Rural Blog: Verizon drops thousands of rural wireless customers, says they’re using too much data

Verizon is disconnecting wireless service to rural users in several states, including Maine, Kentucky and Montana, saying they use too much data to make service profitable. The issue centers on Verizon’s LTE in Rural America program, which Verizon says has brought coverage to more nearly 2.4 million people since its inception in 2010. Verizon partners with 21 small rural carriers around the...

Rural Blog: Deep budget cuts for health care ads could hurt rural enrollment in Affordable Care Act

The Trump administration has announced deep cuts to programs that help people learn about and sign up for health insurance under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Department of Health and Human Services officials told reporters that “advertising will be cut to $10 million for the 2018 open enrollment season. That’s down from $100 million for the 2017 sign-up season. Funding...

Rural Blog: Former coal executive Zatezalo nominated to head federal mine safety agency

President Trump’s pick to head the federal mine-safety agency is David Zatezalo, who “repeatedly clashed with federal regulators when the Obama administration Labor Department tried to step up industry-wide enforcement in the wake of the worst U.S. coal mining disaster in a generation,” Ken Ward Jr. reports for the Charleston Gazette-Mail. The White House announced a long list of...

Rural Blog: Role of African Americans in Appalachia coal industry largely unrecognized

When someone is asked to imagine a person living in Appalachia, they’ll likely imagine a white person. But the Appalachians have a significant African American population in certain places. The Washington Post’s Emma Ockerman writes a fascinating piece about what it means to be an African American living in Appalachia, feeling “like a racial minority within a cultural minority.”...

Rural Blog: All counties in the U.S. now have at least one option for private health insurance for 2018

Dozens of counties, mostly in rural areas, were at risk of having no individual private insurance options in 2018 after companies like Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield pulled out of the markets. But a few insurance companies have filled gaps in coverage, and now there are no areas in the U.S. without coverage. Paulding County, Ohio, was the last “bare” county until CareSource committed...

Rural Blog: Department of Energy report could provide a boost to coal, nuclear industries

The Department of Energy released a controversial study last week that says too much electricity from renewable energy and natural gas could make the U.S. power grid less reliable in the future. The 187-page study, commissioned by Energy Secretary Rick Perry in April, recommends that federal regulators make changes to wholesale electricity markets that could potentially benefit existing coal and nuclear...

Rural Blog: Interior halts study on health effects of large-scale surface mining in Central Appalachia

The Interior Department has ordered to halt a $1 million study of whether large-scale surface mining in Central Appalachia has caused health problems. The U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement had hired The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to do the study. It included a public meeting in Hazard, Ky., on the day the halt was announced. The meeting, and one...

Rural Blog: Eastern Kentucky school districts looking for new funding sources in wake of coal decline

The decline of the coal industry in Appalachian Kentucky has school districts “struggling to keep the doors open,” reports Valarie Honeycutt Spears of the Lexington Herald-Leader. The industry’s poor prospects have caused devaluation of unmined coal, cutting tax revenue, and “Education officials are calling on Kentucky’s General Assembly to look for new ways to fund”...

Rural Blog: Justice coal firm demands Kentucky officials personally pay $4.5 million in damages

A coal company owned by West Virginia’s governor has taken the highly unusual if not unprecedented step of personally suing Kentucky environmental regulators who tried to get the firm to pay its fines and clean up its strip mines. Kentucky Fuel Corp., owned by Gov. Jim Justice, blames Natural Resources Commissioner Allen Luttrell and Deputy Commissioner John D. Small “for their company’s...

Rural Blog: Kentucky historian laments the passing of country stores as large chains expand

The Rural Blog started reporting the impact of chain dollar stores on small, rural stores more than a year ago, and the trend seems to have accelerated, with reports recently from New England and Virginia, which noted that Dollar General Corp. has almost as many locations as McDonald’s. The closing of a small store in his neighborhood prompted David Cross, a lawyer and historian in Albany, Ky.,...

