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The area's rate of labor force participation is 45%, about two-thirds the US average.
Exploring green alternatives In place of prisons, some nearby coal-mining communities are eyeing environmentally friendly uses for abandoned mines.
In nearby Pike County, the state government has backed a plan to build a 100-megawatt solar farm, Kentucky's largest ever, on mountaintop mine lands.
Debbie Chizewer, the Montgomery Foundation Environmental Law Fellow at Northwestern University, called the decision a "victory for common sense" and a "recognition of the serious environmental and economic concerns" raised by the plan's opponents.
Chizewer said state agencies sometimes "end up merely checking the box, rather than taking a meaningful or substantive analysis" of environmental impacts and health risks.
It's been rare for environmental activists to successfully influence major government decisions in Donald Trump's White House.
But Black and his fellow plaintiffs have gone some way to demonstrating the growing reach of the US environmental movement, whose activists are increasingly linking questions of emissions and energy to racial and criminal justice.
Prisons on waste sites The planned prison is not the first to raise environmental concerns.
One 2017 analysis, based on work by cartographer Paige Williams, found that over 130 US prisons lie within 1.6 kilometers (about 1 mile) of a Superfund site, areas with hazardous waste or pollution severe enough to require federal government intervention.
Eastern Kentucky's hills are interrupted by jarring flats of bare rock: the aftermath of mountaintop removal mining, which uses explosives to destroy and harvest coal-rich peaks.
These hills are also home to four federal prisons — and until this week, an abandoned mountaintop mine in Letcher County, Kentucky, was expected to house a fifth.