Ky. family brings ‘breaking clean’ from coal tour to Washington

July 3, 2014
Nick Mullins of Kentucky joins his wife, Rusty, and their children, Daniel and Alex, in discussing their “clean break” from the coal industry. - Scott Beveridge / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Nick Mullins grew up with a giant playground in his backyard in the form of a beautiful Eastern Kentucky mountain.

Today, as an adult who witnessed the destruction of those hills from mountaintop removal coal mining, Mullins made a break from the industry that employed his family for four generations, he said Wednesday, when he brought his “Breaking Clean Tour” to Washington.

“It was a beautiful land,” Mullins said, while speaking at the Center for Coalfied Justice, an environmental oversight nonprofit organization in Washington.

“It looked nothing like the mountain I grew up on. It was dead.”

He said his ancestors lived in the same Kentucky hills 10 generations, having settled the land long before it attracted the logging and coal industries that dramatically changed its landscape.

His parents wanted Mullins and his brother to receive college educations and find careers that would lead them away from the coal industry.

“It was difficult to get into college for kids from coal town schools,” he said. “I wanted to be a firefighter.”

He would find a job in a call center, meet his wife, Rusty, and father a son and daughter before that career came to a halt in a region that offered few other opportunities than mining-related employment.

“I finally applied to the mines,” he said.

He would find himself in a “cutthroat” industry with a job that made him angry to the point that he no longer felt he was being a good father.

“So, I quit the mines,” said Mullins, who now is a nontraditional student at Berea College in Berea, Ky.

It was a decision that cleared his conscience from participating in an industry that has affected 500 mountaintops in his region.

“There was a fight that had to be fought,” said Mullins, who has associated himself with a number of groups, including Appalachian Voices, a North Carolina-based nonprofit that works to reduce coal’s impact on the environment.

“Greene and Washington counties are both heavily impacted by the fossil fuel industry and listening to the Mullins’ story can be very inspirational for all of us fighting for a better future for our communities, too,” said Veronica Coptis, a community organizer with the Center for Coalfield Justice.

Scott Beveridge is a North Charleroi native who has lived most of his life in nearby Rostraver Township. He is a general assignments reporter focusing on investigative journalism and writing stories about the mid-Mon Valley. He has a bachelor's degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a master's from Duquesne University. Scott spent three weeks in Vietnam in 2004 as a foreign correspondent under an International Center for Journalists fellowship.

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