Faced with competition from natural gas and increasing federal regulations, the coal industry is facing tough times. Layoffs and mine closings are becoming more and more common in parts of West Virginia and Kentucky.
Writer Silas House grew up in the hills of Eastern Kentucky. He’s described life in coal country through rich, complex characters steeped in history and tradition. He's also an activist in the fight against mountaintop removal coal mining.
Coal is in a long decline in Central Appalachia. Coal mining jobs are disappearing there—but the imprint of coal on the landscape is everywhere. More than a million acres of strip-mined land—an area the size of Rhode Island—are now deforested.
In 1970, a federal act called the Clean Air Act brought Wyoming a surge in its low-sulfur coal industry. Today, coal miners in the state wait to hear about new regulations that could make or break their local economy.
If the coal industry has started to leave Appalachia, the American West is now coal’s new home base. In America’s current capital of coal—Wyoming's Powder River Basin—the industry’s imprint on the West runs deep.