Divisions Over Coal Run Deep in Appalachia

Kanawha State Forest is a lush, 9,300-acre park full of rivers, streams, campsites and horse trails. It’s also located in the heart of coal country—Southern West Virginia—which is why it wasn’t surprising when, in 2013, Keystone Industries said it wanted to start a strip mine directly adjacent to the forest.

The public backlash was furious and immediate. Thousands of local residents signed petitions, marched on the state capitol and even did their own environmental inspections, rather than relying on state regulators. Finally, in 2015, they got their way: the state Department of Environmental Protection said it wouldn’t allow mining on the site. “The mythology that everyone in West Virginia supports coal is nonsense,” Chad Cordell, a local activist who helped organize the pushback against Keystone, told Bloomberg BNA. “This is our backyard.”

But talk to Jim Justice, the Democratic candidate to be West Virginia’s next governor, and a very different picture emerges. “I know the coal industry inside and out, and if the higher coal prices continue, it will mean a lot of people grabbing their dinner bucket and going to work,” Justice told Bloomberg BNA. “Coal is not dead.” Driven largely by his pro-coal agenda, Justice holds a commanding lead in the polls.

Such is the state of play in Appalachia, where divisions over coal run deep: on one hand, states like West Virginia and Kentucky rely heavily on the mineral for their economic survival, but on the other, decades of mining have disfigured the landscape and left streams and rivers polluted. Bloomberg BNA’s Stephen Lee recently traveled to West Virginia’s Boone, Logan and Mingo Counties, the heart of Appalachian coal country, to learn more about how those tensions are playing out.

Click here to start the slideshow.


Click below to listen to Chad Cordell, president of the environmental advocacy group Kanawha Forest Coalition, describe his advocacy against the Keystone mine project.

Link to soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/marissa-horn-290486632/chad-cordell.