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West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin with miners on Capitol Hill.

Lawmakers, Union Urge Mine Safety Regulators to Act on Silica Dust

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (OVR) — 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,… Read More

An X-ray image of an Appalachian coal miner with black lung lesions.

Federal Watchdog Finds Coal Safety Regulator Not Protecting Miners From Silica Dust

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (OVR) — The Mine Safety and Health Administration is not doing enough to protect coal miners from deadly silica dust, according to a new report from the Department of Labor’s Office of the Inspector General. The IG found that MSHA’s standards for exposure to deadly silica dust were out of date, and MSHA lacked… Read More

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky.

Ohio Valley Lawmakers React to Trump’s False Statements Undermining The Election

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (OVR) — Polls had barely closed in the U.S. when President Donald Trump falsely alleged voter fraud and claimed prematurely to have won the election, saying “We will win this, and as far as I’m concerned, we already have won it.” The results of the election had not yet been called, and the… Read More

Miners assemble on railroad tracks to block a shipment of coal from a Blackjewel mine.

Environmental Risks Remain As Blackjewel Bankruptcy Nears Its End

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Environmental advocates worry a coal company liquidation plan will leave dozens of coal permits in eastern Kentucky unreclaimed, according to filings in the bankruptcy proceedings of Blackjewel L.L.C. The bankruptcy case has dragged on since last July, when the once-mighty coal company’s Chapter 11 filing left hundreds of Appalachian coal miners suddenly without work, and without… Read More

Heavy downpours increased dramatically in the Ohio Valley as the climate changed.

Ohio Valley Mayors Aim For A Green Recovery Amid Coronavirus And Climate Change

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PITTSBURGH, Pa. (OVR) — When newly elected President Donald Trump announced in 2017 that he would pull the United States out of the Paris Agreement on climate change, he said, “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.” The goal of the landmark Paris Agreement, which was signed in 2015 by 189 parties,… Read More

Mountain State Spotlight was founded to produce investigative journalism for West Virginians.

New Appalachian Journalism Outlets Tackle Stereotypes, Media Economy

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CHARLESTON, W. Va. (OVR) — 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… Read More

President Donald Trump speaks from the South Lawn of the White House on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention, Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020, in Washington.

“False Hope” or Four More Years? Ohio Valley Stakeholders Reflect On Trump Energy Policy

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (OVR) — In 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump was all-in on the fossil fuel industry. In a 2016 rally in Charleston, West Virginia, the candidate proudly accepted an endorsement from that state’s coal association, donning a hardhat while he mimed digging coal. To thundering applause, he promised to bring back coal jobs to the struggling… Read More

Piles of coal

Mine Safety Officials Won’t Do More To Protect Coal Miners From COVID-19, Letter Says

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (OVR) —The Mine Safety and Health Administration is declining to issue an emergency temporary standard that could protect coal miners whose jobs make them vulnerable to the coronavirus. That’s according to an August 14 letter from Department of Labor Deputy Assistant Secretary Joe Wheeler to West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin. MSHA can issue emergency temporary… Read More

This Aug. 22, 2018, file photo shows a sign declaring the future home of Braidy Industries' aluminum mill in Ashland, Ky.

Report On Russian Interference In Elections Raises Questions About KY Project

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ASHLAND, Ky. (OVR) — A new report from the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee about Russian interference in U.S. elections raises new questions about a struggling eastern Kentucky development project with ties to both Senator Mitch McConnell and the Russian government. The 966-page document, the result of a years-long bipartisan investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee,… Read More

Courtesy of Madison Buchanan

Student Journalists Document The Pandemic in Appalachia

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WHITESBURG, Ky. (OVR) — “Hello,” the call began. “This is a prepaid debit call from an inmate at the Virginia Department of Corrections.” Madison Buchanan, a 19-year-old college student, pressed 0 to accept the call and was connected to Jacob Alan Shouse, Offender Number 1101441. “I want to thank you so much for helping me… Read More

Piles of coal

Oversight Office: MSHA Should Do More To Protect Miners In Pandemic

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WASHINGTON, D.C. (OVR) — The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration has not done enough to protect coal miners during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report from an oversight agency released Tuesday. Through interviews with MSHA officials and union representatives, as well as reviews of state and national policies, the Department of Labor’s Office of the Inspector… Read More

Miners assemble on railroad tracks to block a shipment of coal from a Blackjewel mine.

