Appalachia WV | Coal Mining Appalachia

West Virginia coal operators built small, company-owned towns for their miners to live in.

Is coal mining dying in Appalachia

Mr. Spaulding was standing near the railroad tracks at the edge of town where trains move coal out of the region, behind a dilapidated brick building that once housed a high-end suit factory. It is becoming a hub for the family of social enterprises that Coalfield Development leads, which include rehabilitating buildings, installing solar panels, and an agriculture program that grows produce and is turning an old mine site into a solar-powered fish farm.

West Virginia coal operators built small, company-owned towns for their miners to live in.

Her ancestors worked the coal mines

The real reason that the coal industry in West Virginia is slowly dying has nothing to do with government regulation. After 150 years of mining, most of the good, easy-to-get coal in Appalachia is simply gone. Coal production in the region plunged 13 percent last year — one of the biggest drops in 50 years. But to Blankenship, the true enemies are the environmental "greeniacs" who recognize that burning coal has dangerously overheated the planet. In his view, even something as innocuous as energy conservation is nothing but a communist plot. "Turn down your thermostats?" he once scoffed. "Buy a smaller car? Conserve? I have spent quite a bit of time in Russia and China, and that's the first stage. You go from having your own car to carpooling to riding the bus to mass transit. You eventually get to where you're going by walking. That's what socialism and the elimination of capitalism and free enterprise is all about."

In the coal mines and coal towns of West Virginia, African Americans worked and lived alongside European immigrants and native Appalachians.

With so much profitable coal to be had, the focus was on productivity at any cost. The safety record at the mine was abysmal — and it was getting worse. Last year, citations by the Mine Safety Health Administration at Upper Big Branch doubled to more than 500 — including 200 for "significant and substantial" violations that MSHA considers "reasonably likely to result in a reasonably serious injury or illness." Most telling of all, MSHA issued 61 withdrawal orders at the mine, temporarily shutting down parts of the operation 54 times in 2009 and seven times in 2010. Such a high number of withdrawal orders is virtually unheard of in the industry — yet federal inspectors, not known for being tough on outlaw coal operations, failed to close down the mine. "It's like someone driving drunk 61 times," said Celeste Monforton, a former policy adviser at MSHA.

appalachian coal mining music - Roadheaders

Massey offered Delorice a small settlement, but she took the company to court, believing that management should be forced to pay for its negligence. During the proceedings, her lawyer unearthed two revealing memos. The first indicated that Blankenship knew personally that there had been a problem with a conveyor belt nearly a week before the fire broke out. In the second, dated three months before the disaster, Blankenship appeared to order the superintendents of Massey's mines to ignore safety concerns in favor of increasing production. "If any of you have been asked by your group presidents, your supervisors, engineers or anyone else to do anything other than run coal (i.e., build overcasts, do construction jobs, or whatever), you need to ignore them and run coal," Blankenship told them. "This memo is necessary only because we seem not to understand that the coal pays the bills."

CD Celebrates Music from the Coal Mines : NPR

Narrator: To protect his mine operations, Justus Collins sent forty hired men into his coal camps. Collins's private soldiers were armed with the latest firepower, including Winchester rifles and machine guns. The employer of record for these enforcers was a local private detective agency.

Inside Appalachia: Modern Day Coal Miner | WMKY

For the first time in his life, Blankenship suddenly found himself in the midst of a crisis that he could not buy his way out of. The media coverage of the disaster was relentless, and industry insiders wondered openly if he would have to step down as CEO of Massey. Even longtime champions of Big Coal began to use him as a punching bag. During a Senate hearing on the tragedy, Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia — perhaps the single most valuable ally the coal industry had — took the extraordinary step of personally rebuking Blankenship for his recklessness and hypocrisy. "I cannot fathom how an American business could practice such disgraceful health and safety policies while simultaneously boasting about its commitment to the safety of its workers," Byrd said. "The Upper Big Branch mine had an alarming — an alarming — record. Shame!"

Inside Appalachia: Modern Day Coal Miner ..

Delorice had been born and raised in coal country; she understood that mining was a dangerous job. But in the weeks after Bragg's death, she heard from friends who worked in the mines that Massey was always cutting corners on safety, pushing for more coal. A subsequent investigation showed that the fire had been caused by an improperly maintained conveyor belt. In the previous year, Massey had racked up more than 90 safety violations at the mine. "It wasn't a mine fire that killed my husband," Delorice told me not long after the disaster, her eyes hardening. "It was greed."