Mountain News & World Report: Revisiting “Chemical Valley” on the 30th Anniversary of Bhopal; The State of Ky. Workers in 2014; Reinvesting in Appalachia

a still from the 1991 Appalshop film “Chemical Valley,” which examined the Bhopal disaster in context of another chemical plant owned by the same company–Union Carbide–in Institute, W.V.

In this edition of WMMT’s Mountain News & World Report, we speak with Jason Bailey of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy about the current state of employment in Kentucky.  We also hear a commentary from attorney & Letcher County, Ky. native Evan Smith, on the need, potential, and possibilities for reinvesting in Appalachia.

But we start our program with a selection from the WMMT/Appalshop archives.  Last week marked the 30th anniversary of the worst industrial accident in our planet’s history: when a toxic gas known as MIC leaked from a Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India on Dec. 3rd, 1984.  At least 3,500 people were killed, and over 50,000 were permanently disabled.  The tragedy in Bhopal brought international attention to the predominantly African American community of Institute, West Virginia, site of the only Union Carbide plant in the United States that manufactured MIC.

To remember the disaster, and commemorate its victims, we bring you a radio adaptation of the 1991 Appalshop film Chemical Valley, which covers events in the Kanawha valley in the wake of Union Carbide’s Bhopal disaster, and a series of frightening chemical leaks in West Virginia.  Filmmaker Mimi Pickering brings us this report.  (To stream the film, in full, click here.)

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

Performing at BGX Live THIS WEEK: The Grascals!

WMMT is delighted to welcome the highly-renowned, high-energy bluegrass group The Grascals to the Appalshop stage THIS THURSDAY at 7:30 p.m. for the latest edition of the program that brought live bluegrass back to the radio in the mountains–Bluegrass Express Live!  This is your chance to see a veritable bluegrass supergroup up close and in person, here in the mountains, and in an intimate, 150-seat theater.

Salyersville, Ky.’s own Turning Ground will also be performing, and we’re thrilled to have them as well!

Doors open at 7:00.  To  make your reservation, or for more information, call us in the WMMT office at 606-633-1208, or email us at [email protected]

If you absolutely can’t make the show, you can always tune it in live on the radio on 88.7–but we hope to seeya here on Thursday!

Coal Report for December 3, 2014

the interior of the Kentucky Darby Mine in Harlan County, Ky., the site of a fatal explosion in 2006. the mine's two owners didn't pay safety fines issued after the accident, and they are part of a group that owes, collectively, $2.9 million in unpaid mine safety fines // photo from MSHA

According to a new investigation, over the past twenty years, coal operators across the country have racked up some $70 million dollars in unpaid fines for health and safety violations.  National Public Radio reports that, according to their findings, about 7% of mines that are operating have been doing so with fines left unpaid.  These delinquent mines have an injury rate that is 50% higher than normal, and in all, they accounted for some 40,000 significant and substantial violations and 4,000 reported injuries over the past twenty years, including accidents that killed 25 miners and permanently disabled 58 others.

Of the ten coal operators nationwide with the most unpaid fines, the Lexington Herald-Leader reports that six of them come from eastern Kentucky.  The biggest offender was the D&C mining company in Harlan County, Ky., which by itself owed some $4.7 million in fines as of the end of September.  Their fines largely stemmed from a 2009 fatal accident at the D&C mine, and the company in all produced some $50 million worth of coal while it left its fines unpaid.  A group that includes two former owners of the Kentucky Darby mine, where five miners were killed in a methane explosion in 2006, owed the second-highest Continue reading Coal Report for December 3, 2014

Mountain News & World Report: Don Blankenship & the 1984-85 UMWA Strike at Massey; Gerry Roll on Reinvestment in Appalachia; Appalachian Love Stories, ep. 1

stills from the 1986 Appalshop film "Mine War on Blackberry Creek," directed by Anne Lewis. At left, Don Blankenship; at right, armed guards (and what appears to be an attack dog) hired by Massey during the 1984-85 UMWA strike

In this edition of WMMT’s Mountain News & World Report, we hear a commentary from our Making Connections project, in which Gerry Roll of the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky expresses concern about the lack of reinvestment in the region in response to the declining coal industry.  Also in this show, we hear a feature from a new radio project called Appalachian Love Stories, and we hear a report on the LIHEAP home heating assistance program.

But we begin the program by digging into the Appalshop archives.  On November 13th, Don Blankenship, the former CEO of Massey Energy, was indicted for what federal investigators say was his role in a conspiracy to disregard mine health and safety violations at the Upper Big Branch mine, where 29 West Virginia coal miners were killed at once in an explosion in 2010.  In the wake of this news, WMMT looks back to 1984, when a strike by the United Mine Workers of America against Massey first put Blankenship’s name in the national news, and helped fuel his rise up the chain of company command.  The 1986 Appalshop film Mine War on Blackberry Creek, directed by Anne Lewis, profiled this strike, and using audio from the film, WMMT’s Parker Hobson has this story.

You also can stream the film Mine War on Blackberry Creek, in full (and for free!) at Appalshop’s website by clicking here.

