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Dialogue: Coal in Appalachia

Jeffrey Beall, via Flickr/Creative Commons

Coal and Appalachia have long been considered synonymous. But that isn't the reality of the region. The industry has been shrinking for decades, and by 2015 fewer than 32,000 Appalachian residents are employed as coal miners. President Trump ran on a platform that included promises to revive the moribund industry, but economic experts have said that's virtually impossible.

A team of such experts recently completed work on what is described as the most comprehensive look at the coal economy of Appalachia ever attempted. The report, released in January, found the decline of coal as an economic driver produces ripple effects across the region, from lower school funding to the potential breakdown of rail infrastructure.

Some communities look ahead to a future without coal. Many others are already living through it. Recent reporting from West Virginia Public Broadcasting and NPR shows cases of black lung disease are increasing, even as the coal workforce shrinks. But positive changes are happening, too, as small businesses begin to diversify what was once a limited economic portfolio.

We'll hear about each of these issues in the March edition of Dialogue. Host Brandon Hollingsworth will be joined by University of Tennessee economist Matt Murray and West Virginia University's Eric Bowen worked on the January coal economy report. And we'll hear from West Virginia Public Broadcasting's Jessica Lilly, host of Inside Appalachia. The show's recent reporting examines the current state of coal in Appalachia.