The news from Montcoal, West Virginia, where at least 25 miners have died following an explosion, is unspeakably sad. It's tragic in large part because it's clear that the mine's owner, Massey Energy, has repeatedly violated health and safety laws and endangered the lives of its workers.
One miner who survived lost his son, older brother and nephew in the blast, which speaks to the reality of towns like Montcoal, where mining is both a family tradition and often the only employment available.
But amid the sad news, I will point to one hopeful opportunity in Raleigh County. At nearby Coal River Mountain, advocates for local jobs and clean energy have been trying to push officials to protect the mountain from mining and instead build a 328-megawatt wind farm on the site. Rather than Massey blowing up Coal River Mountain and destroying it forever, the wind farm, they say, could create at least 250 local jobs and sustained income for the county. State officials have so far sided with Massey, but local residents are now appealing to the federal government to intervene on their behalf. Of course, the tragic mine accident occurred in an underground mine, and the proposal for Coal River is a mountaintop removal site, but both have devastating effects on surrounding communities.
As Coal River activist Lorelei Scarbro told me recently, the project stands as hope for the future of Appalachia:
In the coal fields, people have been oppressed for generations by the coal industry. We live in a mono-economy. We don't have any choices. With this wind project, we have begun to see a glimmer of hope. There are people here who are actually beginning to hope that things won't be the way they've always been.