Look to the past for our future

Angela Jackson Contributing Writer

October 4, 2013

All we seem to hear lately is gloom and doom for the coal industry in Kentucky.

People appear to be angry and up in arms, literally…like arms across Bell County, protesting for the coal miners. Thank you, Mr. Harris, but next time — Hands around the White House. But I don’t hear the big mine conglomerates being vocal and protesting with the workers. Oh, they appear to quietly complain as they close mine after mine and lament the Obama policy and strict EPA standards, but to me it looks as if they have left Kentucky’s coal miners to fend for themselves, and what public outcry there is, the big conglomerates are absent from it.

And you don’t hear coal advocates protesting the energy and pollution scapegoating. Sure, coal dust is bad, but methane from gas wells and leaks into lakes are far more dangerous to lives in the environment. Coal may pollute the air, but jet fuel is destroying the ozone layer. What is the EPA doing about that? Scapegoating coal and taking the attention away from the airline industry, that‘s what. Natural gas fracking and methane can destroy our water supply and poison us just like they say coal does. Unlike coal run-off, however, natural gas fracking and methane are not easily controlled. Sure, there is a minerals tax, but not a severance like coal has on its back. Not much regulation on gas and oil, either. What’s the deal here?

Coal miners, defend yourselves by attacking the real source of your downfall, the competition who wants to sacrifice you so they can pollute and profit.

I wonder if the big coal conglomerates are diversifying into gas and oil and are quietly allowing coal miners to, as the old saying goes, be thrown into the “fracking” creek? In the meantime, the coal-conglomerate executives board a jet with its fuel destroying the ozone layer, takes their money with them, and flies to bigger and better opportunities.

Are the big conglomerates quietly divorcing the coal industry and its children (the coal miners)? Are they skipping out on us with attractive mistresses called gas and oil? To me it is the only explanation as to why they are not defending coal against its competition. Our elected officials remain silent because they are tools of these big conglomerates. It is easy for them to blame Obama, but hard to actually get into the trenches with the coal miners and fight. The battle cry should be, “Quit scapegoating coal. Take a train, not a plane.” I believe southeastern Kentucky should go back to the days of locally owned and locally operated coal mines. Form a miners’ co-op; there will always be a market for coal but just not on as grand a scale as the conglomerates need. Back in the 70s, 80s and even the early 90s, locally owned mines made money and hired local people. Mom and pop mines flourished, local people answering to the local law if anything went wrong or a coal mine was too dangerous. The money stayed here. By the 1970s the company-store mine owners were gone, section houses sold and we had a miners’ hospital (Miners Memorial Hospital) second to none. We had strong advocates in Frankfort who knew where their votes came from and respected us. When the big coal conglomerates think they have sucked us dry and leave, there will still be coal. When the railroad operators stop giving service to a great many tipples, there will still be coal.

And there will still be coal miners with the hearts and knowledge and guts to claim and mine that coal. Coal for homes, coal for electric plants, and coal for businesses. Grassroots technology by resourceful miners who know how coal works. Necessity is the mother of invention, you know.

There will always be businessmen willing to lease equipment and coal truck drivers with nerves of steel who are willing to take that coal from any mine to the last remaining tipple where trains will pick it up. The coal miner learned from the days of the company stores, script and section houses, that they must control their own destinies. The big conglomerates are leaving. Coal is being scapegoated as the villain of environmental destruction. It is time for miners to co-op and take control. No unions this time. We need only each other. Force a severance tax on coal’s competitors. Don’t let them get away with a free ride. Make your elected officials fight for you or put them out.

Reclaim southeastern Kentucky and its coal reserves. Keep the money here. Keep the responsibility here. Scapegoat or top dog? What’s the coal miner’s future going to be?