Since the days when mules carted coal and miners were paid in company credit, coal has certainly been king in Central Appalachia. But now, in a trend not widely noted outside the region, far fewer people make a living in mining there. West Virginia, for example, had 132,000 miners in 1950. Today there are fewer than 20,000, and that number is falling. Nearly every day, Appalachians awake to news of mass layoffs and mine closures.
It’s no one thing. There is cheap and newly-abundant natural gas. Limits on coal-burning power plants. Increased competition from Wyoming, where coal is cheaper to mine and lower in polluting sulfur. And finally, after over 100 years of intensive mining, Appalachia’s coal seams are simply becoming mined out.
Producer Catherine Moore has witnessed this moment. She travelled the back roads of West Virginia from county to county, like Logan, where about 130 laid off miners from Patriot Coal gathered with their families for an emergency meeting held by the state’s workforce development program. Each miner was given a booklet called Surviving a Layoff. Inside, how to write a resume, give a good interview. But something else caught Catherine up short. Listen here…
EXCERPTED FROM “Moving On But No Way Gone: Coal in America,” A 30-MINUTE RADIO DOCUMENTARY COMMISSIONED BY HIGH PLAINS NEWS, AIRING NATIONALLY SPRING 2015.