Kentucky Labor Institute
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    Updated: Aug. 21 (12:03)

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    Action Center
    Register of the Kentucky Historical Society
    Did you know...that the Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, first printed in 1903, is the oldest peer-reviewed publication dedicated to Kentucky history?Subscribe to the Register (only $40 per year).
  • Coal Will It Come Back?
    Posted On: Jun 02, 2016

                                 Coal....Will It Come Back???

                                           joe brennan

                "Were going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business". "And we're going to make it clear that we don't want to forget those people. Those people labored in those mines for generations, losing their health and often losing their lives to turn on our lights and power our factories". While opposition politicians will make use Clinton's first line, the full quote does add some perspective to the coal crisis, sometimes called by others "the war on coal".  Reference to the miners and their families as "those people" is certainly not complimentary and indicates a real problem. Any group identified as "those" clearly signifies separation, if not depreciation of the "those". Remember the Pharisee in the temple.

                The future of coal does not appear to be is good. Kentucky, once the third coal producing state in the nation, has now seen its lowest level of production ever. Miner numbers have diminished by seven thousand in less than two years, even while individual miner productivity per hour has increased. Surface mining has replaced deep surface mining. Technology has eliminated jobs. Electric plants are being converted from coal to gas energy. While Kentucky depends for thirty percent on coal energy for its electricity, many states have reduced their use of coal. This declining need is likely to continue for the next two decades. Regulations have increased production costs, even as the free market reduces coal's price.

                The China coal market  is not promising. While it seeks increased power sources for its industries, severe air pollution has called it to reexamine its priorities. Whatever American coal it receives will have to compete with Australia and South Africa. India competes with China for industrial development with less concern for air pollution. Both nations struggle for needed power resources to increase their export demands and their national domestic markets.

                Back in Kentucky, major political figures have benefitted financially from lobbyist support, exceeding $600,000,  while coal miners can only give support through their votes. In good times the miners, who daily risk their lives even while suffering from Black Lung disease, were able to provide for their families. But if there is nowhere to sell their product, an added to this are employee reductions, mine closures, and mine mergers, and they now face an unemployment of 22.5 %. When factors such as severe chronic illness, lower literacy rates, transportation and communication limitations are considered, the region becomes less favorable for attracting financial investment.

                But coal is more than a hard rock commodity, it is a culture, with family and community multi-generational bonds, and family graves in nearby sites. There is the music, craft skills, religious practices, homes, and a way of life. Blood is thicker than even coal. Change or transition does not come easily. Education and training for uncertain employment is not attractive.

                What can be done the assist miners and their families? Coal companies have influenced the death of unions. There are no coal miner unions today in Kentucky. What do we hear from the politicians? Mr. Trump says he will bring coal back, but he has no plan. Mrs. Clinton has presented a multi-faceted $30 billion dollar plan that includes health, black lung, infrastructure, broadband access and other programs, but it has not been enacted. Senators McConnell and Byrd proposed a comprehensive plan in 1990, that was never approved. Senator Paul offered an Economic Zone Plan, but that only covered business tax incentives not needed social services, it also failed. Representative Hal Rogers'"2011 Mining Jobs Protection Act",  did not mention jobs and it did not progress.

                Whether verbally or non-verbally, the status of Kentucky coal miners has not improved, only worsened. In that sense, miners and their families remain "those people", forgotten when it is not election time, awaiting for their KYnect, Medicaid, and Black Lung coverage to be diminished or eliminated. Measures have even been initiated to eliminate state mine inspectors. Neither politicians, and certainly not the coal companies, have taken any effective measures to improve their lives.


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