Why This Part of Coal Country Loves Solar Power – James Higdon June 18, 2017

Whitley County sits atop a seam of coal crucial to making solar panels and smart phones. So why isn’t the mine open?

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WILLLIAMSBURG, Kentucky—The first few months of 2017 haven’t been especially kind to the coal miners of Kentucky. Eighty-eight of them lost their jobs when a single company, Mountainside Coal, laid off its entire work force.

Deb Moses was one of them. “I volunteered for the layoff because somebody had to go,” she told POLITICO Magazine. “I was the one that could handle it because I didn’t have a mortgage.”

Whitley County, in the Appalachian foothills, was one of the hardest-hit counties in a state that saw an overall loss of 216 coal jobs during the first quarter, according to the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet. In a region where coal still dominates a sagging economy, even small fluctuations like this are parsed for signs of larger trends.

But there is a surprising amount of optimism in Appalachia these days. The recent job losses weren’t nearly as painful as the relentless declines the industry has felt over the past six years, which in itself was a kind of good news. Then, six days after I spoke to Moses in Whitley County, President Donald Trump announced that he would pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord, honoring a campaign pledge to revive the coal industry by removing the yoke of environmental regulations. The announcement, met largely with anger and frustration in America’s coastal cities, was cheered in this part of Kentucky.

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