Sunday, December 07, 2014

Central Appalachia begins to contemplate a future without coal, and out-migration resumes

Madonna Sizemore kisses husband
Scottie as he leaves for coal-mine work
340 miles away. (David Goldman, AP)
"For over a century, life in Central Appalachia has been largely defined by the ups and downs of the coal industry. Through all the bust years, there was always the promise of another boom. Until now," Allen G. Breed of The Associated Press reports from Cumberland, Ky. "There is a growing sense in these mountains that this downturn is different, deeper. That for a variety of reasons — economic, environmental, political — coal mining will not rebound this time."

Breed notes various ideas for replacing coal, including "everything from eco-tourism and small farmer loans to regional tax incentives for job creators," but reports that for many people, the solution to economic need is Central Appalachia's old standby: out-migration. Breed writes:
"There’s no hope for our children in the future here," Madonna Sizemore says, tears filling her eyes. "And I hate that."
Some families are staying at a cost. Madonna Sizemore's husband, Scottie, is driving 340 miles one way to work in an undeground coal mine in Western Kentucky, where the coal is less expensive to mine and still competitive. Breed, who worked in Central Appalachia early in his career, sets the scene at the Sizemore home as the man of the house prepares to leave: "It’s midmorning, but the sun has yet to crest the ridge above, where mist clings like clouds that couldn’t quite make it over."

Breed's 2,770-word story, accompanied by an 18-photo gallery, is a comprehensive look at the challenges facing the region. "No one is saying that mining will cease altogether here — at least not anytime soon," he writes. "But when you’ve been so dependent for so long, there are bound to be withdrawal pains — and denial."

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