What's Missing In The Coal Debate

We need to end this oversight and normalization of collateral damage.
03/31/2017 02:55 pm ET Updated Mar 31, 2017

While this latest flurry of news stories, Nobel laureate commentaries and late-night “Daily Show” mockery has exposed the fallacies of the Trump administration’s union-busted coal miners pageant, the media continues to overlook a crucial part of the great coal debate:

Coal miners do not work in a vacuum.

Call it: the reckoning. Or, the true cost of living in a national sacrifice zone. And its flip side is the extraordinary resiliency of those who are defending their communities and attempting to change the narrative to ways of regenerating a mined-out community after coal.

Huge segments of our population continue to deal daily with the devastating and often deadly realities of coal mining pollution.

Still cranking out 700-plus million tons of coal a year, our country has never come to grips with the fact that huge segments of our populations, namely 20-odd coal mining states from Appalachia to Alaska and in indigenous First Nations, continue to deal daily with the devastating and often deadly realities of coal mining pollution and cancer-linked toxic discharges, undrinkable and contaminated water, egregious health impacts from faulty coal slurry and coal ash impoundments, forced displacement and removal from historic communities, black lung and injury among coal miners, and an intergenerational state of trauma from living amid the ruins of an absentee outlaw industry that has rarely been held accountable for its violation-ridden operations, and placed a stranglehold on any economic diversification.

This is before we even consider the impact of mining and burning coal on our climate.

“They say we’re collateral damage,” Larry Gibson once told me on the edge of a massive strip mine in West Virginia, standing defiant as a coal miner’s son and one of the most fearless critics of mountaintop removal strip mining. “Well, I ain’t collateral damage. I am somebody.”

It’s 2017. We need to end this oversight and normalization of collateral damage in so-called coal country.

It’s 2017. We need to end this oversight and normalization of collateral damage in so-called coal country—in the media, in our daily conversations, and finally, in the halls of power in Washington and our state houses.

For starters: Among the scores of amazing films that have provided the historical context and ground-level realities of living in coal mining regions, check out these recent films, among so many others that I don’t have room to list:

AFTER COAL”: Explores the successes and the failures of Welsh programs to clean up mine waste, retrain miners, and develop wind farms – comparing these efforts to similar projects planned in Appalachia.

BLOOD ON THE MOUNTAIN”: History of coal miners and communities, and their struggle for justice, in Appalachia

MOVING MOUNTAINS”: Coal miner’s wife stands up to the industry’s contamination of her community’s water.

IN THE SHADOW OF COAL”: Stories from Montana’s Coal Country

OVERBURDEN”:Mining tragedy brings together a coal miner’s sister and community advocate for change

HuffPost

BEFORE YOU GO

CONVERSATIONS