A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

As coal industry continues collapse, miners left with uncertainty, fighting for benefits and back pay

By Nadia Ramlagan Public News Service A wave of coal company bankruptcies has left miners fighting for back pay and medical benefits. Three large coal producers have gone under this year. At the same time, an epidemic of black lung disease is sweeping many coal mining communities. More than 1,000 coal miners were laid off after West Virginia-based Blackjewel filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. (Photo...

Pew Trusts: Former Kentucky mining towns embrace change, turn to tourism in wake of coal’s decline

By April Simpson Pew Charitable Trusts The same Main Street winds through the old mountain mining towns of Cumberland, Benham and Lynch, crosses a river and runs alongside a creek. The early 20th-century coal mining boom drew people to this remote corner of southeast Kentucky until coal’s dizzying decline sent them away. Today, Main Street hints at a roaring past and the potential for change. Poor...

Rural Blog: Appalachia hit twice by coal declines; fewer jobs, ‘crippling’ bills for more expensive power

“As coal mining has collapsed across Appalachia, residents in Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia have been socked with a double whammy—crippling electric bills to go along with a declining economy,” James Bruggers reports for Inside Climate News. (KyForward file photo) American Electric Power subsidiaries Wheeling Power and Appalachian Power requested permission from the West Virginia...

Rural Blog: Role of African Americans in Appalachia coal industry largely unrecognized

When someone is asked to imagine a person living in Appalachia, they’ll likely imagine a white person. But the Appalachians have a significant African American population in certain places. The Washington Post’s Emma Ockerman writes a fascinating piece about what it means to be an African American living in Appalachia, feeling “like a racial minority within a cultural minority.”...

Rural Blog: Famous for hauling coal, CSX president says company won’t buy any more coal trains

If you live in Appalachia, CSX trains carrying coal down the rails has been an everyday sight. But CSX’s new president thinks that may soon be a thing of the past. During a conference call with industry analysts last week, Hunter Harrison said he thinks “fossil fuels are dead” and the company will not buy any more locomotives for coal trains, Gregory Meyer reports for Financial Times....

Experiential Learning: UK physical therapy students go underground to understand miners’ challenges

By Melanie J. Sparks Special to KyForward David Nelson stumbled through a coal mine, trying to navigate safely through what felt like, in his words, “a “giant, dark, low-roofed super store with coal the size of softballs and nothing but our balance and the light source from our helmets to rely on.” Nelson is not a miner. He is a DPT (doctor of physical therapy) student at the UK...

Rural Blog: Mine workers union says new voluntary training won’t work if inspectors can’t cite violations

The United Mine Workers of America is concerned that the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration’s new voluntary training program won’t help create a safer environment for coal miners. In a recent letter to acting MSHA chief Pat Silvey, UMWA President Cecil Roberts said he is concerned that agency staffers who visit mines as part of this program will not be able to write violations....

Bill Straub: Stance of Pruitt, Trump, McConnell on global warming issue does a disservice to the nation

WASHINGTON – Apparently they don’t offer course work in science or mathematics at Lafayette High School and Georgetown College, two of the educational institutions that deigned to issue a degree to Scott Pruitt, but they must offer some great classes in magic – the administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency just conjured up 50,000 new coal mining jobs out of thin air. Pruitt, yet another...

Rural Blog: U.S. coal use to generate electricity falls to lowest level since 1984, EIA report says

Coal consumption for electric power in the U.S. has fallen to its lowest since 1984, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Natural gas is a cleaner, more flexible fuel, and has become cheaper; economists say that makes coal, compared to gas, the most expensive in 40 years. The EIA Today in Energy report released Friday showed that in 2016, coal consumption has dropped 35 percent...

Rural Blog: Biggest obstacle for Appalachian coal industry — more workers to produce less coal

One of the biggest challenges for President Trump to fulfill his promise to revive the coal industry is that surface coal mines in Appalachian are unable to produce the amount of coal as strip mines located mainly out West, Tim Meko and Bonnie Berkowitz report for The Washington Post. The average miner at a Wyoming strip mine can produce 28 tons of coal per hour, compared to about three tons per hour...

