Folklore, History & the Study of Myth

The Writings of Gary R. Varner


Coal: Energy and Pain in Eastern Kentucky

Posted by Gary R. Varner on November 3, 2013 at 9:00 AM

While the Republican Party touts coal as America's cheap energy resource what are the other aspects of coal mining?


Eastern Kentucky has long been the coal capital of the United States. This region of the Commonwealth relies on the jobs that coal mining generates to survive. Some miners, working in the cramped and dangerous mines earn up to $75,000 annually and would find it impossible to survive without coal. But what else does coal generate?


To put it bluntly coal mining destroys habitat and water purity and creates vast wastelands. "Mountaintop removal" is often used to access coal deposits. In this process the actual top of a mountain is removed and dumped into nearby valleys which blocks waterways and deposits huge volumes of toxic materials into the water systems. Such toxics include manganese, aluminum and other carcinogens which seep into the ground water, polluting wells and drinking water. In Eastern Kentucky's coal region the cancer rates are skyrocketing.


Water collected from streams is often brown, black, orange or red in color and the water itself is lifeless. Tap water often appears clear but harbors dangerous cancer causing materials.


Perhaps one of the most insidious acts of Kentucky Republican Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul was to attempt to amend the Clean Water Act to limit the water protections in the Act to just 59% of the streams and wetlands of the United States. Their actions were motivated to hinder the EPAs efforts to protect the public from the effects of Mountaintop Removal. Luckily their amendments failed to garner sufficient votes to pass. This is reminiscent to George W. Bush’s attempts to remove arsenic and mercury from the list of toxic elements prohibited in streams and drinking water.


While Eastern Kentucky suffers even with active coal mining, having lost 6,000 coal mine jobs in recent years due to the development of alternative energy and increased environmental restrictions, elected officials and others need to think outside the mine to develop alternative employment for the region. Perhaps by transitioning these people into the alternative and sustainable fuels arena and creating new employment in agriculture and other areas of land use the region can continue to grow and maintain itself.


Luckily Kentucky’s Governor Steve Beshear and Republican Congressman Harold Rogers, in a bipartisan effort, have taken actions to transform the poverty stricken region into a self sustaining and growing environment with the formation of a 40-person task force made up of industry, business and education representatives to develop a strategy to effectively attack the problem on a multi-level approach. As the Governor stated, “The people of Appalachia must step up and take responsibility for their own future” to “place the region at the center of the world’s economy in ways it’s never been before.” Rogers reiterated that the solutions to Eastern Kentucky’s problems “must come from within” and not from the government.


Diversified employment must be created to remove this regions reliance on coal and to create a more hospitable environment for the people of Kentucky.



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Reply jade
11:57 AM on November 9, 2015 
Reply wilma seither
12:29 PM on September 25, 2016 
my dad was a coal miner in the mines there. and the government then like now let them run how ever they could with many dying from unnecessary accidents and carelessness. because the government chose not to make them take safety into consideration and make the mines safer for the miners. It is governments place to enforce laws to make the companies make the mines safer.