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View from the Chair: Future of the Coalfields: It’s Not What It Used to Be
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by Jim Sconyers, Chapter Chair | 2012

Coal has a future? Really?

I suppose everyone has heard, ad nauseam, about the phony “war on coal.” This is the feverish public relations campaign by Big Coal flailing about to distract citizens and coal miners from some harsh realities.
 
Coal is on a steady decline. The share of coalfired power in national electric generation has shrunk to barely 30 percent. The cheap, easy-to-mine coal in central Appalachia is nearly played out. Mechanization of coal mining keeps the number of miners low. Natural gas production has skyrocketed. New power plants use gas, and some old plants are converting to gas.

These are market and geological forces. But, of course, coal industry groups and their handmaidens among our decision makers do not want us to frankly and honestly come to grips with the coming — actually ongoing — demise of the coal industry. They thrash about, viciously blaming President Obama and/or the US-EPA. As long as they can keep us distracted with their “war on coal” rhetoric, they can use fear to maintain the status quo — until the last mine shuts down and workers are left holding the bag. This is their war — the war on coal miner families and their future.
 
What would be the responsible avenue? How should government act in the face of this decline? What are policy objectives at the state and federal level that would look toward a worthy future in southern West Virginia’s coalfields?
 
Ignoring the change that all parties know is impending does no good for the miners and their families, who today depend on coal for their economic security. But the future is heading right at them. Trying to get miners to believe that all would be just fine if it weren’t for the so-called war on coal is dishonest and unforgivable. It uses them as pawns for Big Coal.
 
The proper policy response is obvious — yet rejected by our governor and our Congressional delegation. Planning and investing for diverse future economic and occupational opportunities in the coalfields can and must be done — now. Waiting until the last dragline shuts down and the last paycheck is cashed is unconscionable.
 

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