Driving south of Gillette, Wyoming, through an arid and austere landscape once home to herds of bison, you pass coal mine after coal mine, for 70 uninterrupted miles, carving deep troughs into the prairie.
Seen from the road, the immensity of the mining activity is striking. But descend into one of these open pit mines for the first time, and it’s hard not to be overwhelmed.
Colossal digging machines called coal shovels load hundreds of tons at a time into haul trucks three stories high. Giant bulldozers rip away layers of dirt to get at rich coal seams, and clouds of brown and black dust darken the air.
This is the Powder River Basin, the new home base for the U.S. coal industry. If coal has started to leave Appalachia, the American West is now coal’s heartland. Production has dipped slightly in Wyoming, but the state still produces 40 percent of the nation’s coal – far more than any other state. The impact of this industry on the land and the people run deep in Wyoming.
To read more of this report, visit the website of our partner The Allegheny Front. This story was supported by High Plains News. It’s part of the ‘The Future of Coal’–a collaboration of The Allegheny Front, West Virginia Public Broadcasting, and Inside Energy.