Coal / Mountaintop Removal

COAL: ‘This is our home. We don’t want to live nowhere else’

Anti-mining activists Chuck Nelson and Junior Walk staring out over the Brushy Fork coal tailings dam. Photo by Arianna Skibell.

NAOMA, WV — “But even the coal jobs in West Virginia have dried up. In the 1950s, the industry employed around 125,000 people. Today, that number is closer to 20,000 or 30,000.

As a result, in part, of mechanized mining and natural gas expansion, West Virginia is losing its population faster than any other state in the country, according to U.S. census figures.

While the economic decline means fewer coal jobs and fewer opportunities, it also means fewer young activists. And as the older generation of anti-mining workers ages and dies, veterans of the struggle like Chuck Nelson worry there won’t be enough people left to fight the coal companies.

Nelson is 61. He’s a slight man with white hair and a closely trimmed beard. He’s a fourth-generation miner who spent 30 years of his life underground. And it shows. His face is weathered and deeply creased. Last year alone, Nelson had 12 surgeries and nearly died.

‘I’ve lost one kidney, and my other kidney has had a bypass and three stents put in. And just in 2016, I had kidney failure and liver failure. I was on dialysis. I had cancer took off the top of my head.

‘Now, I’m just one person,’ he says. ‘This is happening to whole communities.'”

— Arianna Skibell, E&E News

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