Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Series features interviews of Silas House, former coal miners on future of coal in Central Appalachia

When novelist, educator and activist Silas House was 11, a strip mining operation began across the road from his family’s home in Eastern Kentucky, "making him aware of coal’s double-edged sword: the industry brought his family out of poverty, but at the same time, his family and community paid a price," begins one story in a series by The Allegheny Front, West Virginia Public Broadcasting and Inside Energy called "The Future of Coal."

Silas House
"In one memorable example, at a mining site that abutted House’s father’s family graveyard, the coal company was mining so close to the graveyard that they pushed his great-aunt’s grave over the mountain and into the creek below it," reports The Allegheny Front. "House says that’s where the seeds of his activism were sown."

The activism grew when fellow Kentucky writer and activist Wendell Berry took House on a tour of mountaintop removal sites and visits with residents affected by those sites, reports The Allegheny Front. House said, "And almost every one of them would end their testimony by saying, ‘Nobody will listen to us. Please, tell our story. And please get our story out there.’ And all of us sitting there felt like we had been handed this responsibility. And that we had to do something.”

House stresses that he's not fighting against coal miners, coal jobs or coal communities, reports The Allegheny Front. House said, “When I’m talking about being against coal, I’m talking about being against these huge corporations that, you know, don’t think about balance. They don’t think about the communities that they’re harming. And for the most part, they don’t think about their miners, their employees, you know, it’s all a numbers game. And so, I always try to get at that complexity.”

Another story in the series looks at how residents in once thriving coal communities are trying to survive since the decline of coal jobs. Former Logan County, West Virginia, miner Dell Maynard told The Allegheny Front, "I've been laid off three times in the last year. I'm not kidding. And it's not because I don't try to find a job because I've found three. Oh, it's awful. I'm telling you this place is going to be a ghost town if they don't do something . . . Obama has absolutely stuck a dagger in the heart of coal."

Others, like, Shane Lucas, of Whiteburg, Ky., a coal miner for 20 years, have found new careers,  reports The Allegheny Front. Lucas, who took up farming while a coal miner to earn extra money, now makes a living growing broccoli, turnips and apple trees.

Eastern Kentuckian Ivy Brashear, a former writer for The Rural Blog who works for nonprofit Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, said, "The region is in a really critical moment of economic transition. For me, it's a really pregnant moment of opportunity."

Brashear's group "focuses on entrepreneurship, energy efficiency, forestry and local foods," reports The Allegheny Front. "She’s part of a movement that is spreading in Appalachia, calling for more dialogue, planning, and investment by citizens, government and NGOs to fill the giant hole created by coal’s hollowing out." She said, "Not that it’s easy to make that transition. It’s really not. It’s long, it’s hard and it’s expensive. But there really is no other option for us if we are to survive as a region and as a people than to search for alternatives and to do something else."

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