Coal mining was the economic lifeblood of eastern Kentucky for most of the 20th century, providing families in this rural mountainous region with one of the few sources of a middle-class income. But those jobs began disappearing in the 1980s as producers switched from underground mining to surface mining and mountaintop removal. More recently, mining operations have shifted to western US states as the coal seams in Central Appalachia have become more and more depleted. In addition, stricter clea…

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