To the Editor:
The “Friends of Coal” organization has been misrepresenting Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, trying to portray us as an enemy of coal miners and their families. As a member of KFTC for over 27 years, I am quite familiar with the history of this organization and would like to present some truths that the Friends of Coal may not wish to acknowledge.
Let’s begin with coal miners having a safe and healthy workplace. During the 2007 Kentucky legislative session, House Bill 207 was introduced to strengthen health and safety regulations in underground mines.
Included in this bill were provisions to increase the number of medics on each shift, adequate emergency transportation, constant use of ventilation fans, and increased methane detectors. This was after a rash of accidents had left more than a dozen miners killed in Kentucky and West Virginia. Hailed by many as an important effort to protect the lives of Kentucky’s miners, the bill was supported by the widows of the miners killed in accidents and endorsed by Kentuckians for the Commonwealth. Led by Representatives Robin Webb and Jim Gooch, the coal industry did everything it could to cripple that legislation, removing the most critical components of the bill.
This effort was supported by many eastern Kentucky legislators but was opposed by Kentuckians for the Commonwealth.
Joining forces with the miners’ widows, the United Mine Workers of America, and others, KFTC fought hard to pass the legislation in its original form. We sent members to Frankfort to lobby, we had members, many of whom are former miners, testify before the House committee, we wrote letters and made phone calls to legislators, we wrote letters to the editors of Kentucky’s newspapers, we faxed and emailed representatives to oppose the coal industry’s watered down version of the bill and to support the original provisions. In short, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth worked tirelessly on behalf of miners and their families, while the coal industry (the “friends of coal”) did all they could to oppose improved health and safety measures for their workers. Despite the coal industry’s opposition, a strong mine safety bill passed and became law. This is all a matter of public record.
“Friends of Coal” is fond of accusing KFTC of being an outsider organization. The truth is that, while a few of our members are from other states, KFTC started in the coalfields and our membership is mostly made up of people from right here in Kentucky.
But let’s take a look at outside organizations for a minute. Following is a list of some of the largest coal producers in Kentucky and the location of their corporate headquarters: Arch Mineral, St. Louis, Mo.; TECO Coal, Tampa, Fla.; International Coal Group (ICG), Scott Depot, W.Va.; Alpha Natural Resources, Abingdon, Va. and Latrobe, Md.; Peabody Energy, St. Louis, Mo.; Massey Energy, Richmond, Va., Consol Energy, Canonsburg, Penna.
The profits these corporations reaped in 2009 is in the billions of dollars. According to financial statements found on their websites, these included over $3 billion for Peabody Energy over the second and third quarters, $1.85 billion for Arch Mineral in a ninemonth period, $729 million in the third quarter for Alpha Natural Resources, and $87 million in the third quarter for Consol Energy. Meanwhile the coal-producing counties of Kentucky are the poorest in the state. This trend is not new, it has been the same story for over 100 years.
That is the true tradition of coal in eastern Kentucky.
KFTC is seen by many people as a threat to jobs in the coal industry. I recently heard a lifelong resident of Pike County talking about his father, who was an underground miner. The mine where he used to work employed 600 men at that time, but now, because of a shift to strip-mining, only needs 17 workers. In the last 30 years the number of coal mining jobs has decreased by two-thirds, while the level of production has remained relatively steady. The real threat to miners’ jobs is not KFTC but the increasing use of massive earth-moving machines that displace hundreds of deep miners.
One of the Friends of Coal slogans is “Coal Mining Our Future”.
Ironically, this is exactly what we’re doing if our future depends on such a finite resource. There is only so much coal, and it will be depleted. Then what? The coal industry will skip town with the last of its profits, leaving behind devastated mountains, contaminated streams, and no jobs.
Kentuckians for the Commonwealth is working for a better future beyond coal, so that this scenario never becomes a reality. We care about the future of Kentucky, and we are not willing to leave it in the hands of corporations whose only interest is in how much wealth they can take before they abandon us.
The “Friends of Coal” organization has a very narrow vision for eastern Kentucky — in the most profitable way possible, mine the coal until it’s gone. Kentuckians for the Commonwealth has a much broader vision — protect the lives and health of coal miners while making a long-term transition to a more diversified economy, one that provides good paying jobs and protects the environment. In these very difficult times it’s critical to know who your friends really are.
JEFF CHAPMAN-CRANE Eolia