STORIES: In and Out of the Dark
Appalachia and coal mining are a tightly linked pair. The area's land, culture, education, health and economy have been influenced by mining for well over a century. Close to half of the United States still receives its electricity from coal-powered plants. About half of that coal is mined from Appalachian land.
The rise of coal mining throughout Appalachia in the early 20th century brought an explosion of growth. Decades later, many of the mines in these smaller towns have closed, and the work has dried up.
That is not the case everywhere. McDowell County, in southern West Virginia, has produced more coal than any other county in the U.S., and is still going strong. Coal mining is ingrained in the area's culture, and the miners generally accept its cons. They also understand the inevitable: Without the relatively high salaries mining pays, surviving would be a struggle. As life-long miner Mike Wallace of McDowell County put it, "It beats Wal-Mart."