When Coal Is Over

In this Oct. 17, 2014 photo, an unreclaimed strip mine just across the state line from Kentucky’s Harlan County stands in Virginia as seen from the Kentucky side of Black Mountain in Lynch, Ky. Most of Harlan County’s “big coal,” seams thick enough for a worker to walk upright in, has long since been mined. According to the Energy Information Administration, most of what’s left, 9.1 billion tons, can only be realistically gotten by surface or “strip” mining. Around here, the most cost-effective method is “mountaintop removal,” in which the hills are blasted apart to expose the coal beneath. But stricter interpretation of clean water and other regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency and the courts in recent years has all but ended the practice. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

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