Mountain Talk: Looking Back to the ‘War on Poverty’

a historic news clipping featuring Hollis West, a veteran of the ‘War on Poverty’ in southeast Ky. in the 1960’s

In this special edition of WMMT’s Mountain Talk, we bring you an hour-long program looking back on the “War on Poverty” of the 1960’s, and specifically, how it played out here in Appalachia.  When talked about, the War on Poverty is often written off as a failure.  But here especially as the SOAR initiative tries once again to tackle some of the serious structural economic problems facing eastern Kentucky, it’s worth looking back to the War on Poverty to ask–what really happened?  Was it really a complete failure?  What went wrong, what went right, and what can we learn from it?

In this program, we hear extended interviews with two veterans of the War on Poverty who were on the front lines in Eastern Kentucky: Hollis West and Robert Shaffer.  WMMT’s Sylvia Ryerson & Mimi Pickering sat down with them to reflect back on their time in the mountains and where they think conditions in the region stand today.

We also hear a story from the WMMT archives about how the turbulence in the Appalachian coal industry in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s–especially the issue of mechanization, which was eliminating thousands of jobs–helped lead, in part, to the War on Poverty.  This story was originally produced in 1993, by WMMT’s Maxine Kenny.

Also interspersed throughout the program are historic clips and recordings from the era, about the region and the War on Poverty itself.

Mountain Talk is WMMT’s twice-weekly community space for conversation, airing each Monday & Wednesay from 6-7 p.m.  Mountain Talk programs focus on a variety of topics related to life in the mountains: food; community issuesart; health; and more (click any of those links to hear streaming audio of past programs archived by topic).

Coal Report for July 24, 2015


coal operations owned by Alpha Natural Resources in southwest Va. Alpha is the largest coal operator in central Appalachia, and also has operations throughout Ky. & W.Va. But Alpha was de-listed from the New York Stock Exchange last week & may soon declare bankruptcy // image via

Following the bankruptcies of Walter Energy & Patriot Coal, the next big coal company to go under could be Alpha Natural Resources. The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports that Alpha is in serious financial trouble and may declare bankruptcy as soon as early August. Alpha is one of the largest coal companies in the country, and the largest here in central Appalachia. But its thermal coal mines have suffered from low natural gas prices, and its Appalachian mines especially have been hurt by the high cost of mining in our region. Alpha’s metallurgical mines have also been battered by record low prices for met coal, which have affected producers around the world. Alpha also bought Masssey Energy for $7 billion in 2011, right before the coal market fell apart. The upshot of all this is that back in 2008, Alpha stock was worth $104 per share. On July 16, it was down to just 24 cents per share, an amount so low, the New York Stock Exchange de-listed Alpha.

Arch Coal is in trouble too, according to the website It too has reportedly been in danger of being de-listed from the stock exchange, but Arch was able to decrease the number of its shares on the market, which caused the Continue reading Coal Report for July 24, 2015

Mountain Health Monthly, Program 4: Men’s Health


photo credit: Rhoda Baer/ The National Cancer Institute

In the latest edition of WMMT’s Mountain Health Monthly, guest host Dr. Julie Marfell, Dean of Nursing at Frontier Nursing University, leads a discussion on men’s health. She’s joined on the phone by Dr. Lisa Chappell, a Family Nurse Practitioner who’s also at Frontier Nursing, and together, the two discuss a range of health risk factors associated with men and several different kinds of preventative action that men can take.

Mountain Health Monthly airs on the 4th Monday of every month at 6 p.m. on WMMT. Each show, host Carrie Lee-Hall (a licensed nurse practicioner) welcomes local guests of all kinds to discuss health issues important to mountain communities. To hear past shows, check out our streaming archives.

Mountain News & World Report: Appalachian Youth Speak on Life in the Coalfields; Local Young People on Finding Healthy Food; Stories from Dolly Parton


Here in this moment of deep, fundamental change in Appalachia’s economy, we’ve been hearing from a lot of leaders and thinkers, both from across the region and around the country, about what Appalachia’s future could look like.  But amid all of these voices, rarely do we hear from the people who actually stand to inherit this place: Appalachian youth.

So in this edition of WMMT’s Mountain News & World Report, we begin with the first in a series of two radio stories presenting a variety of perspectives on what it’s like to be a young person in Appalachia right now–including the great parts, the not so great parts, and why many youth love this place all the same.  We hear these voices in advance of the upcoming It’s Good to Be Young in the Mountains conference (happening in Harlan, Ky. August 13-16), which is being planned as an opportunity for young people from across the region to come together and plan what Appalachia’s future could look like.  Also in this show, we hear some local young people’s experiences specifically in finding healthy food in the mountains, and we close with stories from a world-famous Appalachian–the inimitable Dolly Parton–from when she was a youth in the mountains of eastern Tennessee.

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 July 17, 2015

A natural gas well in the former coal camp town of McRoberts, Ky.  In April of 2015, the US derived more energy from natural gas than from coal, the first time this has happened over the course of a month // WMMT photo

A natural gas well in the former coal camp town of McRoberts, Ky. In April of 2015, the US derived more energy from natural gas than from coal, the first time this has happened over the course of a month // WMMT photo

For the first time ever, there’s been a month where coal was not the biggest source of energy in the US. According to the Harlan Daily Enterprise, this April, America got 31% of its energy from natural gas and 30% from coal. This is a historic shift. Just five years ago, in April of 2010, the US got 44% of its energy from coal and 20% from gas. This change coincides with recent advances in drilling technology that has made natural gas plentiful and cheap. Many power utilities have also dropped coal in favor of gas to meet the federal mercury pollution rules that were recently thrown into question by the Supreme Court. SNL Energy reports that coal is still producing more energy overall, but gas is closing the gap. Coal is projected to account for 36% of US energy this year, and gas 31%.

