More than a century of mining coal in Central Appalachia has depleted what’s economically recoverable, according to Jason Bailey, the research and policy director of the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development in Berea, Ky. He said the decline had started well before the recession, the rise of natural gas or the Obama EPA’s focus on carbon emissions.
“It’s not going to come back,” he said. “There’s beginning to be some acceptance of that.”
On Monday, Rep. Hal Rogers, a Republican whose district spans much of the struggling eastern Kentucky coalfield, and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, announced a December economic summit to discuss ideas to wean the region off coal.
It’s common for multiple generations of Appalachian families to have worked in coal mines. Michael Warrix, of Prestonsburg, Ky., said his father had spent 38 years in the mines and was still working.
“He can’t leave it,” said Warrix, who attended Tuesday’s rally. “There’s no place to go.”
But Warrix can’t find steady work in the mines. He said he was taking community college classes with the goal of transferring to the University of Kentucky’s engineering school.
Bailey said policy makers in Kentucky and Washington were failing to help the region overcome the long-term decline of its mainstay industry with job training and education.
“That responsibility has been ignored,” he said. “It should be part of energy policy.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story named the wrong House of Representatives subcommittee where the hearing took place. It was at the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.