Thoughts From Coal Country

Trump intends to roll back regulations on the coal mining industry even farther. Environmental implications aside, propping up coal will economically and socially devastate our communities.

If you grew up in the rust belt like me, you know what hopelessness looks like: crumbling infrastructure, charred landscapes, and despondent residents who love to talk about “back in the day” when thing were good. Mining towns are extremely common in Northeastern America. The mining companies (who have long since moved out of these areas) plundered the earth for black treasures, before leaving it an empty shell of its former self. They transformed these areas from rolling hills, and healthy woods, to dead fields and grey neighborhoods weak with painful memory.

Although the adverse effects of mining on the environment are well documented, it doesn’t take hard data or scientific investigations to see that something is off. Even a child can look at these old mining regions and spot the differences between them and places that were unaffected by mining. Colors are more muted in these regions, and the secondary forests are thin and sickly compared to ones that grew in healthy soil. There are barren stretches of earth where things won’t grow at all.

And the people reflect the landscape. Devoid of opportunity and stagnant in their beliefs, only the past has any meaning to these communities who celebrate the success of their grandfather’s over the visions of their children, because the only safe place they will ever know, is in the past.

Mining is a boom industry. When the coal vein ends, the rich move out and leave the poor to die as they see fit. When you destroy a piece of land, it is gone forever; gone for a moment of greed and lost to everyone, including the sons and daughters of mining companies. How much beauty must we destroy to feed corporate greed? The answer is all of it, and then some. Greed will never be sated. It didn’t stop in the Northeastern coalmines and it won’t stop at Trump’s new pollution rollbacks. Mining barons will continue to search for new ground, and new loopholes, to open up boom industries, and create communities who will learn to rely on it for survival, knowing full well it can never sustain the community forever.

The people who work these mines and processing plants will become a community left behind; they will become a remnant of the glorious lie of manifest destiny and capitalistic prosperity. Perhaps this is part of the strategy though, because if mining operations create one new commodity, it is a long line of displaced and under educated generations who will continue vote for people like Trump.

If we don’t take a stand somewhere, mining will continue until there is nothing left to mine. We must take a stand and let these companies know that the earth belongs to itself and the people who live on it, not a few years of corporate exploitation.

To learn more about the effects of coal mining, go to

To learn more about the effects of coal pollution, go to

4 thoughts on “Thoughts From Coal Country

  1. Very well written commentary. Unfortunately you have people that are used to mining and want to continue because this is all they know. Or perhaps want to know. Time moves on and so does technology. Some people don’t understand the concept of changing with the times instead of revelling in the way it used to be is telling of where some of us are as a people.

    1. Thank you so much! It’s unfortunate that the line between willful and genuine ignorance is so thin among people raised in these areas. Growing up here, I’ve come to understand that the problem with changing hearts and minds is less about presenting hard facts and data, and more about understanding the values individuals and families were raised to believe. Many people raised in coal mining regions were taught that life is harsh and there’s nothing you can do to change it; endurance is worn as a badge of honor, and anyone who wants to change the status quo (even for health, safety, and economic reasons) is viewed as weak and unrealistic. These same people are also taught to internalize their emotions as shameful, and they are made to feel guilty for having them in the first place, because “That’s life; deal with it”. This happens with everything from the death of a pet, to dealing with cancer caused mining practices. So when you present hard data, explaining why and how change will be good for the community, there is a sense of righteous anger that accompanies their rejection of those facts. If their fathers dealt with it, and they dealt with it, then so can everyone else. This of course, does not describe everyone from these communities, as many of us do embrace science and change. However, to the loud minority of clingers-on, I believe change will come when the mind-set shifts from the pride of enduring, to the pride that comes with being a kind and empathetic person. Only then will people be willing to listen to, and embrace, the facts.

  2. In 2004 while working with a federal team doing a Head Start Program review as an Early Childhood Education Consultant in Grundy, VA, we went on a home visit to a family living in the hollows. I saw orange water gushing down a mountain side, an after effect of the pollution caused by strip mining that has made the water undrinkable. In order to change the lives and bring hope to the people in coal country we need to find a way to take control of the state legislature and get the majority back in the U.S. Congress so real jobs can be created in clean energy and other areas to take the place of coal mining which is still fraught with danger and exposes miners to black lung and other environmental diseases. I met families who would love it if there were other options for jobs, especially now that many of their husbands and other male relatives are loggers and often gone for long periods of time. Getting health care is a big issue and better delivery of services is never going to happen with Conservatives.

    1. I completely agree. Although the area I live in is no longer dealing with the direct effects of an operating coal mine, I can imagine how awful and difficult living within the midst of it must be. It is hard to understand the scope of suffering these mines have brought onto the land and people unless you witness it first hand and, like you said, the conservatives are not going to be the ones to end this suffering. I wish I knew how to embolden the people to understand that they have the power, and they should wield it against those who are operating in their disinterest. But, at least where I am, the conservatives have effectively eroded trust in government solutions, and tricked the people into believing that the government is a separate entity from them. They only listen to those who preach against it- anyone who tries to propose a change in government, rather than a stable weakening of its influence, is considered a “liberal snowflake” and isn’t taken seriously. Its a difficult situation to say the least.

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