coal

More coal miners in central Appalachia have suffered the advanced stages of the deadly disease black lung than previous government research has found, and more miners working in the region today have earlier stages of the disease.

Those are two of the findings in a bundle of studies released Tuesday and expected to be released soon, which focus on the epidemic of black lung disease first reported by NPR in 2016.

Sammis Power Plant First Energy
FIRSTENERGY

After years in limbo, a plan to construct a new coal plant has been scrapped. That leaves Ohio without any proposals for new coal plant generation. Environmental groups see this as a critical turning point.

This story is part of a series on coal country by NPR's Embedded podcast. Episode audio is below.

On May 5, 2016, Donald Trump led a campaign rally in Charleston, W.Va.

He put on a hard hat and pretended he was shoveling coal. The crowd loved it.

And he made a promise — a variation on one he had been making throughout the campaign — to coal miners.

Rural medical clinics that are struggling to respond to an epidemic of a fatal lung disease plaguing coal miners received a 40 percent boost in federal funding with the passage of the omnibus spending bill last week.

President Trump made coal jobs a core of his presidential campaign, repeatedly vowing to bring back "beautiful" coal despite the industry's decades-long decline. And in pockets of the U.S. during Trump's first year in office, it may well have felt like a turnaround was underway.

A review of data from the Mine Safety and Health Administration shows 1,001 more U.S. coal jobs last year compared with 2016, although energy analysts say the reasons are short term and have nothing to do with White House policies.

Updated on Feb. 6 at 3:49 p.m. ET

Epidemiologists at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health say they've identified the largest cluster of advanced black lung disease ever reported, a cluster that was first uncovered by NPR 14 months ago.

A solar farm in Shelby, Ohio.
Thomas R Machnitzki

Clean energy issues have been a spark plug for debate at the Ohio Statehouse for years now, with opposition mostly coming from Republicans and Democrats supporting incentives for the industry. A clean energy group has new data that they say can change the debate during campaign season.

John Minchillo / Associated Press

Two-thirds of Appalachia's coal industry jobs have disappeared since the 1990s. Now the region is hoping tourism will help rebuild its economy by tapping into history and its rugged natural beauty.

U.S. coal mines recorded 15 workplace deaths in 2017 only a year after they hit a record low, according to Mine Safety and Health Administration data released on Tuesday.

In 2016, just nine deaths occurred in U.S. coal mines.

West Virginia mines saw eight deaths, Kentucky had two, and one each occurred at mines in Alabama, Colorado, Montana, Pennsylvania and Wyoming.

William Alden / Flickr

A study published by two Ohio State professors found that rural coal families were less likely than those in metropolitan areas to divorce during years when the coal industry was losing jobs.

Updated at 12:30 p.m. ET

The Trump administration will scuttle an Obama-era clean power plan aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, made the announcement in Hazard, Ky., on Monday, saying the rule hurt coal-fired plants.

"The EPA and no federal agency should ever use its authority to say to you we are going to declare war on any sector of our economy," Pruitt said, speaking at an event with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Erin Gottsacker

Though America's coal industry continues to shrink, it's left its mark on the earth: Abandoned strip mines, flattened by explosions and the desperate search for fuel.

NPR's ongoing investigation of the advanced stage of the fatal lung disease that afflicts coal miners has identified an additional 1,000 cases in Appalachia.

That brings the NPR count of progressive massive fibrosis, the most serious stage of the disease known as black lung, to nearly 2,000 cases in the region, all of which were diagnosed since 2010.

Growing up the son of a coal miner in southern West Virginia, David Wiley saw the downside of the profession up close. His father had been injured in the mines, lost several fingers and damaged his knees and back. "He was just really beat up," Wiley says.

So when it came to find his own line of work, Wiley says he had no desire to work in the coal mines. For a couple of years after high school, Wiley tried his hand at manufacturing and welding jobs in the neighboring state of North Carolina.

Kevin Butt's job is to find cleaner ways to power Toyota. One of the hardest places to do that is at the automaker's sprawling plant in central Kentucky, a state where nearly 90 percent of electricity still comes from coal.

Butt points out a new engine assembly line, where a conveyor belt moves in a slow circle. He says it was specially designed with a more efficient motor. There are also enormous fans overhead and LED lights, all changes that save millions.

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