Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Central Appalachia struggling to survive decline of coal industry

The declining coal industry is ravaging some Central Appalachian towns, reports The Associated Press. "West Virginia is the only state in the country where more than half of adults are not working, according to the Census Bureau. It is tied with Kentucky for the highest percentage of residents collecting disability payments from Social Security, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. And the death rate among working-age adults is the highest in the nation, 55 percent higher than the national average, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention." (Center for Appalachian Studies and Services map)

"Now, the one main source for decent-paying work, the brutal life of coal, seems to be drying up for good," reports AP. "The thick, easy, cheap coal is gone, global competition is fierce, and clean air and water regulations are increasing costs and cutting into demand."

"Central Appalachia’s struggle is familiar to many rural regions across the United States, where middle-class jobs are disappearing or gone and young people have no other choice but to leave to find opportunity," reports AP. "The problems are amplified in coal country, though, where these difficult economic and social conditions have gripped the region for decades and where there is hardly any flat land to build anything."

"Big federal and state programs and initiatives, some dating from President Lyndon Johnson’s administration, have failed to help the region diversify its economy much beyond digging or blasting coal out of mountains," reports AP. "If anything is going to help the people of Appalachia, poverty experts and residents of West Virginia now say, it’s themselves: local entrepreneurs who know their communities and customers well—and are committed to them."

"Coal employment in Central Appalachia has been declining for decades, a result of mechanization in the 1960s, the collapse of the U.S. steel industry in the 1980s and, now, cheaper rivals at a time when much of the world is trying to turn away from coal," reports AP. "Coal is, by far, the biggest source of carbon dioxide and airborne pollutants among fuels used to make electricity. As jobs disappeared from coal country, people fled, leaving behind abandoned buildings and empty lots."

"Globally, coal will not go away completely anytime soon—it’s the cheapest way to bring electricity to the 1.3 billion people who lack access to it, and even developed nations still need to burn it as they transition to cleaner fuels," reports AP. "However, the thin seams left in Central Appalachia are too expensive to compete with cheaper coal being mined in places like Illinois, Wyoming, Australia and Indonesia. The industry will persist—driven by small, determined operators like Asbury, who are after high-quality coal used to make steel—but as a niche that’s no longer able to support a region’s economy."

No comments: