Here’s a really interesting piece on what’s going on in WV with the results of the recent election:
On Twitter last night, people who have never been near Appalachia, emboldened by the sense that We Are All Nate Silvers Now, fought over exit polls showing that many Sanders voters said they would support Trump over Clinton in the fall. Some said they would support Trump over Sanders, and some Clinton voters also said they’d be voting Trump. The exasperation of poll-readers is understandable. This tells us nothing, they say, except that West Virginia is being West Virginia again.
I haven’t lived in West Virginia for a long time, and I haven’t become a certified expert in my time away, but this is what I recall from the county where I grew up. It is, of course, my own impression, and although I offer it to make larger suggestions about the meaning of the primary results, in the end it is just my sense of the place. It is proffer, not pronouncement.***
A generally suspicious and pissed-off attitude toward politics generally is not hard to understand in West Virginia, and is a more plausible explanation for the ideological see-sawing of the exit polls than any grand strategy. Nearly a third of Democratic primary voters said they had a family member in the coal industry. Coal workers have been in an impossible situation for years. Mining employment has fallen from over 120,000 at its 1950s peak to between 20,000 and 25,000; union membership has fallen sharply; and miners, whose culture has historically involved giving the finger to the company, have been widely convinced that environmental policies from the Obama administration are to blame. Meanwhile the company bosses, whom no miner loves, have aggressively bought political influence, including a state supreme court judge so blatantly funded and elected to reverse a ruling against Massey Coal that the U.S. Supreme Court ordered him off the case. The repugnant Don Blankenship, dictatorial head of Massey when its safety-flouting practices killed 29 miners in the 2010 Big Branch explosion, was recently sentenced to one year in prison – a political victory for the ambitious federal prosecutor who put him there, but a modest sentence for what was arguably mass manslaughter. Miners have watched their industry and unions dying as mountaintop removal wrecks their landscape on the way out. Everything Bernie Sanders says about a rigged economy and political system is matter-of-fact in their experience, and so is much of what Donald Trump says on the same themes. If you want to run a grievance-based campaign, well, there are plenty of grievances here. The fact that one of those campaigns is fraudulent does not make the grievances it is exploiting any less acute.
As the kids say, read the whole thing. I’d bookmark that site.
The problem for this country, not just West VA is that folks are going to have to be told some very unpleasant truths over the next couple of decades. If they punish those charged with the responsibility to honestly share that information and help them adjust by not voting for them or voting them out of office, they will get told lies and given no preparation. America and Americans are not entitled to being the most successful country anymore. Those days are gone. We can sulk, we can tantrum, but by the end of that, we will be further behind. Someone has to say that to them — just like that. You can be mad about it, you can be sad about it, but stop whining and figure out how to make the best of it for your kids sake.
Formerly disgruntled Clinton supporter
Heard all about poor Mr. Blankenship from his lawyer on NPR this morning. They gave that dude lots of airtime. They also talked about the cushy prison where poor Mr. Blankenship will be doing his (short) stint, but there must not have been time to discuss why we have different prisons for folks like Mr. Blankenship. Thanks NPR!
Formerly disgruntled Clinton supporter
@Elie: I appreciate Hillary’s occasional candor on this topic, and her climate action plans include provisions aimed squarely at helping coal communities move forward. Not that she’ll get much credit or thanks from most of the folks who would be helped.
@Formerly disgruntled Clinton supporter:
You got that right — but I am glad that she still does it. People do not understand that the people who actually care about them are going to try to get them ready and not sugar coat the inevitable — All of the climate change, anti-science, anti change agenda are nothing but prolonged tantrums. The only hope that the Republicans have to become relevant, and to overall both parties help us is if Trump is crushed and takes the Senate and crossed fingers, the House with him. There will be no more time for excuses — though they may try for a time. Denial is suicide when you are headed for the cliff…
@Formerly disgruntled Clinton supporter:
NPR = Nice Polite Republicans. The only polite ones left.
I think the “union membership has fallen sharply” part is both true and fascinating, because coal miners are now overwhelmingly voting for the people who will kill their ability to unionize. And this week they voted overwhelmingly for republican Cole and “dem” Justice to be our next governor, two guys who are the epitome of big bosses.
So dumb considering Republicans could care less about poor or middle class people in W Virginia. Yet those people will vote Republican every time because Republican is the whites first party. That’s the bottom line. Never had much to do with policy because if it did they would be voting overwhelmingly Democrat.
Lessons of the Battle of Blair Mountain are forgotten.
Saw that yesterday. I read it and remembered the timber/milling town my mother grew up in, Eureka, CA. Exact mentality. She got out and made a small life for herself and us. Her family that stayed ended up, well let’s just say not thriving. It was right down to the prison building. Once the timber was off limits the only employment was the super max prison that was constructed and staffed just north. Whenever we’d go and visit I was always the good for nothing college boy. Anyone who left was considered almost traitorous. Guarantee my relatives up there will vote Trump in the fall. He’ll bring those timber jobs back for sure!
More small government:
Shelby keeps raiding NASAs budget to dump pork in Alabama. The Super Strypi is beneath NASA to pursue. There’s a host of private companies (not to mention SpaceX) that can meet that need without government funding. The SLS is largely also due to Shelby trying to funnel money into Alabama, even though it’ll cost more than $500M per launch. The Falcon Heavy should launch closer to $90M for an expendable launch of about half the SLS capacity. It seems obvious even within NASA that they should be putting the $2B annually from the SLS budget into working with SpaceX on a Falcon XX reusable vehicle that would cost much less per launch.
In no small way, SpaceX has redefined what our expectations for a launch vehicle should be and NASA isn’t appropriated to chase that new expectation. There’s a real possibility SpaceX will land a mannable vehicle on Mars before NASA does, and do it for a small fraction of the taxpayer cost because some idiot old man wants to get re-elected.
Is it just me or does West Virginia look more and more like “Hunger Games”?
@lollipopguild: I’m pretty sure District 12 is actually supposed to be West Virginia (and other parts of Appalachia).
Villago Delenda Est
This is pretty much the same as the tea party situation; these people know something is wrong, they are pissed, but they seem to be totally incapable of comprehending who exactly is fucking them over. It’s not Obama, it’s not the hippies. It’s vile parasites like Blakenship.
Villago Delenda Est
@shomi: Alas this has so much to do with it. It’s become a matter of nothing but skin color.
A “mannable vehicle,” yes, but it’s a bit of a stunt, isn’t it? It couldn’t actually be used to carry humans there (or carry them back, or build a permanent habitat for them) without being part of a much more ambitious project.
Also, NASA is helping them do it.
Clinton just needs to come out as pro-coal-roll. She’d take the western panhandle by 15%
I’m a little tired of excuses for how these people vote. I can’t think of any other group that gets this much indulgence. At some point, it becomes another manifestation of privilege.
I’ll continue to support Democrats who have plans to help these folks as part of a plan to help all the other folks who need it.
@? Martin: I thought the main point of SLS was to have a large rocket to get to Mars.
@Villago Delenda Est:
It’s not any of them. Look, wind is now cheaper than coal for electricity generation, and in states like CA solar is as well. And natural gas is cheaper as well. Given that you have three sources to choose from, all of which are economically cheaper, there is simply no future for coal.
You don’t even need to get into the environmental implications of coal vs the others to see that it’s dead, but if you factor in those consequences, the case only gets stronger.
But the GOP is willing to lie to them, saying they’ll protect their jobs. They can’t. It’s impossible. But they don’t want to face that reality, because then what? What do they do once that job is gone? Who is offering them an answer? Nobody is. The lie is at least something.
It’s all wonderful to mope about”lost” jobs, but who honestly wants to work a job with backbreaking conditions and/or black lung?
@Doug R: People who have no better options.
I’m pretty sure a whole lot of the infrastructure in WV (and many other states) needs a lot of work: roads, bridges, schools, libraries, fire stations, police stations, sewer systems … and that’s just off the top of my head.
If we put all of the former coal miners to work doing all of the upgrades and new construction that’s currently needed, we probably have enough work for the next decade, at least.
But, of course, we can’t raise people’s taxes to build infrastructure and create jobs because that’s Bad.
Some people do like working manual labor. My brother has worked as a house painter for the past 30 years and he still likes it even though he’s starting to have trouble keeping up with the younger guys.
Nobody likes working a crappy job for crappy wages, but a crappy job for good wages is a lot more palatable.
@? Martin: Do you believe that the various jobs programs proposed by candidates like Clinton and Sanders are also lies? Couldn’t miners be put to work rebuilding infrastructure, for instance? The only reason something like that couldn’t be implemented is the intransigence of Republicans in Congress.
People whose alternative is permanent unemployment.
Or they are simply willing to live with that tradeoff. Not my thing but it describes several of my high school classmates.
@? Martin: Right now, today, there are a lot of coal-burning power stations in the US producing 33% of the US requirement for power on demand. All that is needed to produce that electricity is coal, the plants already exist and are mostly paid for or depreciated. Wind farms, even after more than a decade of tax breaks and government promotion produce a fraction of that amount of energy and intermittently, usually backed up by fossil-carbon fracked gas but that gas won’t last forever. There are, in contrast, hundreds of billions of tonnes of coal reserves in the US which will easily outlast the gas reserves that can be extracted at a reasonable cost.
Coal mining isn’t going to go away in the US, not for another fifty years or more. The coal industry employs a fraction of the workforce as it used to due to automation but that’s true of many industries. No-one digs coal out of seams underground with pickaxes any more as in the good old days of full employment, a bucket excavator operator scoops five thousand tonnes of low-grade coal in a single 8-hour shift instead.
The best quote from that article, in my opinion, is this aside:
The rest of it is, indeed, worth reading, though.
Oftentimes people who get bullied or tormented react in different ways- sometimes by developing empathy for others in a similar situation, other times by just waiting until it is their turn to hold the whip hand.
If somebodies reaction to a century of Blankenships is to want to round up Mexicans in cattle cars, maybe they don’t need to be “understood”.
Villago Delenda Est
@? Martin: Blankenship is one of the guys telling them lies. He, and parasites like him, are feeding these people a passel of lies and they eat it up. Drumpf promises to “bring their jobs back”, but as you say, the market itself took those jobs away, because coal is more expensive than the alternatives.
Furthermore, these people do not want to hear the truth. They’d rather believe that the near sheriff is deliberately fucking them over in revenge for their centuries of unearned privilege.
My sympathy is very limited for people who willingly accept the lies and refuse to face reality like this, all because they’re bigoted dogshit.
@? Martin: Nuclear power is falling by the wayside because of profitability too. Fort Calhoun nuclear station (NE) announced today they were shutting down at year end. Exelon (originally Commonwealth Edison in IL.) is threatening to shut down a few of there nuclear plants. The newer generation nuclear units being built in the Southeastern US are behind schedule and over budget.
Comm Ed’s Collins Station was originally going to be an oil burning plant as it was being built in the 70’s. This was a monster size plant with 5 units (turbines). Then the oil crisis hit and they turned it into an oil / gas plant . In 2001 they explored getting subsidies for turning 2 units into coal burners. They shuttered it in 2004.
One of the biggest problem with coal plants profitability is that many are used as “peakers” and only run when spikes in power demand (peaks) are anticipated because of primarily hot weather. You still have to maintain it wether it is running 10% of the time or 100% of the time. It’s also why nuclear power plants never shut down over the summer unless it’s for something bad.
But construction of new coal plants is slow to nonexistent because they aren’t cost competitive, especially with new environmental restrictions. Old plants are being closed because it isn’t economically practical to update them to modern environmental standards. By the time natural gas from fracking runs out, wind and solar will be far more cost effective than coal anyway. Coal is pretty much a legacy power source at this point. Even if there weren’t worries about automation, it’s not a good long-term source of jobs.
@? Martin: What is to offer them? An economy based on extraction always results in the extractors/laborers moving on once the land is exhausted. That’s the reality–it was the reality of the extractive water and land exhausting agriculture that ended in the dustbowl and its the reality of mining. The okies had to pick up and move–I’m not sure why WV miners are receiving all this extra sentimental sympathy. People romanticize appalachian life–I gagged my way through Joe Bageant’s paen to his grandparents life which included a healthy dose of …things that apparently are not permitted terms here– and forms of child abuse and neglect–but the reality is that if people want to live off more than subsistnce agriculture they always had to work in the mines or the little canning factories. Once those closed down whose responsibility, under capitalist individualism, is it to bring jobs back or stabilize the local economy?
Gotta agree with you there.
From the article:
Class can be brutal but marginally escapable. Just try escaping race.
And this is another hook by which people in WV are prepared to swallow the lies. If only those damned hippies and their damned EPA would lay off, coal would come back! Those of us who would prefer not to die and also not to kill the planet for the sake of a relatively few mining jobs are to blame, certainly not Blankenship.
Some people have been able to escape race; there’s the whole issue of “passing”. Certainly many people who are biracial have some chance of being accepted as the more favored of their parents’ races.
When eastern plants started buying Wyoming coal it was over.
Central Appalachian coal is no longer viable on the market. The labor cost per ton keeps going up, which is a clear indicator that the quality seams are played out and they are working over what’s left. Mountaintop removal is about squeezing a few bucks out of marginal holdings.
While Powder River and Illinois Basin will continue to be produced, this regions production is headed to the history books.
This. I think there’s some idea that the poverty and the culture is somehow a natural state, but it’s entirely a product of the extraction industry.
@? Martin: And who do you think are gonna be customers for the space X ‘projects’?
Central Appalachian coal is stone cold dead. They’ve been digging for a century, there are no magic mountain trolls replacing what’s been taken, and its production costs are longer cost competitive domestically or globally.
@Roger Moore: In that sense, even when you’re escaping race, you’re not escaping race. Presumably, you can be a poor person who passes as a rich person, but I wouldn’t consider that escaping class either.
However, you can technically become a rich person even if you start out as a poor person. And then you’ve done pulled yourself up by your boot straps as the good Bill says you should.
Yes and no. If successful, it would prove that there is a MUCH simpler way to get to Mars than NASA is pursuing. SpaceX has already proven that supersonic retro-propulsion is stable and reliable. The re-entry burn of the first stage for landing is designed to test this theory and it’s now broadly accepted as at least feasible for Mars. The Dragon thrusters are also designed for a direct powered landing. If these are feasible (the question is whether there is enough delta-v in the landing craft to slow given the high terminal velocity of the thin Martian atmosphere – it’s clear there is way more than enough thrust – maybe there would be a drogue to assist).
SpaceX does have at least handwavy plans for a much larger rocket and a much larger capsule – the Mars Colonial Transporter (subtle). They’re at least working on engine design, now with some funding from the Air Force, so that’s a least not complete fiction. That would be designed to take 100t to Mars, and that should be plenty capable.
It’s a stunt in the sense that a Dragon is not a viable deep-space vehicle. But in demonstrating the landing process, it’s no stunt, and would demonstrate a massive improvement upon NASAs current approach. And its entirely possible that SpaceX would make that launch with an entirely reused stack – reused Falcon 9s, and reused Dragon’s since NASA won’t reuse rockets or capsules per their current contract. So it would be a pretty freaking cheap experiment, which is no stunt either.
And understand that the engine being designed for the MCT is LOX/liquid methane which could in theory be manufactured in-situ, albeit quite slowly. One of the first launches would likely be a manufacturing stack for LOX/methane to fuel a lander for a return launch.
Everything in the effort is theoretically possible. They’ve done a really incredible job of building not only a solid reusable technology, but also at low-cost and high reliability. Its hard to bet against them at this stage. (Tesla is an entirely different story there).
@smith: Why would you build infrastructure in West Virginia if there are no other jobs there to build the infrastructure to. They have to go together. What’s West Virginia’s new industry?
But new plants aren’t going to be built, and old plants will only be retired. Sure, they’ll linger for a while, but it’s a declining industry and the GOP is proposing MORE mining jobs. Not going to happen.
Villago Delenda Est
@Roger Moore: Not even piles of money can truly free you from race. And the thing about “passing” is that sometimes you think you are, but you’re not.
The Daily Show really did a poor job about the rtfcking crossovers in WV and coming up with a “gee look how many Bernie voters would not vote for Hillary!” theme. Not to mentinon how unique WV is in the quadrennial “who is more lie real America?” coverage (hint: it ain’t white peopled states being all bitter climbers).
Too often I wonder how shut off from liberals TDS are.
@Doug R: The industry was unionized, so they actually had decent wages and benefits, for the region at least. That’s worth a lot–for some, maybe even a job that gradually physically destroys you.
…In that connection, it’s always been kind of amazing to me, though it really shouldn’t be surprising, how mythologized the old nationalized coal mines are on the British left. One of Margaret Thatcher’s enduring sins is shutting the mines down. (I think it’s part of the reason that a few British lefties believe American right-wing conspiracy theories about the global warming hoax; they think global warming was made up by Maggie Thatcher to close the mines.)
I can never feel entirely sympathetic to it because, of course, the coal industry was horrible and destroying the Earth to boot. But these were whole communities built around these solid unionized jobs, and they just got annihilated in a stroke, in a move that was explicitly intended to break organized labor.
To these people in West Virginia, Obama and Hillary Clinton are their Maggie Thatcher. It doesn’t matter whether the imputation makes logical sense; Obama hasn’t done much for them, because there’s not a lot he can do, but they need somebody to blame.
J R in WV
All you say is at least partly true, except that in southern West Virginia they are about to run out of mineable coal. Even the mountain-top removal strip jobs are running to the end of their leases. They’ve been mining here at the maximum possible volume since just after the civil war.
I worked with coal engineers before I retired, and they were talking about 15 more years of commercial steam coal mining – 8 years ago. There’s still a little metallurgical coal to mine, if there was a demand for it, but US steel production is in the basement, and likely to stay there.
They have been closing mines in the south of the state, and offering some of those men work in the north, but not many of them, and not for very long.
I have one friend who rose from miner to electrician, to foreman, to safety manager. He works at a new mine being built in Nova Scotia now, and the company flew his family home to WV for Christmas last year, on the company plane. Not the average coal miner story.
I don’t care what the author of the blog says about his qualification to write about West Virginia social class structure and its impact on politics. Anybody named Jedediah Purdy has got to be an expert on the state.
It happened when the Union gave up-
Agreed to 2 tier pay scales and allowing non-union mines.
After that it was down hill all the way. Then, after a generation of Republican Federal Judges, you pile all the union contracts, pensions and health benefits into companies you plan to bankrupt. But the companies got into trouble themselves due to the glut in the Natural Gas markets. No one anticipated the fracking successes and the excess gas had no where to go except the domestic market. Couple of years we’ll see that gas exported but the infrastructure isn’t there yet.
@smith: This is a dynamic that has certainly been at play in my “hometown” of Paonia, here in CO. “Hippies” and “enviros” still come in for their fair share of abuse for their alleged role in shutting down the coal mines. Meanwhile, the Kochs are weeping crocodile tears all the way to the bank.
What no one mentions about WV is that large portions of the state are owned by out of state corporations. In some counties as high as 75%. Its been that way for 100 years. There will be no economic development with that type of ownership and they can keep it at those levels because they are taxed so low as to be near 0. No tax revenue, no schools, roads, hospitals, economic development. If you want to transition away from coal, get the land into hands that want that as well.
