Tom Hansell is a documentary filmmaker, educator, and artist who lives in Western North Carolina. He teaches Appalachian studies and documentary studies at Appalachian State University in Boone.
“EPA = Expanding Poverty in America.”
This statement is written in three-foot-high letters on a banner stretched over a bandstand in a public park in Pikeville, Kentucky. It is June 2012 and I am just starting production of the “After Coal″ documentary.
The crowd around me is dressed in the reflective stripes of mining uniforms or in T-shirts reading Friends of Coal and Walker Heavy Machinery. I am documenting a coal industry-sponsored pep rally before a public hearing on new water-quality regulations proposed for mountaintop-removal coal mines.
The speaker onstage is speaking proudly of his family’s heritage in the coal industry. He concludes his passionate statement with a question: “If we can’t mine coal, what are we going to do in eastern Kentucky?”
Good question. As a filmmaker who has spent my career living and working in the coalfields of eastern Kentucky and documenting coal-mining issues, this is an important and difficult question to answer. My earlier documentaries “Coal Bucket Outlaw” (2002) and “The Electricity Fairy” (2010) were intended to start a civil conversation between workers in the coal industry and other community members about a shared vision for good jobs, clean air, clean water, and a safe working environment.
However, the conversations almost always broke down as soon as someone pointed out the obvious: the coal industry had long been the only model of economic development in the central Appalachian region. More examples of what life after coal might look like were desperately needed to move the conversation forward.
For the rest of this article: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/if-we-cant-mine-coal-what-are-we-going-to-do_us_5bbe5c78e4b0709235487535