Ted Koppel did a feature on McDowell County, WV yesterday morning. I’ve been there many times having supplied the school system with computers back in the 1990s. Even then it was a place holding on by its teeth and such appears to be truer today. The entire region is tied to coal and coal has died. Coal died but not, as a couple of minors claimed, from government regulations.
Coal died because of:
- It’s a filthy source of energy.
- Mining it reeks havoc on the land.
- The greed of the mine owners.
- The mine owners having to be forced into environmental stewardship.
- Tremendous mechanization.
- An ever decreasing demand for it. Increasingly energy is being provided by newer, cleaner, and more sustainable sources
- Historically coal was used to generate electricity, manufacturer iron and steel, and heat our homes. Today we make electricity with wind, solar, and natural gas. Today we don’t make iron and steel, we buy it from China. Today we heat our homes with natural gas, propane, geo thermic heat pumps, electricity and other cleaner, cheaper, and more efficient means.
Coal, and all the jobs that come with it, has been in decline for decades. It’s been at least fifteen years since I drove US 52 along the Big Sandy River and through McDowell County. At that time there were still a few mines working and the only visible jobs were with a mine company, driving or servicing a coal truck, working for the railroad that hauled coal, crewing on a river bardge, or one of the utility companies that served the county. Other than that you were a teacher, a nurse, a county employee, or a retail clerk in one of the few retail stores. After that it was a welfare check of some sort.
The people of McDowell County talked with Ted Koppel and admitted that seventy-five percent of them had voted for Trump. Most of them said they thought that while it would never be the same Trump would make it better. Others, however, seemed convinced that a wave of Trump’s hand and the sun would shine once more, the mines would reopen, men would go back to work, the empty storefronts would again be abuzz with shoppers and the forty percent of the parents who left their children with grandparents to raise as they went of to find jobs elsewhere, would return home.
Well, I’m betting my little piece of paradise that such doesn’t happen. Even this morning a headline read that Kentucky Senator, Mitch McConnell, is beginning to hedge his claim that coal would again become king.
I don’t know what the answer for poverty in Appalachia is. One of the problems, if you’ve ever traveled that area, is the lack of flat land. There’s so little flat land to build on. I even had a resident of Kentucky justify mountaintop mining as a means of creating flat space for future solar and wind farms and factories. Sounds like an even greater environmental disaster to me.
I just feel sorry for the people of Welch, WV. A people so desperate that they have nothing to tie their future on but the promise of a charlatan penthouse politician from New York City. Instead of keeping an eye out for that mine reopening they’d better be watching what may be happening to their government assistance programs; i.e, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security. Expect all three to come under attack fro the conservatives that now control the federal government.