Hope in the Coal Fields

Flickr/<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/wallyg/150113764/">wallyg</a> (<a href="http://www.creativecommons.org">Creative Commons</a>).

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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.

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You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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