Scott Shoupe didn’t want to follow his classmates into the coal mines when he graduated from Harlan High School in 1993. His ticket out — “to make something of myself” — was a baseball scholarship 130 miles north at Morehead State University.
But when his favorite sport started feeling more like a job than fun, the headstrong outfielder dropped out two years short of a bachelor’s degree. Shoupe returned home to Harlan County, an isolated and impoverished patch of southeast Kentucky, and like his father before him, signed up to mine coal.
“That’s all there was,” Shoupe said. “It was the one thing I could do to make money.”
King Coal has dominated this part of Appalachia for more than a century, powering local economies and offering lucrative, if dangerous, steady employment. That era is vanishing as mines shutter and coal companies across the country file for bankruptcy. So Shoupe is following his father, Carl, once again. But this time, it’s into a career that’s less about unearthing energy and more about using it super-efficiently.
At 43, he’s about to become the third graduate of a “new energy internship” for the region’s displaced... Read more