@Sibelius: we moved to Eureka in ’64 when my dad got a job cutting meat at the Mckinleyville Safeway. Thus was a timber town that hoped to be a nuclear power town but the Humboldt Bay Gen station was shuttered. My mom could not take the fog and due to the great climate change hoax, such foggy days are fewer every year. Our neighbors were timber folks and tough and unforgiving folks that tend to bitter, petty future corrections officers.
Why no, I don’t miss it.
While you are correct that many of the coal plants were reaching their end of life, they did so as the fracking glut from natural gas began to flood the national market and was priced consistently lower than coal, per million btu, for the first time. Many think that gas will stay that way, but it won’t. Conversion plants, ports, pipelines and ships are being built to ship Liquid Natural Gas around the world. then the US power companies will be competing with the Europeans and Asians for the same gas. As these profit driven utilities are also under regulatory control as to rate increases, they will not be able to directly pass the increased fuel costs to the consumer. At one point they will have 2 equations-
x=cost of continuing gas as a fuel
y=cost of converting boilers+cost of coal+environmental tools
As long as x is less than y, they will burn gas.
If x gets higher than y, they will switch back to coal.
Why? Because these are profit driven organizations and their leaders are under fiduciary responsibility not to purposely lose money. Solar and wind is coming on, but its doubtful it fulfill the nation’s needs. There will have to be other sources.
Its not good or bad, but IS. Take over the utilities and they can follow any social policy you want, until then, look at their balance sheets to predict what fuel they will burn.
The extraction culture exists due to the control of the state by out of state corporations. Owning the politicians and owning the physical land. In some counties as much as 75%. Break their hold and you can then begin to see a shift toward diversified economy.
@Prescott Cactus: Coal-fired plants make terrible peakers. Gas-fired simple-cycle (no steam recovery) turbines work fairly well here but are not as efficient as gas-fired combined-cycle turbines. All steam-based systems—including traditional coal-based ones, and the nukes you (or someone) mentioned—need to stay hot as much as possible. Smaller, slower temperature changes are better.
Integrated gasification (coal-gas) plants work sort of like natgas combined cycle plants but clearly will have issues with getting the gasification restarted if the gasifier is shut off (I haven’t read up on them, this is just obvious from the basic chemistry of IGCC systems).
Hydroelectric plants are near unique in being both highly dispatchable and very efficient, which is why whenever there’s suitable terrain, we tend to build pumped hydro…
pseudonymous in nc
A crappy job with good wages is sacrificing your life for the next generation. Except that in the land of King Coal, the sons go down the mine too because it’s what you do and it’s what you think their dads want. And the bosses promote the myth of tradition as well, even as their hands stay manicured and their lungs stay pristine.
pseudonymous in nc
I actually agree with this, because Trump-Americans will dig out and burn every bit of coal they can because West Virginia isn’t going to be submerged by rising seas in the way Miami will be. Of course, we’ll all be fucked, but we can see now why we’re all fucked.
@Ridge: This is all true and correct, but the costs of switching are much higher than you might think. As I noted above, IGCC and NGCC plants are similar—both burn gas in a turbine and use a steam cycle as a bottoming cycle—but even those two are sufficiently different that you can’t simply swap out natgas and swap in coalgas (the gasifier is the obvious issue, but I imagine you also have to tweak the hot section of the turbines).
Other steam-based systems are even worse, as they are highly tuned to the combustion conditions.
Some rough back-of-envelope numbers: for traditional plants, natgas at $6 and coal at $60 (priced in their traditional units) provide approximately equal operating costs. That is, the breakeven is about 1:10. Current coal price is in the $40s, while NG is in the $2-3 range.
Once LNG exports are up, NG might rise to the 4-5 range, which could help boost coal a bit. However, wind power levelized cost tends to match NG at about $5, as does solar, and their current costs are below this. Their disadvantage is that they are non-dispatchable, but I predict we’re going to see “dispatchable load” in the next decades.
