Author Topic: 'Not looking good': Coal workers see future dim amid regulation burden By Mike Tobin  (Read 325 times)

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Offline mystery-ak

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'Not looking good': Coal workers see future dim amid regulation burden

By Mike Tobin
Published January 16, 2014

Far below the Appalachian Mountains, in a space barely big enough to stand up straight, Bobby Combs works a job his father and his grandfather worked.

Coal-mining is the highest-paying job available to him in eastern Kentucky. As he skillfully maneuvers a massive machine and rips into a seam of coal, though, Combs wonders if the family tradition ends with him.

"It's not looking good," he says, dirt smudging his face.

Coal has come under the crosshairs of the Obama administration in the push to transition to renewable energy sources. Coal mines are burdened with a never-ending stream of federal regulations.

The owner of the mine where Combs works said the cost of getting coal out of the ground has tripled. For him, that means job insecurity.

"It seems like everything on the coal industry is under siege, everything is under attack," he said.

Many miners, particularly in Appalachia, have labeled the administration's policies the War on Coal. "I just believe the Obama administration has taken a huge impact on the coal industry and Appalachia. Anymore, you just never know from day to day if you are going to have a job or not," said miner Phillip Conley.

When he was a candidate, President Obama made it clear he was not a friend to coal. In 2008, he told the editorial board at the San Francisco Chronicle: "If somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can. It's just that it will bankrupt them because they're going to be charged a huge sum for all the greenhouse gas that's being emitted."

Now as that becomes a reality, the Paradise power plant in Drakesboro, Ky., is phasing out two of its coal-fired units, replacing them with natural gas.

Daniel Mcintire, a vice president of the Tennessee Valley Authority, says coal is more efficient and cheaper as a fuel source, but federal regulations are forcing the change.

"Each year there seems to be a new regulation," Mcintire said. As the plant makes the change, Paradise will buy less coal and lay off nearly 200 employees. "Inasmuch as regulations come from our leaders ... this is a man-made issue," he said.

Back in coal country, the changes have meant layoffs. Nowhere has been hit harder than eastern Kentucky, where more than 6,000 miners have lost their jobs since January 2012. For each mining job, there are estimated to be at least three directly related jobs, like trucking, that also disappear.

Finding another job that pays upward of $70,000 like coal mining is not realistic for many in eastern Kentucky. Finding a job at all is tough. Many of these towns were built around coal, and people survive primarily on paychecks from coal, or retail which ultimately ties back to money from the coal industry.

In Prestonsburg, Ky., clothing store owner Cheryl Leslie notices the difference. "People don't buy like they used to. They're very conservative in the way they buy," she said.

Killing time at the local barber shop, security guard Michael Shepard is ready to leave the friends and family he grew up with in coal country. "We're going to have to pack up and move, ain't got no other choice. Can't make it on what we have now," he said.

The EPA and Sierra club declined requests for an interview for this report.

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Offline Fishrrman

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[[ Coal-mining is the highest-paying job available to him in eastern Kentucky. As he skillfully maneuvers a massive machine and rips into a seam of coal, though, Combs wonders if the family tradition ends with him.
"It's not looking good," he says, dirt smudging his face. ]]

I was thinking about this a few days back.

Most of the rank-and-file miners you find in eastern Kentucky and throughout West Virginia are going to be registered democrats -- as far back as their family history goes.

Of course, the reason for this is immortalized in Florence Reese's 1931 song, the refrain of which goes "which side are you on, which side are you on?"

For generations, there were only two "sides" in coal country -- that of the owners and that of the workers. If you lived there, you KNEW which side you "were on", and that pretty much was that.

But in the last ten years, things have changed.
There are now THREE "sides" in Coal Country:
1. The owners
2. The workers
3. The government

Back in previous generations, it was the government that stepped in when the owners were taking advantage of the workers, and created an environment in which workers could organize and give themselves some leverage. It also passed safety regulations that actually made a difference.

But that's changed. It's now the government, driven by leftists and a radicalized cadre of regulators, that have displaced the owners as the nemisis of the working miner. The owners might still provide the jobs and pay the wages, but it's the government itself which is trying to shut the industry down.

It's hard to believe that the working folks in these places can't see that. Perhaps a growing number do, but still, the old ways and family traditions die hard. For someone in a West Virginia mining family to come out and declare himself "a Republican", why, that might be shunning or even fighting words.

That's why a Joe Manchin can come along and win, even when he represents a political party that would thrown the Coal Country folk on the ashes of industrial history.

Whoever runs in eastern KY or WVa should point out again and again of how the relationship between the owners and workers is now changed by the heavy hand of the democrats and regulators...

Offline Rapunzel

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good post fisherrman
“The time is now near at hand which must probably determine, whether Americans are to be, Freemen, or Slaves.” G Washington July 2, 1776

Offline alicewonders

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A lot of Democrats didn't vote for Obama in Kentucky and West Virginia.  He's not popular here at all.  Where I live, Democrats outnumber Republicans six to one - but Obama did not get the votes.  Every business owner I talk to says their business is suffering, houses aren't selling...there are no jobs other than flipping cheeseburgers.  Eastern Kentucky has always been a depressed area and it's worse than ever now.  Seeing a lot of signs and bumperstickers on the War on Coal, and now they're closing our power plant. 

I've been noticing a lot more people walking along the side of the roads, in places you would have a pretty long walk to get anywhere...lots more junky cars on the road too.  Neighborhoods that were once well-maintained are now looking shabby.  Malaise everywhere.

Don't tread on me.   8888madkitty

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