Despite declining demand here in the US, thermal coal, the kind used for power, is far from dead around the world. According to Vox Media, worldwide coal use has been growing steadily since the late 1990’s. Developing nations, especially in Southeast Asia, have been increasingly using coal for energy. This is due in part to increased exports from Continue reading Coal Report for July 17, 2015

Coal Report for July 9, 2015

before & after shots of a reclamation project done by the Ky. Abandoned Mine Lands Program on an old refuse pile in Letcher County, Ky.  // photos from

before & after shots of a reclamation project done by the Ky. Abandoned Mine Lands Program on an old coal refuse pile in Letcher County, Ky. A new report suggests that the federal AML fund could be used to help Appalachia’s economy by putting people to work cleaning up old mine sites // photos from

The latest attempt to sell TECO Coal has failed, The Mountain Eagle reports. TECO Energy, a power utility based in Florida, has been trying for nearly a year now to sell off its coal mining operations, a group of companies known as TECO Coal. This includes Perry County Coal, Premier Elkhorn Coal, and Clintwood Elkhorn Mining, all of which operate locally. TECO had spent eight months negotiating with Booth Energy as a potential buyer, and even offered Booth a massive discount, but that deal fell through last month. At that point, a new, unnamed buyer entered the picture, and said it would buy TECO Coal by July 3rd. But that deadline came and went with nothing happening. It’s unclear what might happen next, or when. TECO Coal is still definitely for sale, though, and either of the previous two potential buyers could still end up with the company.

Now that former state legislator Keith Hall has been found guilty of bribing a state mine inspector, that inspector might face new scrutiny from the state. The Lexington Herald-Leader reports that according to the FBI, inspector Kelly Shortridge accepted $46,000 in bribes from Keith Hall in exchange for special treatment at mines that Hall owned in the region. But the FBI also said that Shortridge was known to make cash deposits—of over $1,000 at a time—within hours of Continue reading Coal Report for July 9, 2015

Mountain News & World Report: A Former Miner Turns to Farming; Working from Home to Stay in Appalachia; Thoughts on POWER+ & the Future of Appalachian Communities


Stacy Ritchie, who is currently finishing a Digital Works class at the Teleworks Hub in Hazard, Ky. Teleworks is trying to match local people with jobs that would allow them to work from home here in the mountains.

As the market for Appalachian coal continues to suffer, and with experts projecting that even if the coal industry recovers across the country, the local coal market will likely never bounce back to the way it was even a few years ago, this edition of WMMT’s Mountain News & World Report focuses on new economic opportunities for mountain people.

We hear a story from WMMT’s Mimi Pickering & Destiny Caldwell about Teleworks USA (formerly Kentucky Teleworks), an initiative of the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program that works to connect Appalachian people with opportunities to work from home here in the mountains, no matter where their employer might be.

We also hear a commentary from Dungannon, Va. resident Beth Bingman on why she thinks local legislators should be advocating for President Obama’s proposed POWER+ Plan, which, among other things, would allocate $1 billion to coalfield communities to give people employment in the cleaning up of abandoned coal mine sites.  (This originally appeared as an op-ed in the Roanoke Times; read it here.)

And we hear another commentary from Gwenda Johnson of Elliott County, Ky., who shares some of her thoughts about Appalachian communities & our region’s future.

But we begin the show with a story from producer Catherine Moore, who discusses the region’s coal employment crisis and tells the story of one miner, from Letcher County, Ky., who found a new source of income in his garden.

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 July 1, 2015

the Big Sandy Power Plant in Louisa, Ky.  to comply with mercury emissions rules that were just blocked by the US Supreme Court, Big Sandy will shut down one of its two coal-burning generators in June, and will convert the other to run on natural gas. // photo by Shawn Poynter & found at

Former Kentucky state representative Keith Hall has been convicted. The Lexington Herald-Leader reports that Hall, who was also a coal operator, was found guilty of paying some $46,000 in bribes to a state mine inspector. In exchange, prosecutors said that the inspector, Kelly Shortridge, would look the other way on safety and environmental violations at mines that Hall owned in east Kentucky, and would also allow Hall to mine outside of his permitted area. Hall didn’t deny paying Shortridge, but said the money was given for legitimate reasons. But prosecutors presented evidence suggesting that Hall tried to hide these payments by routing them through a shell company. Back two years ago, the Herald-Leader reported that Hall had called the state to complain that he had already given Shortridge “a small fortune” and said that the inspector was shaking him down for more because he “liked the Benjamins.” The FBI and the US Attorney’s office opened their investigation after reading these stories in the paper. Hall had been an influential member of the Kentucky House of Representatives, and was tasked with regulating the coal industry, as chair of the Tourism Development & Energy Committee and vice-chair of the Natural Resources Committee. Hall is scheduled to be sentenced in September. He faces up to 10 years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines.

In a 5-4 decision, the US Supreme Court has blocked a federal rule that limited mercury pollution at power plants. The New York Times reports that the EPA says it was legally obligated to issue this rule under the Clean Air Act, due to the threat that mercury and other toxic emissions from power plants pose to public health. The rule was finalized in 2012, and actually went into effect in April of this year. But now, as a result of a lawsuit brought by coal industry groups and around 20 states, the Supreme Court blocked the mercury rule, because they say the EPA did not consider the cost of the rule early enough in the process of drafting it. The EPA says it did consider cost, and that it found the benefits to outweigh the Continue reading Coal Report for July 1, 2015