"He kept us fed, loading dirty black coal," preached legendary clawhammerer* Ralph Stanley. The southwest Virginia native could have been speaking for an entire region when he sung about his Dad putting food on the table by hauling the dirtiest of minerals.
The map below from Appalachian Voices, which ironically is an environmental group seeking to curtail mining, shows the correlation between mining and poverty. I think the point they're trying to make is that coal mining breeds a cycle of poverty, but the message I see is that employment is a scarce and treasured resource in that region.
In Virginia, Democratic Rep. Rick Boucher is scrambling to explain his vote for the House cap-and-trade bill, which he has depicted as a far better alternative to EPA mandates. He reasons that if you're not at the table in Washington, you're on the menu. Boucher has also done an excellent job of bringing tech jobs to his district, where the major employers are coal companies, prisons, and Wal-Mart.
But the damage to Democrats in the region is real and permanent. West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, for example, is a former coal broker whose popularity was at its height during his handling of the Sago Mine disaster. Even he was forced to literally shoot a bullet through the cap-and-trade bill.
And in Kentucky, the NRSC is accusing Jack Conway of supporting cap-and-trade. The Democrat is fighting back by saying that he sued the EPA while attorney general.
In 1964, Barry Goldwater told Appalachia that he would sell the Tennessee Valley Authority for $1 if he could, clearly sacrificing popularity for principal. After getting skewered for the comment in the region, he didn't bother to visit again and ended up getting walloped there. In 2010, House Democratic leaders may have done what they thought was right, but they'll sure feel the consequences.