@pseudonymous in nc:
One more time….. THERE IS NO COAL LEFT TO MINE IN CENTRAL APPALACHIA.
It’s gone. See @J R in WV:
Late to this thread, but what made me do a spit-take in Jedediah Purdy’s linked piece is that “mining employment” is down to 20,000-25,000 jobs. West Virginia’s population is about 1.85 million. I’m guessing there might be more fast-food restaurant employees in the state than coal miners. But the coal mythology is strong. And that’s the crucial issue in the state?!
@Robert Sneddon: Those coal-burning plants are not being dispatched by the RTOs because their power is not competitive. The utilities are trying to get subsidies for early decommissioning.
@? Martin: Tourism… yes tourism. West By God Virginia (the parts where they haven’t crew-cutted mountain tops is incredibly beautiful… for hiking, biking, rafting/kayaking and camping. Build that, set up the infrastructure to reach it and enjoy it. It’s only a couple of hours away from the likes of DC/Baltimore/Richmond/Columbus/Louisville/Charlotte. Can a state survive on tourism alone, can’t say, but it’s a damn sight cleaner than cutting off mountain tops.
@piratedan: seconded. Turn the state into a national park. It is an amazingly beautiful state. Making coal companies clean up the mountains ought to be a lot easier than forcing Mexico to pay for a wall
Only hope for economic change that can fund the infrastructure jobs in WVa is to legalize recreational marijuana and tax the hell out of it. It’s long been the #1 cash crop of the region, and it would boost those tourism dollars.
@Doug R: As opposed to no job at all? Everyone in the coal mining regions of Appalachia.
Because that’s the reality of the place. No industry will ever relocate there. The roads suck because it’s hard to build roads in the mountains, there’s no money to build them correctly and the coal trucks tear the hell out of them. The water systems are a nightmare and the water is often polluted by heavy metals. The local governments are somewhere between local governments in China and Nigeria on the corruption scale, the local school systems are underfunded, ineffective and more sources of patronage jobs than of education. Every pound of stuff brought into, and trucked out of, the mountains by vehicle incurs a cost penalty because you’re fighting gravity going in and then using engine braking coming out, all on the death ride twisty roads crumbling under the weight of overloaded coal trucks.
There is beauty there that will take your breath away, even more so in West Virginia than in East Kentucky where I grew up (in the foothills, not deep inside them). At least in the parts the coal companies haven’t blown to hell and shoved off the side into the watersheds to get at the increasingly marginal seams of coal.
Those mountains–like mountains everywhere–exert a pull on those who are born there that makes leaving them feel like the spiritual equivalent of an animal gnawing off a limb caught in a cruel steel trap. But there are no jobs, there never will be again and it leaves those who can’t leave them trapped as surely as the people trapped by poverty in the inner cities, and gives rise to the exact same social pathologies.
@pseudonymous in nc: Coal mining may survive, but it’s doomed in Appalachia. In Montana and Wyoming, you scratch off a foot or two of dirt in a wide expanse of flatness, and there’s a seam of high-quality coal thirty, forty, fifty feet thick. In East Kentucky and West Virginia, the coal quality is amazingly uneven. Metallurgical quality–almost anthracite–here, low quality sulfur-packed, mercury polluted crap there but, everywhere, the seam is only two or three feet thick and it’s buried under damn mountain and goes all over the place.
In 1985, when I was doing some work on coal productivity and employment trends, Kentucky and West Virginia between them produced half the nation’s coal and half of the coal in each state came out of adjoining Pike and Mingo Counties (McCoy and Hatfield country, respectively). Now, the two states between them produce less than Wyoming alone.
It’s not just the productivity increases that are killing coal in Appalachia, it’s the economics of recovering the stuff even with mechanization. The easy coal is drying up there and there’s much easier coal elsewhere. The only thing they’ve got going for them is proximity to the power plants in nearby areas and with cheap oil, even that isn’t enough.