Damn the parachutes, the story of coal communities in crisis needs to be told by reporters who live in coal country and who are invested in the future of these rural areas. In 2020, I teamed up with reporter Mason Adams, WyoFile and Energy News Network to produce “Transition in Coal Country.” The six-part series examines Wyoming and Appalachia; a story about coal’s decline in rural America, and about how these communities might survive beyond coal. The project was supported by the Just Transition Fund. The series is available as an ebook, “Reckoning In Coal Country,” at Amazon.
There’s a mutual dependence between rural communities and the energy companies they support. The longer it exists the more their cultures and identities are intertwined.
That’s why it’s especially painful when an industry declines and familiar corporate neighbors sell out to new owners. As an industry bleeds money and jobs, it also begins to pull back on charitable giving — just as the same forces create more need for those services.
In March I traveled to Gillette to find out what the declining coal industry means to those living on the margins, and to those committed to meeting their needs. I filed this report; “Coal corporate giving tumbles just as communities need it most.”
As a journalist who follows the coal industry I was delighted to discover a Twitter account by a locomotive engineer on the Powder River Basin route. Alan Nash, or @VernChronicles, shares dozens of photos each month depicting the landscape, wildlife and industry along the 150 miles of his beloved #WyoBraska route.
I drove to Bill, Wyoming one blustery February day to visit with Alan in person, and write this profile: “View from the Rails: Train engineer chronicles 25 years of PRB coal“
Bad news seemed to pile up for towns in southwest Wyoming in the fall of 2019. Just as PacifiCorp outlined plans to shutter several coal-fired power units in the region, Halliburton laid off nearly 200 workers at its Rock Springs, Wyoming headquarters.
Like many rural communities across the West, the towns of Rock Springs, Green River, and Kemmerer face a major transition away from coal. At the same time, their populations grow older, making it difficult to keep and attract younger people.
I spoke with community leaders who want to both hold onto the region’s legacy industries while beginning to take actions to build a more diverse economy.
Read the story, Job loss and youth exodus: towns grapple with energy transition. (Photo courtesy of WyoFile.com and RJ Pieper)