Pits of Despair
Coal industry fends off concerns, keeps working on comeback
Some of the tap water in West Virginia’s Mingo County is flowing in funny colors: red, brown, and black. Alarmed residents asked the state if the discoloration, caused by high levels of heavy metals including arsenic and lead, could be related to Big Coal’s practice of injecting its waste underground. Regulators say there’s no connection; instead, the cause could be an abandoned mine. “We’re not saying the water isn’t contaminated, it is. But in this case, it’s not linked to the injection process,” said state hydrologist George Jenkins v-e-r-y carefully. Residents have asked for a moratorium on slurry injection and sued a local coal company; both actions are pending. Meanwhile, Big Coal is making a Big Comeback as a “freedom fuel” across the nation, luring young, union-averse workers who haven’t faced the labor and health issues familiar to veteran miners. “I was able to buy me a new truck and I got my wife a new car,” said a 22-year-old miner in Illinois. And who can argue with that?