Austin Ramsey, WKMS

As Kentucky's overall unemployment rate continues to fall, employment in the coal mining industry is somewhat stagnant. The state's jobless rate for February came in at 5.2 percent, the lowest since the fall of 2004. 

Frankie Steele/Louisville Public Media


For the first time in about a century, no union coal miners are working in Kentucky. The state’s few remaining union miners were laid off New Year’s Eve when Patriot Coal’s Highland Mine in Western Kentucky shut down, the United Mine Workers of America confirmed.

“Appalachia was always a really tough nut for the union to crack, and I think maybe Kentucky was the toughest nut of all,” said labor historian James Green, author of a new book about West Virginia’s mine wars.


President Obama released his proposed budget today, and for the first time, the plan includes direct funding to help coal communities transition away from economies based on fossil fuels. 


Elaine Chao has resigned from the board of Bloomberg Philanthropies as the foundation revs up its commitment to its clean energy initiative.  Chao was Secretary of Labor in President George W. Bush’s cabinet and is also the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.  

Four-and-a-half years after they were first announced, the Environmental Protection Agency plans to finalize the nation’s first federal rules on the handling of coal ash this month.

A settlement between the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet and a coal company won’t be allowed to go forward after a Franklin County Circuit judge’s rejected the proposal Monday.

Among the mining executives that NPR investigated, one coal mine owner in West Virginia stands out. His mines owe nearly $2 million in overdue fines, while he, himself, is a prominent billionaire.

Jim Justice is West Virginia's richest man, with a net worth of $1.6 billion, according to Forbes. He owns 70 active mines employing 1,200 miners in five states. In addition to running his businesses, he has invested or given away more than $200 million in the last five years.

Mine foreman Rome Meade screamed his final words: "Back up! Back up!" he shouted, as a trailer loaded with concrete blocks weighing a total of 10,000 pounds smashed him into a conveyor belt.

Other miners rushed to help, running bent over in the underground coal mine that was only 3 to 5 feet high. When the trailer pulled away, Meade's crushed body crumpled to the floor. One miner shouted his name over and over. Another pressed fingers to Meade's neck, detecting a faint pulse.

Jack Blankenship was pinned facedown in the dirt, his neck, shoulder and back throbbing with pain.

He was alone on an errand, in a dark tunnel a mile underground at the Aracoma Alma coal mine in Logan County, W.Va., when a 300-pound slab of rock peeled away from the roof and slammed him to the ground. As his legs grew numb, he managed to free an arm and reach his radio. For two hours, he pressed the panic button that was supposed to bring help quickly.

The Kentucky Environmental Foundation has released its Health Impact Assessment for Paducah's Shawnee Fossil Fuel Plant. The report comes as the Commonwealth braces for new EPA regulations on coal plant emissions.