A young man rode all the way from Pike County, Ky., to attend Tuesday's EPA hearing on the largest mountaintop removal permit in West Virginia history. He stood up and urged the Environmental Protection Agency not to veto the permit for the mine because it is his livelihood.
"This is all we know," he said.
What an indictment. What a penetrating condemnation of all the leaders in his life, from home and school, to county commissions, up to legislators, governors, presidents and anyone else who meets and greets and congratulates themselves on being "for jobs."
No matter what you think the EPA should do regarding Arch Coal's Spruce No. 1 Mine in Logan County, projections for coal employment in the future are the same: down. Coal mining will never again employ 100,000 West Virginians, as it once did.
If the families at Tuesday's hearing are financially lucky, the drop will be gradual, giving them more time to plan and to adjust. But the drop might not be gradual. It could be precipitous.
So, how does a hardworking man not long out of high school, who apparently can handle the demanding work of mining coal, begin to believe that he could not do something other than mine coal, when coal mining jobs have been disappearing his entire life? And how many are like him, no matter what state they live in?
This failure to imagine life after coal is not limited to one miner, or even to all miners.
It is a failure of the state, even the region, to think beyond the end of the quarter.
The work of Appalachian coal miners built American industry. The broader population prospered, and continues to prosper from the electricity and steel that coal makes possible. That's true of the few people who own most of the coal to everyone who carries an iPhone or uses a quiet, "clean" cordless weed trimmer. The burdens of that progress have largely been carried by generations of miners who died of roof falls, explosions or black lung and by communities who breathe black dust and put up with acid mine drainage.
Now that broader society is demanding change - cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and limits on mountaintop removal, for example - why should those same families and communities bear the brunt of the economic hardships that these changes will bring?
The region deserves more consideration. Leaders must devise some sort of path for young people to prepare to earn a living when the coal jobs - and eventually the coal - are gone.
This is all we know?