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

Mountain News Report: Don Blankenship & the 1984-85 UMWA strike at Massey

stills from the 1986 Appalshop film "Mine War on Blackberry Creek," directed by Anne Lewis. At left, Don Blankenship; at right, armed guards (and what appears to be an attack dog) hired by Massey during the 1984-85 UMWA strike

On November 13th, 2014, Don Blankenship, the former CEO of Massey Energy, was indicted for what federal investigators say was his role in a conspiracy to disregard mine health and safety violations at the Upper Big Branch mine, where 29 West Virginia coal miners were killed at once in an explosion in 2010.  In the wake of Blankenship’s indictment, WMMT looks back to 1984, when a strike by the United Mine Workers of America against Massey first put Blankenship’s name in the national news, and helped fuel his rise up the chain of company command.  The 1986 Appalshop film Mine War on Blackberry Creek, directed by Anne Lewis, profiled this strike, and using audio from the film, WMMT’s Parker Hobson has this story.

To watch the film, in full & for free, at Appalshop’s website, click here.

This story originally aired in the Nov. 20, 2014 version of Mountain News & World Report, a bi-weekly public affairs show on life & culture in the region produced here at WMMT.  To hear the full episode, click here.

Coal Report for November 21, 2014

graphic from Appalachian Voices, one of the citizen groups preparing to file suit against Frasure Creek for violations of the Clean Water Act // found via http://appvoices.org/2014/11/17/frasure-creek-same-tricks/

Alpha Natural Resources has announced even more layoffs in Central Appalachia this month.   Most recently, the West Virginia State Journal reports that Alpha will be idling the Taylor Fork mine in Pike County, Kentucky, and reducing production at two mines in West Virgina: at the Ruby Energy mine in Mingo County and at the Rockspring Development mine in Wayne County.  All of these mines produce thermal coal.  In total, 60 people will be laid off in the short-term, and another 26 people will be retained temporarily to shut down operations at the Taylor Fork mine in Pike County.  Alpha said these layoffs occurred because of “an oversupply of thermal coal in the marketplace.”

Alpha also announced this month that it will permanently idle the Cucumber metallurgical mine in McDowell County, W.Va.  According to the Bluefield Daily TelegraphAlpha blamed this on the weak market for metallurgical coal, which is used to make steel—global met coal prices are the lowest they have been in seven years, and producers the world over are suffering Continue reading Coal Report for November 21, 2014

Mountain News & World Report: Entrepreneurship & Arts-based Economic Development in Central Appalachia

Shannon Mullins, winner of an entrepreneurship competition at the Univ. of Pikeville earlier this year

In this edition of WMMT’s Mountain News & World Report, we hear about new approaches to economic development here in central Appalachia.  We begin with a conversation with Justin Prater of the Kentucky Innovation Network.  Justin sat down with WMMT’s Mimi Pickering to discuss the University of Pikeville’s second annual start-up challenge, which will take place this winter and is open to any and all residents of southeast Kentucky who are interested in starting or growing their own business.  The deadline to submit a business plan is November 29, and there will be $5,000 in cash rewards handed out.  For more on guidelines, email [email protected].

For another approach to economic development in the mountains, we then head to southwest Virginia, home of The Crooked Road, Virginia’s heritage music trail.  In recent years, through careful planning, this project has helped Appalachian traditional music become an economic asset for the region from which it comes. From the WMMT archives, WMMT’s Rich Kirby has this report, which originally aired in late 2012.

Finally, we also hear two shorts from the Public News Service–in one story, we hear about how despite a great deal of heated rhetoric on the issue, West Virginia might be able to meet its energy reduction goals under the EPA’s proposed new carbon rules mostly through increased energy efficiency; and in the other, we hear that healthcare reform has thus far not been the financial disaster that many had predicted.

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

Coal Report for November 13, 2014

former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship, right, on vacation in Monaco with former West Virginia Supreme Court Justice "Spike" Maynard // photo from the Associated Press, found via http://www.herald-dispatch.com/elections/x1619683909

Don Blankenship has been indicted.  According to a release from the US Attorney’s Office (and read more from the Charleston Gazette here, here, & here), the former CEO of Massey Energy was charged four times—including two counts of conspiracy to violate mine safety and health standards and hide those violations, one count of lying to the Securities and Exchange Commission, and another of securities fraud.  Massey owned the Upper Big Branch Mine, where 29 coal miners were killed at once on April 5, 2010 in Raleigh County,WV, in a massive methane explosion.  The charges allege that between January 1, 2008 and April 9, 2010, Blankenship, in his position as Massey CEO, knowingly conspired to violate federal mine health and safety standards at Upper Big Branch, and also took part in a conspiracy to give workers at the mine advance notice of when inspectors were coming so that they could hide safety violations.  Prosecutors also allege that Blankenship lied to the Securities and Exchange Commission after the explosion about Massey’s health and safety standards to buoy the value of Massey stock.

These are landmark charges—as the Charleston Gazette has reported, it is rare for the CEOs themselves of major coal companies to be indicted.  Back in 2011, the paper quoted mine safety advocate Davitt McAteer of saying that normally, “Enforcement doesn’t reach into the boardroom.”  Blankenship has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing at Upper Big Branch, even though government and independent investigations all blamed Massey for the explosion, specifically the violation of Continue reading Coal Report for November 13, 2014