WMKY

Sydney Boles

Sydney Boles is the Ohio Valley ReSource reporter covering the economic transition in the heart of Appalachia’s coal country.

Sydney received her Master of Journalism from Medill School of Journalism, where she covered immigration and housing insecurity in Chicagoland.

Before her work in journalism, she studied oral history and postcolonial resistance strategies in Costa Rica, India, South Africa and Turkey.

Sydney grew up in upstate New York and enjoys baking, reading and exploring the outdoors.

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 Aug. 14 letter from Department of Labor Deputy Assistant Secretary Joe Wheeler to West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin. MSHA can issue emergency temporary standards only when it determines that miners are exposed to a grave danger. It has only issued a handful of such standards, MSHA said, typically in the aftermath of large-scale mining disasters.

In the letter, Wheeler writes, “At this time, MSHA has determined it lacks evidence that COVID-19 poses a grave risk specific to miners.”

Nearly 1 million renter households across the Ohio Valley are unable to pay rent and at risk of eviction, according to research firm Stout. That amounts to 42 percent of renter households in Kentucky, 46 percent in Ohio and 47 percent in West Virginia.

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.

 


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. A billboard advertises Portal 31, a coal town tourist attraction. 

The House of Representatives Wednesday passed a $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill that includes two provisions that would specifically help coal-reliant communities in the Ohio Valley.

The courtroom was silent as 19-year-old Dayjha Hogg approached the lectern at a Letcher County fiscal court meeting, stared down a panel of county magistrates, and spoke.

“I know COVID’s going around right now, so just imagine, there’s no COVID, normal society, and imagine you walk around and it’s like you have the plague.” 


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.

Kentucky’s state budget officials told lawmakers Friday that general fund receipts may decline by $495 million next fiscal year. It’s just the latest example of the unprecedented financial hardships ahead for the Ohio Valley’s state and local governments due to the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 38 million Americans have applied for unemployment insurance in the past nine weeks, about 2.5 million of them in the Ohio Valley states of Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia.

Even economists find figures like that hard to reckon with.

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 the crossties of a railroad. His eyes focused on the spot where the tracks disappeared around the bend and more than $1 million worth of coal idled in train cars.

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 the crossties of a railroad. His eyes focused on the spot where the tracks disappeared around the bend and more than $1 million worth of coal idled in train cars.

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. 


 

Heavy rains caused extensive flooding across eastern Kentucky this week, and city and county officials say it could take weeks to fix some of the damage.


The nearly two-month blockade of a Kentucky railroad track is coming to an end as unpaid coal miners end their protest in order to take new jobs, start classes, or move away from their coal-dependent communities.


Curtis Cress sat in the gravel beside a railroad track in Harlan County, Kentucky. Tall and thin with a long, black beard, Cress is every bit a coal miner, or, he was until a month ago.

“It’s part of my heritage, you know? My dad and papaws had always done it,” he said. “And I’m proud of that heritage.”

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