Appalachian Coal's Last Wheezing Breath

As the nation abandons old-school West Virginia coal, a scarred and cratered landscape remains. Can residents build a new economy and overcome the legacy of an often-brutal industry?
September 18, 2015, 12pm PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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DanaK~WaterPenny

In a piece for GristLaura Gottesdiener covers the collapsing West Virginia coal industry and its environmental (and human) fallout. She writes, "Even though the industry in West Virginia is in the grips of an unprecedented collapse that threatens to dethrone King Coal once and for all, this 14-year-old and all the other children growing up in the shadow of these 'blank spaces' will never see the decapitated peaks return to thickly forested mountaintops."

While the Appalachian mines are shutting down, fossil fuels extraction is still big business. "The price of coal has been plummeting as utility companies shift to significantly cheaper shale gas, extracted through the drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to produce power." 

But in West Virginia the damage has been done, both to the environment and to the region's economy. "The coalfields are filled with now-abandoned company towns, where the industry once employed hundreds of thousands of men to work in underground mines." 

The scars on Appalachia's mountains are probably permanent. But with the coal industry gone, perhaps residents can build a new lifestyle. "These days, as the coal industry crumbles, West Virginians are rallying in support of what's being called 'transition work' — the building, that is, of a new economy based on agriculture, local arts, wineries, and the like."

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Published on Sunday, August 30, 2015 in Grist
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