From late July well into autumn, Blackjewel miners in Harlan County blocked a coal-laden train to protest for the backpay they were owed by the bankrupt coal company.
For Southerly, I drilled deeper, looking at how coal companies have used bankruptcy to shed their obligations both to pay employees and to restore strip-mined land to federal standards.
Most if not all of Blackjewel’s mines came to it through previous bankruptcies; many produce no coal but have laid unreclaimed for years. I looked at how companies exploit state regulations to avoid reclamation and then dump those properties during bankruptcy. I also looked at how this process might end—with the abandonment of these mines to be reclaimed using bonds that may well fall short of the actual costs.