By now, anyone who follows renewables has most likely heard of the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum going solar. Coming fresh on the heels of a story about a former coal mine potentially becoming Kentucky's largest solar farm, it's an encouraging sign of the tides turning—despite the coal-obsessed ways of the current White House.
Now Huffington Post has posted some interesting context on the backstory to this achievement, and it's well worth a read. Because it fundamentally undermines the notion of coal as job creator, and it points to a way forward for the environmental movement to win over new constituents. Because, it turns out, it was former miners like Carl Shoupe—supported by national environmental organizations like Sierra Club—who made the museum's solar installation happen. And they did so because they felt betrayed and abandoned by the industry that had once employed them—and industry which had turned to low employment, highly destructive mountaintop removal methods, as well as non-union labor to staff them:
“It was all scab miners,” Shoupe, 70, told The Huffington Post in a recent phone interview. “My generation of coal miners in Eastern Kentucky is the last generation of union coal miners. There’s not a block of coal being mined today in the commonwealth of Kentucky by union miners.”
This isn't the first time that we've seen coal mining unions become powerful and unexpected advocates for a renewables revolution. And if the environmental movement can continue building earnest, respectful alliances with communities in coal country, then we can begin to use the labor abuses and local environmental and economic malpractice of the coal industry against it.
There's no doubt that vast swathes of coal country have an emotional attachment to the industry, and they have a (perhaps justified) suspicion of outside agendas. But they also know the downsides of the coal industry like nobody else. It's time that environmentalists stopped scorning and started listening to these communities who are well placed to make a transition happen.