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Published on February 28th, 2011 | by Tina Casey


FACES of Coal Fiddles While Appalachia Gains New Green Jobs

February 28th, 2011 by  

Penn State student documents impact of mountaintop coal mining on communitiesGreen tech has made some stunning advances in the past few years, so it’s tempting to look forward to the day when coal eases its headlock on the American power grid. Coal is an out of date fuel that costs an estimated $500 billion yearly in public health impacts. However, even if domestic coal use fades and green jobs replace coal jobs, exporting Appalachian coal will still be a big business. We’ll still be blowing up chunks of our own country to feed furnaces overseas – and a fake “grassroots” group called FACES of Coal is here to make sure that happens.

FACES of Coal

FACES of Coal stands for Federation for American Coal, Energy and Security. FACES purports to give a voice to real people in Appalachia, but it is tied to a Washington lobbying group called Adfero, and it launched with a  website  using iStock photos to represent those real people. It’s been up for a year and it still sports the same featured profile of a “real person” who argues that mountaintop coal mining is good because it transforms mountains that were all “straight up and down” into something more “visually pleasing.” Wow, at least please change your featured profile every couple of months!

The Real Voices of Coal

Meanwhile, the real voices of coal are starting to be heard. A few examples are organizations like I Love Mountains, former coal miner Ken Ward, Jr. of the West Virginia Gazette, and researchers from West Virginia University who have linked chronic Appalachian poverty and coal mining. For another insider’s look, check out a Penn State grad student from a long line of coal mining families in Central Appalachia, who interviewed coal country residents for his doctoral dissertation on the human impacts of mountaintop removal.

FACES vs. Voices

You can count on a FACES press release hitting the wires every time the U.S. EPA tries to do its job, and the latest one just came out last week. It uses the same old tactic of spinning environmental protection as an attack on jobs. The irony is, the coal industry has been cannibalizing its own jobs by shifting from conventional practices to highly mechanized mountaintop removal. In West Virginia for example, coal production has increased but coal employment peaked at 145,000 in the 1950’s and dropped to about 16,000 by 2004.

A Green Jobs Challenge for Clean Tech

Fortunately, green jobs in solar power, wind power and other aspects of clean technology are starting to gain a foothold in Appalachia. In some fields (solar electrician, for example), laid-off mine workers are the ones getting these new green jobs. While it’s never easy leaving a tradition behind, at least green tech is creating new jobs instead of leaving communities in the lurch – and at least FACES of Coal is being halfway honest regarding the name it selected for itself: it’s all about the coal.

Image: Mountaintop mine “reclamation” by ilovemountains.org on flickr. 
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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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