Thursday, November 15, 2012

Recession, Obama and industry PR leave Appalachian coal counties less supportive of environmental rules

The combination of the Great Recession, President Obama's policies and the coal industry's allegations of a "war on coal" appear to have made residents of two major coal-producing counties in Central Appalachia less supportive of conservation and environmental rules, and more supportive of extracting local natural resources for current benefit rather than preserving them for future generations.

The residents of Harlan and Letcher counties, on Kentucky's border with Virginia, were polled in 2007 and 2011 by the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire.

"The change in attitudes was most evident in Letcher County, where the percentage of residents who said local natural resources should be used to create jobs now jumped from 35 percent in 2007 to 54 percent in 2011," University of Kentucky student Mary Chellis Austin writes for The Mountain Eagle in Whitesburg, the Letcher County seat.

"In 2007, only 16 percent of Letcher County residents in the poll said conservation and environmental rules have generally been a bad thing for the community. In 2011, that share approximately doubled, to 36 percent. . . . Taken together as a region, the two counties showed a clear change in attitude. The share favoring use of natural resources to create jobs rose from 37 percent in 2007 to 52 percent in 2011. The share who thought environmental rules had been bad for the community rose from 17 percent in 2007 to 33 percent in 2011. Both results were outside the error margin for both polls, which was 3.1 percentage points." For local residents' comments on the reasons for the changes, click here.

Austin is a student in a Community Journalism course taught by Al Cross, who contributed to the story. He is director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes The Rural Blog.

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