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Who Will Help The Miner?

[imgbelt img=coal2_miner.jpeg]With less demand for coal and fewer jobs for miners, the Appalachian
coalfields need a Presidential candidate who can help the region build a
new way of life. So far, neither party has supported policies that will
help the coal miner.

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In West Virginia alone, over 2,000 miners have died of black lung over the last decade.  More than 70,000 have died since federal regulations were put in place in 1969.  This action from uncaring politicians is nothing less than a potential death sentence for miners.

Natural Gas, a Coal Competitor

Just when coal was most vulnerable, another blow struck the coalfields — the tapping of the Marcellus shale gas fields in West Virginia and surrounding states. The price of natural gas dropped below that of coal, and some utilities have taken this opportunity to make the investment, switching from coal to gas.

Coal production is already expected to fall by more than 103.3 million tons from 2011 to 2012. Coal’s usage in the electricity generation field fell below 40 percent in the last two months of last year. That had not happened since 1978.

Mother Nature 

Even Ol’ Mother Nature seems to have a grudge against coal miners, giving the entire United States the winter of 2011–12, the fourth warmest on record, and reducing the need for power produced by coal. The eastern part of the country experienced uncommon warmth, exactly the part of the country where the nation’s coal production is used to generate power.

Who Will Help the Miner?

Three major events in less than one year have sent shock waves throughout the hollers and hills of the Appalachian coalfields: 

1. An extremely mild winter

2. The price of natural gas dropping below that of coal

3. EPA’s regulations putting coal’s future as a fuel for electricity generation in question.

With the bleak outlook on mining as a job in Appalachia, what should miners’ demand from their political leaders?

At minimum, there should be a plan that would give coal companies and miners time to move out of a coal economy. Miners need to be retrained in jobs besides coal. And there needs to be a plan for building a new economy in the Appalachian coalfields.

Will either one of the Presidential candidates earn the miner’s vote by helping him and his family find a way, a life, a future in the coalfields?

Betty Dotson-Lewis is a West Virginia writer.

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