Coal, Climate, and Environmental Backlash: The Political Ramifications of Environmental Activism in the Appalachian Coalfields

The fight against mountain top removal coal mining began in the late 1990s when local landowners sought to protect land and communities from a new and devastating form of coal mining. Outnumbered and underfunded, local activists requested the help of larger environmental organizations to aid in their cause. As environmental organizations and activists from all over the nation heeded this call, cultural differences quickly emerged between outside individuals and local communities. To combat negative media attention, the coal industry developed public relations campaigns and faux grassroots organizations to identify the environmental movement through long-held outsider stigmas felt by many Appalachians. In the absence of labor representation, the industry successfully acculturated Appalachian values to solidify coal mining as an integral part of local cultural and economic identity. Environmental organization’s continued cultural insensitivity through political and public action played into the “War on Coal” rhetoric of the industry, resulting in a large shift in political party affiliation throughout the coal-producing counties of central Appalachia. As a former fifth generation underground coal miner and environmental advocate, presenter Nick Mullins will address the jobs vs. environment dichotomy through the lens of his own experiences, connecting the working-class world of central Appalachia to his academic pursuits in communications and efforts to foster a conversation on finding common ground with communities in the central Appalachian coalfields.