Environmental Manager with a Regional Energy Company, to dive in to the possible answers to John’s question.

SKCTC Assistant Professor Jason Forson and his BBQ Science Project

SKCTC Assistant Professor Jason Forson and his BBQ Science Project

Mike Hansel Environmental Manager taking soil samples at the site of a former gas station on Marion Branch in Kentucky

Mike Hansel Environmental Manager taking soil samples at the site of a former gas station on Marion Branch in Kentucky