The bumper sticker says it all: “Coal keeps the lights on.” And so it does. Coal keeps the lights on for millions of homes and businesses around America. What would utility companies do without the relatively cheap fuel that keeps their fires burning brightly? And what would these people of the Cumberland Plateau do without one sure way out of poverty? For all of its controversy, coal remains king in the mountains and will remain so for the unforeseeable future.
The present controversy around coal is the practice of mountaintop removal. Once blasted off and the coal scooped out, a mountaintop can never be replaced. And so many, some mountain folks included, protest this form of mining. It would be easy to jump on the anti-coal bandwagon, except that I know we have allowed many acres of farmland to be turned into shopping malls and housing, and the green earth of my Minnesota home to give way to a deep gash of red iron ore. Most seem to be content that companies “reclaim” the land (whatever that means), planting trees on what remains and making the best of earthly wounds.
We hope for a day when fossil fuels can be replaced by renewable sources of energy and made available at affordable costs. We also hope that in the meantime new industries and jobs can emerge in the beautiful mountains, jobs that will allow the mountains to remain intact and the people to find good work. For now, we say thank you to those who go into earth’s black belly to keep our lights on.