Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Rural race to the bottom? Competing energy sources and the consequences for the communities where they are extracted

The adverse environmental (and other) consequences of fracking have been much in the news in recent months (read more herehere, and here), and those of coal mining are well documented.  Now, however, it seems that communities which are economically reliant on coal mining are struggling for their livelihoods in this age of fracking's ascendancy.  Eric Lipton reported this week in a front-page story in the New York Times from Louisa, Kentucky, in the heart of coal country, on efforts there to the keep the Big Sandy power plant burning coal.  American Electric Power, which operates Big Sandy, has been considering switching the plant to burn natural gas, which has been declining in price in this age of fracking.  The following excerpt from Lipton's story focuses on the local economic consequences of coal's fall from dominance.
The anger toward Washington is palpable in this impoverished corner of Eastern Kentucky ...  
It is hard to find anyone here who does not feel affected by the fate of Big Sandy.  Just as the smokestack at the plan towers over the countryside, Big Sandy dominates much of life here. 
Danny Sartin, 61, a barrel-chested heavy equipment operator at the plant, said his father, grandfathers and uncles all worked in the mines that feed Big Sandy.  "Coal and the coal mining industry, it's all we have ever known," Mr. Sartin said.   
Chirs Lacy, 41, an executive at Licking River Resources, Inc. [about 50 miles South of Big Sandy and a supplier to the power plant], said layoffs among his 350 miners--in Magoffin County, where unemployment is already 17.5 percent--are inevitable if the coal furnaces at Big Sandy go cold.  Even the garden supply company that Mr. Lacy's father-in-law owns and where his two sons work indirectly relies on Big Sandy because mines are required to plant grass over the scarred earth they leave behind.  "It is the ripple effect that comes right through us," Mr. Lacy said.  
Louisa is the county seat of Lawrence County, Kentucky, which has a population of 15,860 and a poverty rate of 24.4%.  Magoffin County's population is 13,333, and its poverty rate is 29.8%.  

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