Speaking of Revamping Coal Mines, Check Out This Federal Prison

  • Clinton says she'll help repurpose coal land as president
  • U.S. coal mining jobs are the fewest in at least three decades

As part of her $30 billion proposal to help towns hit hard by coal’s collapse, U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said she’d help to revive the “prime real estate” of shut coal mines and coal-fired power plants.

Some of that’s already happening as the coal industry faces its worst downturn in decades. As Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, mentioned in her plan released Thursday, Google’s building a data center at the site of a coal plant in Jackson County, Alabama. One old mine in West Virginia has been turned into a golf course, and another’s a prison.

If she wins the White House, Clinton said she’d use money from a federal fund for abandoned mines to help transition U.S. coal country. Here’s a taste of what may come:

  • Google said in June it would turn the site of a Lyndon B. Johnson administration-era coal-fired power plant run by Tennessee Valley Authority into a data center. “There’s a lot of potential in redeveloping large industrial sites like former coal power plants,” Google said on its website. “Decades of investment shouldn’t go to waste just because a site has closed.”

  • West Virginia’s Twisted Gun Golf Club is on a former mine site in southern Mingo County. The Mega Underground Bike Park in Louisville, Kentucky, is in an old limestone mining cavern, some 100 feet underground.

  • FCI McDowell, a medium-security federal prison in Welch, West Virginia, opened in 2010 at what was once a surface mine. A 2014 federal audit described it as a “secure location in an isolated, rocky, mountainous, and wooded area.” The Justice Department has proposed another penitentiary at a former coal mine in Letcher County, Kentucky.

  • In Indiana, the state controls stretches of coal mine land such as Redbird, where off-road vehicle enthusiasts test their skill on both “gentle” and “technically difficult” slopes.

The coal-mining industry has lost more than 23,000 jobs since 2012, bringing employment as of last month to the lowest in at least 30 years, Labor Department data show. That has sent shock waves through communities that have historically depended on these salaries.

Coal mining jobs have fallen 30 percent in the past decade.

“It’s a huge hit to these local economies,” said Hanou Energy Consulting LLC owner John Hanou, who has worked in the coal industry for four decades. “All of these coal miners were blue collar, but they were making $60,000 to $70,000 a year.”

Transitioning these coal towns, both the properties and the people, won’t be easy, Phil Smith, a spokesman for United Mine Workers of America, said by phone.

“There are larger systemic issues, starting with the transportation here,” Smith said. “It’s hard to get around.”

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