Communities in Appalachia Taking a Stand for a Greener Energy Economy

Authors: Sandra Diaz

In the coalfields of central and southern Appalachia, there is a falsehood being perpetuated by big coal companies: Coal is the only economic future.

States like West Virginia and Kentucky have a long history of coal mining, and residents have a huge sense of pride in the fact that they have provided electricity to this country for almost 150 years. But coal mining has grown even shadier, even as it brings the miner to the surface of the earth.

There is relatively new form of coal mining called mountaintop removal. In one of most destructive acts ever witnessed, coal companies strip a mountain of its forest, plant explosives into the mountaintop, and blast the top off the mountain to get to thin seams of coal. There can be 25 times more dirt than coal retrieved in this process.

This process is designed to remove the miner from the process and replace him with large machines. What used to take hundreds of miners several years to accomplish, now take a crew of 10 just a couple of years.

Mountaintop removal coal mining is a mountain killer, a community killer, and a jobs killer.

There are many other impacts too numerous to go into in this post. Please visit iLoveMountains.org to learn more.

The good new is that there is hope. Communities are starting to fight back, to look for alternatives not just to the destruction of their homeland, but to the diminishing economic opportunities that coal is leaving for them.

Coal River Mountain Watch in southern West Virginia, is but one example. Coal River Mountain is slated for 2000 acres of mountaintop removal mining. CRMW recently commissioned a study to show the tremendous economic opportunity that wind power could bring to the area.

The Coal River Wind Farm would:

  • Create Jobs 200 local employment opportunities during construction,
  • Create 50 permanent jobs during the life of the wind farm,
  • Allow for concurrent uses of the mountain including harvesting of valuable forest plants, sustainable forestry, and tourism, and
  • Provide more than $1.74 million in annual property taxes to Raleigh County
  • The Coal River Wind Farm would be a win-win situation- protecting the mountains and communities of Coal River while still providing enough electricity for 150,000 homes.

The study also concluded that substantial economic benefits would also result from the development of a strong wind industry in southern West Virginia. A Clean Energy Corps could help make that a reality.

While the fate of Coal River Mountain is still uncertain, a new energy future beyond coal is an idea of whose time has come. Is that the winds of change I feel blowing through the coalfields?

Sandra Diaz is the national field coordinator for Appalachian Voices, an organization working to protect the natural and cultural heritage of central and southern Appalachia. Appalachian Voices is also part of the Alliance for Appalachia, working to bring a just sustainable future to the region.

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