Deep in coal country, pondering future without it
Story by Allen Breed
Photos by David Goldman
HARLAN, Ky. (AP) — The rest of the house is just waking as Scottie Sizemore plops down in a rocking chair on his front porch with a cup of coffee. The sun has yet to crest the ridge above, where mist clings like clouds that couldn't quite make it over.
Sizemore is the fourth generation of his family to mine coal in Harlan County. He knows he'll probably be the last.
For over a century, life in Central Appalachia has been largely defined by the ups and downs of the coal industry. Through all the bust years, there was always the promise of another boom.
There is a growing sense in these mountains that this downturn is different, deeper. That for a variety of reasons — economic, environmental, political — coal mining will not rebound this time.
State and federal initiatives are exploring everything from ecotourism and small farmer loans to regional tax incentives for job creators. Some here pray for a regulatory climate change that would breathe new life into the region's mines.
For Sizemore and his wife, Madonna, the answer is simple, if painful. They're leaving.
"I feel in my heart that there is no hope for Harlan. There's no hope for our children in the future here," Madonna Sizemore says, tears filling her eyes.
"And I hate that."