No Pay, We Stay: A Look Back at the 2019 Protest that Rocked Appalachia

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CUMBERLAND, Ky. (OVR) — It’s a quiet, foggy morning on Highway 119 in Cumberland, Kentucky. A railroad track runs along the highway, and here, Sand Hill Bottom Road crosses the tracks and turns to the right, leaving a rough triangle of gravel spattered with trash. You can hear crickets chirping, birds twittering, cars passing on 119…. Read More

Piles of coal

Ohio Valley Coal Companies Scored Tens Of MIllions In Paycheck Protection Loans

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WHITESBURG, Ky. (OVR) — More than 50 Ohio Valley coal companies received loans totaling as much as $119 million through the Paycheck Protection Program meant to keep people employed during the pandemic’s economic downturn. Congress passed the PPP in March to help businesses keep employees on the payroll and out of unemployment lines. The data released… Read More

Advocacy Groups Unveil Plan For A 21st Century Coal-County Economy

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Environmental and economic advocacy groups from coal-producing parts of the country unveiled a policy agenda on Monday to help coal-reliant communities make a transition to a more sustainable future. The plan includes items that have long been on the wish list for groups like Appalachian Voices and the Just Transition Fund, both of which were… Read More

A caregiver tests a patient for coronavirus at University Hospitals, Monday, March 16, 2020, in Mayfield Heights, Ohio.

Rural Ohio Valley Counties Lack Sufficient Coronavirus Tests, Report Says

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WHITESBURG, Ky. (OVR) — Just 15 percent of Kentucky counties meet minimum recommended coronavirus testing levels, according to a new report from health care company Castlight. Sixty-seven percent of West Virginia counties and 31 percent of Ohio counties met the threshold. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that states have the capacity to test 1 percent… Read More

Federal Judge Threatens Jail Time as Coal Company Flouts Court Orders

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Coal company American Resources Corporation, which owns mines in Kentucky and West Virginia, is facing sanctions after failing to comply with a bankruptcy court’s orders, even after the company received $2.7 million in government aid meant for companies harmed by the coronavirus pandemic. Indiana-based ARC purchased coal mines and equipment from bankrupt coal company Cambrian… Read More

A miner is tested for lung function and signs of black lung disease

Coal and COVID-19: Lung Impairment Makes Miners Especially Vulnerable to Coronavirus

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WHITESBURG, Ky. (OVR) — Underground coal miners start their shifts getting changed in closely packed changing rooms. They ride rail cars to their worksite, shoulder-to-shoulder, sometimes for more than an hour. And once they’re underground, ventilation designed to tamp down coal dust blows air through the mine. All that makes a coal mine  the kind… Read More

A screenshot of four people in a video conference

“We Belong to Each Other”: Appalachian Youth Build Support Amid Pandemic Uncertainty

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On March 17, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam banned gatherings of 10 or more people to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Mekyah 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… Read More

David Pratt Jr. and Sr., right and second from right, protest former employer Blackjewel in summer 2019.

‘There’s Going To Be Something Better for Him’: Former Blackjewel Miners Reflect on Changes in Coal Country

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On a blistering August afternoon in Cumberland, Kentucky, David Pratt, Jr. stood in the middle of a two-lane highway, holding a sign that read “COAL MINERS AND TRUCKERS AGAINST CORPORATE AMERICA.” A few yards away, his father, David Pratt Sr., who is graying but still muscular, leaned back in a lawn chair perched precariously on… Read More

Coronavirus

Anxiety In Appalachian Coal Country: First The Mines Closed, Then Came Coronavirus

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As the economic fallout from the coronavirus continues to reshape our lives, small-town business owners are worried about the future. Whitesburg, Kentucky —  a town already struggling from the decline in the coal industry — is grappling with a new and serious challenge as the effort to contain the disease brings deep economic pain. The… Read More

An X-ray image of an Appalachian coal miner with black lung lesions.

Scientists, Mine Safety Officials Discuss Black Lung Protections

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Officials with the Mine Safety and Health Administration met for the first time with miners’ health researchers Wednesday in a new partnership designed to discuss ways to better protect coal miners from the dust that causes black lung disease. In future meetings, representatives from the two agencies will discuss recommendations made by the National Academy of Sciences… Read More

The site near Ashland, KY, where Braidy plans a new aluminum facility.

CEO Ousted at Kentucky Aluminum Company Amid Questions About Controversial Funding

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A controversial economic development project in Ashland, Kentucky, hit a snag last week as aluminum company Braidy Industries ousted CEO and board chairman Craig Bouchard. In a statement, Braidy Industries’ interim CEO said he appreciated Bouchard’s hard work for the company. Bouchard says the firing was improper and is refusing to step down. The dueling… Read More

Miners assemble on railroad tracks to block a shipment of coal from a Blackjewel mine.

Bankrupt Blackjewel Coal Still Racking Up Environmental Violations, Officials Warn

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An attorney for the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet told a federal judge Wednesday that the bankrupt coal company Blackjewel has accrued nearly 300 environmental violations since it entered bankruptcy in July. “It’s essential that these violations are addressed, abated, and that they stop accruing,” Cabinet attorney Lena Seward told bankruptcy judge Frank Volk in the… Read More

A grocery store

Grocers in Rural Coal Country Struggle to Stay in Business

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There’s a picture frame on the wall next to the customer service desk in the IGA in Inez, Kentucky. Inside the frame is a scrap of beige meat-counter paper, on which a man named Derle Ousley sketched the layout for an ad announcing the opening of his very first grocery store. “Inez Supermarket Grand Opening,”… Read More