Appalachia Turns on Itself - NYTimes.com
Appalachia is engaged in a civil war of sorts over coal, with miners and their families pitted against environmental activists. The central issue is mountaintop removal, a radical form of strip mining that has left over 2,000 miles of streams buried and over 500 mountains destroyed. According to several recent studies, people living near surface mining sites have a 50 percent greater risk of fatal cancer and a 42 percent greater risk of birth defects than the general population.
Despite the evidence, the coal industry and its allies in Washington have persuaded the majority of their constituents to ignore such environmental consequences, recasting mountaintop removal as an economic boon for the region, a powerful job creator in a time of national employment distress.
Of course, since mountaintop removal is heavily mechanized, the coal industry is the real job killer — and, until recently, miners would have been suspicious of any claim to the contrary. For decades the companies had fought the miners’ efforts to unionize, resulting in violent strikes.
After finally recognizing the union, King Coal opposed its demands for things like a living wage, health insurance, safety precautions and measures to curb the alarming rates of black lung disease. The strategy was simple: the companies would buy off individual communities and leaders, exchanging meager payouts for silence or even support against the more adamant activists.
. . .