Southerly, Energy News Network, Daily Yonder – Nina McCoy has been waiting for an answer to a question for 40 years: What happens to a coal county and the people who live in it when all the coal is gone? She still has the 1981 articles from when both the New York Times and the Louisville Courier-Journal posed the same question. Now McCoy, the fellow residents of Martin County, Kentucky, and much of Appalachia are on the verge of finding out. In the fourth quarter of 2020, her county produced just over 25,000 tons of coal, according to the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet — a 26% drop from the previous quarter and a 73% decline year over year. County officials say they expect mining to cease altogether within the next year.
“When I started teaching at the high school, there were 1,100 kids there, and now there are closer to 600,” said McCoy, who retired in 2014 after 31 years teaching biology at Martin County High School. “You’ve just seen an exodus of poor people.”
The loss of people — and coal mines — means there’s a fraction of the tax revenue there once was. Dozens of counties in the central Appalachian states of Kentucky, West Virginia, and Tennessee rely on money from coal companies in the form of severance taxes, which are collected based on how much coal is extracted from the ground. The states place loose guardrails around the revenue that is supposed to go toward economic development efforts, with localities often using the proceeds to offset spending on daily operations. In Kentucky, coal-producing counties also use a percentage of it for civic and social services including public safety, environmental protection, public transportation, health, recreation, libraries, and educational facilities. Read the full article.
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