The Dispatch’s science team—Spencer Hunt and Mark Somerson—also maintains an active Science & Environment blog and the science page aggregates wire stories from around the country. There is also a Going Green section online, which features a lot of good reporting on local energy and pollution issues in addition to clips from the wire. Unlike a lot of other papers in the region, however, the science page overshadows the environment page. That’s not a bad thing, of course. Having two solid news pages is a plus, and a few major metropolitan papers in the Ohio River Valley neither a science nor an environment section.

The Herald-Leader in Lexington, Kentucky deserves a special mention for its environment news section, The Greenspot. It is a bit difficult to pick out the locally focused articles amid the sea of wire stories, but The Greenspot beats the larger Indianapolis Star’s Green.Indy page.

Green.Indy is conspicuous and well designed, but it has none of the forceful reporting found at places like KentuckianaGreen. Most of its stories are fluffy, news-you-can-use content pushing readers to green their lifestyles. Moreover, most the articles aren’t written by Star reporters, but rather by the staff of Custom Publications, a division of the Star’s Information Center, which says it produces “a variety of special publications and content features, including a portion of those on” I’m not sure what that means, but a lot of CustomPubs’ work reeks of thinly veiled advertising for green products.

An even worse environment-news strategy, though, is the one adopted by the Cincinnati Enquirer, which does absolutely nothing—no science section, no environment section … nothing. Pretty much every paper in the Ohio River Valley has gone through cutbacks of some sort, and Enquirer may have been hit harder that most. I don’t know. But Cincinnati is the second-largest metropolitan area in the region behind Pittsburgh, so the paper’s absence on the science and environment front is all the more regrettable. Given the commendable efforts of its competitors, it should be doing more.

The ORV and the Nation

Unfortunately, very few of the stories about the Ohio River Valley ever make it out of that media ecosystem. When the national media do turn their attention toward the valley, they tend to focus on one thing: coal.

From The Wall Street Journal to GQ, national reporters are fascinated by the processes, politics, and economics of coal mining and have devoted significant acreage to covering it. It’s not a new story by any means, but there does seem to have been a spike in coverage during the twilight of the Bush administration, when the administration tried to relax the rules meant to reduce the environmental impact of mountaintop-removal mining. The Obama administration’s efforts to restore stricter oversight have kept the story going, although since Obama took office the story’s focus has shifted from environmental to political.

Coal country’s elected officials and unions have already played a central role in crafting the current energy and climate bills under consideration on Capitol Hill, and they will continue to play a central role in determining the fate of those bills. The political focus is understandable, of course, but consider this recent story from Politico about the GOP power politics in the region. There is plenty of information about how the party is “mining … anxieties” about coal’s contribution to the local economy in the form of jobs, but there are no mentions of the costs in extracts in terms of environmental degradation and public health.

Not all the focus has gone away from coal’s environmental impact, however. Coverage of polluted drinking water took off at the end of 2008; coal-ash storage ponds became the focus of national attention following the spills in Tennessee and Georgia; and more recently, there’s been quite a bit of interest in the carbon capture and storage demonstration project under way at the Mountaineer coal-fired power plant in West Virginia.

Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.