KAYENTA, Ariz. — In a dimly-lit home off a tangle of dirt roads on the Navajo Nation, 80-year-old Simon Crank sits on his living room couch, recalling the days when executives from a coal company in St. Louis, Mo., would visit, bringing sweets as gifts, promising jobs. Under a shady tree, they offered steady work at union wages in a place where most families could hope for nothing more lucrative than rug weaving.
The room where Crank speaks 49 years later is heated with a pellet-burning fireplace because a doctor has forbidden the elderly man to burn wood. After a lifetime working in Peabody Energy’s coal mines, his lungs can’t tolerate the smoke. Crank now drives hundreds of miles a month, seeking medical care at hospitals in Flagstaff, Ariz. and Colorado.