The Appalachian Mountains are ancient — 350 million years old. They are home to a variety of ecosystems and one of the most biodiverse areas of North America, home to endangered species like the rusty-patched bumble bee and red-cockaded woodpecker, as well as rare species of salamanders.
They are, of course, also filled with coal. The region has relied on coal for more than a century, leading to the extraction of wealth at the expense of health for laborers and nearby communities. Rates of black lung disease are surging among younger miners, and communities that often lack access to healthcare suffer higher rates of chronic pulmonary disorders, cancers, and development delays in children. Communities and waterways have been decimated, and these conditions will only be made worse as the climate changes: higher temperatures and more severe floods and droughts could worsen the region’s economy.
For decades, Appalachian activists and organizations have been organizing around sustainable economic development, cleanup of poisoned land and waterways, and access to healthcare. Southerly is telling the story of economic transition and environmental justice in West Virginia, southwest Virginia, eastern Tennessee, and eastern Kentucky. If you have a story tip or an issue you want to see covered, contact us using this tip form.
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The religious community needed the money from signing gas leases, but it’s a decision that still divides people today.
- Biden vows to support struggling Appalachian counties. But residents are weary of failed promises.
Coal communities in Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia are struggling to support basic civic services as coal disappears. Federal funding to boost local economies and jobs is closer than ever before.
- The multibillion dollar question: What will it take to fix the South’s broken water systems?
The winter storm revealed the fragility of rural and urban water systems. Biden’s new infrastructure plan could help improve them — but it’s only a start.
- How a federal program is filling an education gap for rural migrant students during the pandemic
Many migrant workers and their families rely on the Migrant Education Program to help students access school work. The pandemic has made it even more challenging.
- Coal communities across the nation want Biden to fund an economic transition to clean power
The president promised to create a task force on how best to help the communities. Advocates want that and new jobs, broadband internet and funding for health and education.
- The Biden administration promises to clean up mine land and create jobs in Appalachia. Here are some steps it can take.
A new administration brings potential to address Appalachia’s economic and environmental issues on a wider scale.
- Rural Resilience: What communities are learning from the fight against oil and gas pipelines
Do you have questions about challenging pipeline projects? Ask us!
- These coal communities are protecting sick miners from COVID-19 and pushing Congress for more support
In rural east Tennessee and Kentucky, community networks and mutual aid efforts are supporting vulnerable people who need transportation, internet access, and food.
- ‘There’s going to be something better for him’: Former Blackjewel miners reflect on changes in coal country
A chaotic coal company bankruptcy last year left a father and son out of work. Months later, they say getting out of the industry was a blessing.
- Floods inundating Appalachian communities are ‘public health nightmares’
Residents say flooding emergencies highlight the urgency of long-overlooked regional needs like infrastructure investment.
- This West Virginia town is a Superfund site. The booming outdoor industry doesn’t want to talk about it.
Minden residents are still searching for answers about PCB contamination while a new outdoor recreation economy is being built around them.
- Appalachia is transitioning from coal. Here’s what it could learn from Germany.
Lessons from environmental and economic restoration efforts in the Ruhr Valley could help usher Appalachia into a new era.
- Blackjewel left coal miners without pay. Now it might leave Appalachia thousands of acres of land to clean up.
The bankruptcy could signal a new environmental and economic crisis in central Appalachia, where many coal companies have failed to reclaim former mine sites.
- ‘They’re cutting everything’: As coal disappears, Appalachians lose access to basic services
Sharp drops in coal severance tax revenue have led to a massive funding gap for education, infrastructure, and law enforcement.