A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Rural Blog: Report shows how one judge’s practices contribute to jail overcrowding in two Ky. counties

Rural jails all over the country face constant overcrowding, and though the problem is usually blamed on jail construction delays or outdated jails, judges share some of the blame. A recent study of the criminal justice system in Kentucky’s Boyle and Mercer counties found that one circuit judge was largely responsible for overcrowding at the Boyle County Detention Center because of “‘discriminatory’...

Rural Blog: Appalachia hit twice by coal declines; fewer jobs, ‘crippling’ bills for more expensive power

“As coal mining has collapsed across Appalachia, residents in Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia have been socked with a double whammy—crippling electric bills to go along with a declining economy,” James Bruggers reports for Inside Climate News. (KyForward file photo) American Electric Power subsidiaries Wheeling Power and Appalachian Power requested permission from the West Virginia...

Rural Blog: Farmers must work together to prosper, says daughter of famed Ky author Wendall Berry

The high turnout in rural areas for Donald Trump in 2016 reflects not just the growing rural-urban cultural divide, but also the fading of a culture in which farming communities cooperate for their betterment, Mary Berry and Debbie Barker write for Civil Eats. Berry’s father and Barker’s friend, Kentucky author-farmer Wendell Berry, called attention to the phenomenon in 1978 in The...

Rural Blog: New poll shows most farmers, although fewer than before, still support Trump trade policy

According to a poll released this week, one in seven farmers who voted for President Trump would not vote for him today, mostly because of the escalating trade war with China. Though 60 percent of farmers overall still support him, that’s down from 75 percent in 2016. And 40 percent of the 924 respondents to the Farm Futures poll say Trump’s trade actions have permanently damaged agriculture,...

Rural Blog: Appalachian surface mining requiring more land for less coal, new study shows

Surface mining in Central Appalachia needs more land to produce less coal than in years past, as illustrated a study from Duke University featuring a new interactive mapping tool by SkyTruth. The apparent reason is that available coal seams are getting thinner as thicker ones are mined out; mines can move as much as 20 tons of rock and dirt to get a ton of coal. Satellite images from 1985 to 2015 show...

Rural Blog: ‘Farmers for America’ documentary addresses the aging of the country’s farmers

A new documentary, “Farmers for America,” addresses big changes coming to the nation’s systems for growing, distributing and consuming food, and how America’s farmers are addressing them. Farmers face changing consumer demands as more people shop at farmers’ markets, commit to eating more local food and try to learn more about where their food comes from. Meanwhile, the...

Rural Blog: Plan to put huge array of solar panels on a mined mountaintop could depend on more mining

Plans by EDF Renewables to put the largest solar farm ever built in Kentucky on a mined mountaintop are in limbo because of a coal company years behind in the cleanup that must come first, is dragging its feet. The $150 million project was proposed a year ago, and would be located on Bent Mountain in the state’s easternmost county, James Bruggers reports for Inside Climate News. If the project...

Rural Blog: Students in rural communities facing backlash when speaking out in favor of gun control

Recent school shootings have inspired a wave of gun-control activism, some of it from students, and a few of those students from rural areas. “In a more liberal city like Parkland, Fla., or at a rally in Washington, these students might have been celebrated as young leaders,” Jack Healy reports for The New York Times. “But in rural, conservative parts of the country where farm fields...

Rural Blog: New report shows Ky. lost a half million acres of farmland to homebuilding in last 20 years

(Click for full report) A new report from the American Farmland Trust, the nation’s leading farmland-preservation group, says that America has been losing twice as much farmland as the group thought, and the leading cause of it is low-density residential development, especially in Kentucky, Al Cross reports for the Midway Messenger. Cross is the director of the Institute for Rural Journalism...

The Rural Blog: China has apparently stopped buying U.S. soybeans, a move that will hurt farmers

“Chinese importers have canceled purchases of corn and cut orders for pork,” The Wall Street Journal reports. “Chinese importers’ new orders of sorghum, a grain used in animal feed, have dwindled while cancellations increased. . . . Livestock operations and food processors in China typically switch their soybean purchasing from the U.S. to Brazil and Argentina in the North American...

Rural Blog: Wendell Berry suggests dairy industry cooperative could be solution to save family farms

To save their farms, struggling small dairies should consider banding together in a cooperative as tobacco farmers did decades ago, author and farmer Wendell Berry writes for the Henry County Local in Kentucky. In March, the Sentinel-News in nearby Shelbyville reported that Dean Foods ended its milk-procurement contracts with dozens of small dairy farmers in Kentucky, and others nationwide, as of May...

Congress boosts black lung treatment funding in 15 coal-producing states by $10 million

“Rural medical clinics that are struggling to respond to an epidemic of a fatal lung disease plaguing coal miners received a 40 percent boost in federal funding with the passage of the omnibus spending bill last week,” reports NPR’s Howard Berkes, who can claim some credit for the increase. Twenty-eight black lung clinics in 15 coal states will get a $10 million bump in funding, up...

Rural Blog: New data indicates too little money set aside to clean up, reclaim abandoned mines

According to national data compiled and published for the first time yesterday, the coal industry may not have enough money set aside to clean up and reclaim abandoned mines, Mark Olalde reports for Climate Home News. “Mining companies and state governments hold just $9.2 billion nationwide to ensure mining land is reclaimed if operators go bust,” Olalde reports. “Experts told CHN...

Rural Blog: Appalachia at high risk of HIV, hep C, but many factors hamper testing, monitoring, treatment

Bloodborne diseases like HIV and hepatitis C are an increasing threat to public health in Appalachia, but the stigma associated with such diseases may be hindering monitoring, testing and treatment, ultimately increasing the risk of outbreaks. A big part of the risk comes from sharing needles while shooting opioid drugs such as heroin. In 2016 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that...

Rural Blog: American Water offers tips to avoid frozen pipes as frigid temps grip much of the nation

The nearly nationwide cold snap is expected to continue for a week or so, increasing chances that household pipes might freeze, and in some cases burst. Here are some tips from American Water, the nation’s main for-profit water company, on how to prevent and deal with frozen pipes, which usually occur in areas such as crawl spaces or along the outside walls where unprotected plumbing is more...

Rural Blog: Ky. leads in development of commercial hemp, but crop’s potential in Eastern Ky. is limited

Hemp offers limited hope for Eastern Kentuckians looking for an economic alternative to the region’s shrunken coal industry, Rachel Cramer reports in the “Crossing the Divide” series produced by the Ground Truth Project and Boston’s WGBH. Her story aired on West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s “Inside Appalachia.” Kentucky is a leader in the development...

Rural Blog: EPA chief says war on coal is over as he announces plan to repeal Clean Power plan

“Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt told coal miners in Kentucky that he will propose repealing a rule limiting greenhouse-gas emissions from existing power plants,” The Washington Post reports. “Speaking at an event with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, Pruitt said his agency will publish the new rule Tuesday.” The move was expected, given...

Rural Blog: McConnell, Rogers backing plan to move ARC out of Washington D.C., focus on poorest areas

Two powerful Kentucky Republicans have an idea to boost the economic development agency created to help Appalachia: “Move it out of the nation’s capital,” Matthew Daly reports for the Associated Press. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Rep. Hal Rogers, a House Appropriations Committee chair and former committee chair, “are sponsoring a bill they say will refocus the Appalachian...

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...