Making a Difference: With assist from Displaced Coal Miner Program, Harlan County miner gets degree

Growing up in Eastern Kentucky, coal mining was a way of life for Brandon Pierson’s family. Pierson, whose father worked in the coal mines for 30 years, was destined to follow in his father’s footsteps as a second-generation coal miner. Shortly after graduating Harlan County High School in 2010, Brandon went to work at Clover Lick No. 3 mine in Harlan County. He worked in the coal mines for five...

Daily Yonder: Crude initiation rituals all part of the job when you’re working in the mines

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward The whole point of high-visibility paint is that it makes things easier to see. Especially when it’s sprayed on something that’s already hard to miss, like a naked man. This installment of “In the Black” originally ran on May 30, 2016. “It’s your last day on our crew. You better be ready ’cause we’re going to cut your pants off, paint your d-ck pink,...

Rural Blog: Appalachian youth have no loyalty to coal, seek alternatives to stay home, CSM reports

Teddy Martin, a former Eastern Kentucky coal miner who teaches at a vocational school in Hindman, is trying to teach Appalachian youth that there is a promising future in the region that does not revolve around coal, Zack Colman reports for The Christian Science Monitor. Martin “hopes that learning trades will allow his students to stay in Hindman after they graduate, and perhaps start businesses...

Rural Blog: Coal industry seeing modest growth in jobs, but is it enough to qualify as a revival?

The coal industry, has been mechanizing, automating and losing jobs for decades, saw a modest gain recently, notes Justin Fox of Bloomberg News. The industry has gained 1,700 jobs since September, and added 100 jobs in March, growing to 50,300. While the numbers are positive, they aren’t big enough to signal a resurgence of coal, Fox writes. (Bloomberg chart: Seasonally adjusted employment in...

Daily Yonder: When old mine #8 started showing its age, the guys in the red helmets came to the rescue

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward Old mine #8 is starting to look its age, and nobody seems to care. Gary remembers from early in his career how to treat his workplace — and the new workers wearing the red helmets. I got to work before 4 a.m. to help “pre-shift” the mine, inspecting things before the day-shift crew arrived. Ralph had been sick, and Dean had his hands full pulling power,...

Veteran Williamsburg coal miner Partin killed in accident at Green Hill Mining in Whitley County

A 33-year-old coal miner was killed early Thursday in a highwall accident at a Whitley County mine. Joseph W. Partin, of Williamsburg, Ky., an Auger operator/foreman with eight years of experience, suffered fatal injuries at the Green Hill Mining, Inc. GHM#51 mine in Rockholds, Ky. Partin, who began his shift at 5 p.m. Wednesday evening, was performing maintenance work on the Auger when a section...

Daily Yonder: He survived a notorious mining disaster and lived long enough to change his ways

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward Arvil had hair like Elvis, gave unsolicited advice to the corporate bosses, never cheated on his wife (exactly), and lived through one of the most notorious mining disasters in modern U.S. history. One of the older miners, Greg, was telling me about Arvil, the shift foreman at #9. “Now that dumb sumbitch was a mine manager in the late 80’s. It was one of the...

Rural Blog: Despite waning demand for coal, some Obama policies could have helped revive the industry

Repealing the Obama administration’s Stream Protection Rule has yet to create any new coal jobs and likely won’t do much to revive the industry in the future, James Higdon, author and son of a Kentucky Republican state senator, writes for Politico Magazine. “Tyler White, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, couldn’t say how many jobs he thought the repeal of the rule would...

Eastern Mining Collectors Association sets sixth annual spring meet at show at Carter Caves

The Eastern Mining Collectors Association will hold its sixth annual Spring Meet and Show at Carter Caves State Resort Park on April 1. Learn about the rich history of coal mining in Eastern Kentucky at this free event. Vendors from across the country and as far away as California will be at the show to sell, buy and trade mining artifacts used in the mining of coal, gold, silver and copper. The artifacts...

Daily Yonder: Fear and risk don’t stop you from doing the job — it’s all part of being a coal miner

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward Editor’s Note: This article appeared previously on KyForward. A mountain with enough force to straighten a steel arch certainly has enough power to obliterate a miner in a heartbeat. What’s the solution for the men who have to secure the top? “Toughen up,” says Gary’s co-worker, and get back to work. Cap Wedge, with years of experience cutting slope...