Rural Blog: Famous for hauling coal, CSX president says company won’t buy any more coal trains

If you live in Appalachia, CSX trains carrying coal down the rails has been an everyday sight. But CSX’s new president thinks that may soon be a thing of the past. During a conference call with industry analysts last week, Hunter Harrison said he thinks “fossil fuels are dead” and the company will not buy any more locomotives for coal trains, Gregory Meyer reports for Financial Times....

Rural Blog: Kentucky team posts another national championship — and it wasn’t for basketball

Kentucky is well-known for college basketball championships, but a very different kind of team is well on its way to a dynasty. The Future Farmers of America’s dairy judging team from Spencer County High School in Taylorsville has been on a roll in recent years: they’ve won the national FFA contest for the past four years, and seven total of the contests since 2005. And in June they placed...

Sam Shepard chose to die in rural Kentucky, where people in Midway always respected his privacy

By Al Cross The Rural Blog Tonight on Broadway in New York, the lights of theater marquees will go dark for one minute to honor Sam Shepard, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, author, screenwriter, director and Oscar-nominated actor, who died Thursday at 73. In one small town in Kentucky, spirits are already dimmer, because folks there remembered Shepard as a good neighbor, and one whose privacy...

Rural Blog: Goats — ‘unsung heroes on the highway’ — are used by some states to maintain roadways

Goats can do more than provide milk and meat: their dedication to chomping grass and weeds, and their nimble feet, have earned them a spot cropping along road rights-of-way in at least seven states. It makes sense, Frederick Kunkle reports for The Washington Post. “Goats take pleasure and sustenance from their work in ways that people don’t. Goats don’t talk back, they don’t demand...

Rural Blog: Rural areas, small towns bracing for major influx of solar-eclipse viewers in three weeks

As the historic Aug. 21 solar eclipse draws near, towns along the path of totality are bracing for tens of thousands of visitors. “Whatever the biggest event in town is, they are going to get at least twice as many people — and usually more than that,”eclipse chaser and crowd consultant Kate Russo told Deborah Netburn of the Los Angeles Times. “This is not just a science event....

Rural Blog: Study says lack of affordable health care one of biggest problems facing nation’s farmers

A new study funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture says that lack of access to affordable health care is one of the biggest problems facing American farmers, affecting their risk management, productivity, health, retirement, the need for a secondary source of income, and land access for new farmers. “The rising cost of healthcare and the availability of affordable health insurance have...

Rural Blog: Mine workers union says new voluntary training won’t work if inspectors can’t cite violations

The United Mine Workers of America is concerned that the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration’s new voluntary training program won’t help create a safer environment for coal miners. In a recent letter to acting MSHA chief Pat Silvey, UMWA President Cecil Roberts said he is concerned that agency staffers who visit mines as part of this program will not be able to write violations....

Rural Blog: Breathitt County hiking club is changing local attitudes about health and the community

Central Appalachia is the unhealthiest place in the country by most metrics, but 45-year-old librarian Stephen Bowling is trying to help Breathitt County buck the trend with a hiking club. An avid hiker, Bowling has been hosting monthly hiking trips one Sunday a month since the beginning of the year, Lyndsey Gilpin reports for Outside Online. His employer, the Breathitt County Public Library, sponsors...

Rural Blog: Shale-gas boom leads to plastic-pellet plants, but Appalachian infrastructure is lacking

Appalachian states are poised to capitalize on the world’s growing appetite for plastics, not only with shale gas and oil drilling, but with plants called “crackers” that turn natural gas byproducts into usable plastic pellets for manufacturers, Tom DiChristopher of CNBC reports. Northern Appalachian states such as Pennsylvania and New York have large shale-gas deposits and are already...

Rural Blog: Kentucky law reducing inspections for coal mines a concern for safety experts, miners

A new law in Kentucky reduces state inspection requirements for underground coal mines, a move that follows similar changes in other states but concerns many miners and safety experts. Three of the six required state inspections can now be replaced with a “safety analysis” visit that focuses on teaching miners better safety practices, Dylan Lovan reports for The Associated Press. Rickey...