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.
- West Virginia promises to be an outdoor recreation destination. But how accessible are its parks and public lands?
Some of the state’s signature destinations and activities are out of reach for many residents with disabilities, and the onus is often on them to find solutions.
- Steel-making coal upturn brings new mine, old problems to WV community
Some Raleigh County residents don’t want to kill coal — they just want regulators to force the mine next door to stop making them miserable.
- As floods worsen in Appalachia, disaster prep gets more complex — and necessary
As climate change leads to more intense flooding, communities will need to make crucial — and creative — investments to protect themselves.
- A decade after signing over gas rights, W.Va. Hare Krishna community reflects on its relationship to land
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.