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Central Appalachian's Barrier to Severe Poverty Mountaintop Removal Mining?

Submitted by: Nancy L. Young-Houser

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The Appalachian Region of the mountaintop removal mining area consists of 205,000-square miles with 23.6 million people living in 420 counties. Altogether, this is approximately 20% of our county's population. With coal considered an important source in the area, it is still not considered a major provider of jobs anymore according to the Appalachian Regional Commission, regardless what the media or advocates for the coal companies are screaming. Jobs that are becoming the mainstay for these people consist of services, tourism, and manufacturing—becoming slowly diversified over the past 15 years from the original jobs of mining, heavy industry, and agriculture.

 

But the National Mining Association is estimating that with the EPA's decision to end mountaintop removal mining, as many as 77,500 coal mining jobs and 385 million tons of annual coal production will be lost in area such as eastern Kentucky, southern West Virginia, Ohio, southwest Virginia and the Illinois Basin. The western part of West Virginia uses coal as a way for their government to remain in business, which has helped the state avoid a budget deficit due to the soaring coal prices.  Already the economic decline of the area's coal industry is contributing to the contributed economic distress of the area, can a person imagine what the loss of 77,500 jobs will do?

 

Controversially, environmentalists view this move as a way to develop new jobs in the area by developing renewable energy sources instead of a dependency on coal usage. They view the decision by the Obama administration as a new way to build new economy in Appalachia involving green jobs and renewable energy. But the big question is….what will the Appalachian people do while in transition between jobs? What will replace the mining jobs while they are waiting for the area to begin the green jobs?  At one time one in three of the Appalachians lived in poverty, and that is with the mining jobs going on. The 2000 statistics showing the area slightly below the national average of 13.1% while in the rural areas of northern and southern Appalachia this level is 16%, while the central part was close to 27% with an average high school completion rate only 68%.  Yet, the population has grown in 102 Appalachia counties faster than the national rate.

 

Even though mining jobs are not beneficial to those who work for them health-wise, the field of mining still offers one of the few careers for an uneducated miner to make $55,000 or more a year and properly care for his family, regardless whether black lung could develop or not. Since the early 1900s when mining replaced subsistence farming in the area, mining philosophies and reasoning does not seem to have changed much over the past 100 years in the mining policies.  Even today, Appalachian poverty has been brought to national attention through power of the media. Phrases such as "hillbillies" or the "Appalachian poor whites" are stereotypes which still exist today, and unfortunately many are not afraid to use prejudice and discrimination to prevent any serious mining changes from occurring. 

 

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Nancy L. Young-Houser is a professional writer and illustrator, in addition to providing a home for dogs on all levels of need with her best friend, Sandra Marquiss. Her writings include controversial subjects as part of the soapbox she has carried around since childhood, never leaving home without it. Part of this soapbox is her website WayCoolDogs.com filled with lots of four-legged information!

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