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Raleigh County teens see bleak future in coalfields

Register-Herald photo by Rick Barbero Emilee Russell, left, Katelyn Hannah, Austin Brown, Michael Talley and Alexis Furguson, student al Liberty High School in Glen Daniels.
Register-Herald photo by Rick Barbero
Emilee Russell, left, Katelyn Hannah, Austin Brown, Michael Talley and Alexis Furguson, student al Liberty High School in Glen Daniels.

BECKLEY, W.Va. — The majority of Liberty High School’s 500-plus student body has links to coal and is not immune to the economic impact that declining exports, tougher environmental regulations and the switch to natural gas at electric power-generating plants are having on the coalfields.

The signs of coal’s decline are everywhere in western Raleigh County, they said, from businesses closing to classmates moving away after parents lost mining jobs. Students know there is little, if any, future in the coalfields. They also believe that in an industry known for its boom or bust cycles, this time the cycle seems broken.

“I don’t think coal is coming back,” said 16-year-old junior Alexis Ferguson of Dry Creek, whose father was unemployed for nearly a year after Alpha Natural Resources had one of its many layoffs.

For Austen Brown, an 18-year-old senior from Glen Daniel, the decline hit home last week when his father received a 60-day WARN notice.

“I don’t know what we are going to do,” he said. After a pause to think about his situation, he added, “Moving from our house is the last resort…

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