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Former coal worker uses drones to expose his state's mining industry: 'I'm going to cost them as much money as I humanly can'

"Our community is expendable to them."

Evidence to stop mining and fight the West Virginia coal industry.

Photo Credit: iStock

The West Virginia landscape is the perfect place for aerial shots of natural beauty. Set among the Appalachian Mountains and covered in forest, the state is known for its stunning scenery. 

But when he takes his drone to spots along a valley an hour out from the state capital of Charleston, it's not the trees and hills that Junior Walk wants to capture. He's getting footage of the dark underbelly in his state's coal industry. 

"My ultimate hope is to shut down the coal industry," he told the Guardian. "In order to get anything else new here, you've got to burn it down first."

Born and bred in the state, Walk's connections to the local coal mining industry run deep. Representatives from area mines would often attend his coal-dust-covered school when he was a boy. Walk, along with his grandfather and father, all worked in the coal industry.

But after becoming disillusioned with the impact on his area — through the human-caused destruction of the mountains and the coal-related illnesses many West Virginians were suffering from — he turned his attention to activism.

Now, armed with a drone and backed by the Coal River Mountain Watch — a nonprofit organization that works with communities impacted by "irresponsible practices of the coal industry in southern West Virginia" — Walk is collecting evidence he hopes will help to stop mining practices in his area. His work has already been responsible for fines issued to multiple local mining companies.

"I just want to do anything to be a pain in the ass to the coal industry," Walk told the Guardian. "Anything that can cost them a dollar, because the only thing these people care about is the money in their pockets. Our community is expendable to them."

In addition to the practice of coal mining being a blight on natural beauty, animal habitats, and crucial ecosystems, it is also among the biggest polluters in the fossil fuel industry. 

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, methane emissions from coal mining and abandoned coal mines in 2020 "accounted for about 7% of total U.S. methane emissions and about 1% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (based on global warming potential)."

With global heating an increasing concern, the need to move away from coal to more sustainable sources of energy is imperative. But in areas where coal has been a huge part of the local identity and economy for so long, it can be difficult to shift away from it. 

As energy expert James Van Nostrand told the Guardian: "Coal is such a source of pride and identity, but the state's political leaders are in denial about the need to transition from it. It's a massive failure of leadership. … Coal companies scar the landscape, and taxpayers pay to clean it up. It's shameful."

Walk, who has become a notable — or sometimes infamous — figure in his community for his stance on the future of coal, has no intent on giving up his fight. 

"I'm still breathing, and so I'm going to cost them as much money as I humanly can while I'm still on this earth," Walk told the Guardian. "Because I'm right, and they're wrong."

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