Environmental regulators treated America’s leading coal companies like Wall Street’s mismanaged banks leading to the “Great Recession”—big coal companies that produced millions of tons of coal were simply too big to fail. With a wink and a nod, federal and state regulators ignored a core provision of federal law that was intended to prevent coal companies from continuing their past practices of plundering Appalachia’s mineral wealth while ravaging her environment.

This Article examines how the coal industry successfully evaded compliance with that law. The consequences of this evasion include mass bankruptcies, thousands of acres of mined land laying unclaimed, the pollution of rivers, streams, and groundwater, and the degradation of the coalfield environment. Taxpayers are left holding the bag. How and why did this happen?

To answer this question, this Article explores the role the coal industry has played for more than a century in shaping the economy, culture, and politics of Appalachia—as well as the poverty, environmental degradation, and hundreds of thousands of dead and injured coal miners left in its wake.