The evidence is clear; the use of coal for energy in manufacturing, or electricity, is one of the main causes of climate change. The industry attempted to convince the American public that something called ‘clean coal’ exists. Simply put, ‘there aint no such animal.’ Coal not only affects the environment, it affects those who mine the coal and the families who live in these dark and gloomy towns. Coal is an ecological disaster.
On April 5th, 2010, Dawes, West Virginia, experienced the worst disaster involving coal mining in 40 years. The mine exploded and collapsed killing 29 men. The Upper Big Branch mine was like all other mines in West Virginia, virtually without safety regulations and oversight.
When President Obama attempted to place regulations on the industry, coal mine operators came to Washington testifying that the President had declared a ‘war on coal.’ Unfortunately his safety concerns will likely be defeated because Republicans support unrestricted mining, and are certain to defeat any measures which would add regulations limiting production and protecting the miners themselves.
West Virginia is the nation’s second leading coal producer. The state’s natural beauty is breathtaking. Rolling hills and different shades of green fill the senses with the grandeur of nature. That all ends when you enter the small towns located near the mines. Poverty and despair replace the joy from God’s work. These are towns where hard-working men and their families exist. The people who live around these dark and unwelcoming towns are victims of the mine’s greedy owners. Generations of coal miners were born and died here; some long before their time.
West Virginians have the lowest number of college graduates in the nation. Less than 20 percent of the state’s population earn a degree. Most dropped out of school early in life to work in the mines. They were paid just enough to make the job enticing; they lived and worked in a form of servitude.
Today coal mining is not the largest employer in the state; Wal-Mart has replaced mining. As mining has slowed, young men and women have accepted minimum wage, or just slightly higher, jobs at the retail giant or fast food establishments. The number of those living at the poverty level has risen.
Meanwhile, those who work in the mines, or live around them, suffer unbearable and inhumane conditions; water and air pollution make daily life very unpleasant. Mortality rates are higher in towns supported by coal mining, and the poverty level is more severe than in other counties and towns. Disease in more prevalent; statistics reveal that residents are 70 percent more likely to suffer kidney disease, 60 percent more likely to have a debilitating lung disease, and 30 percent will likely suffer from high blood pressure.
As mining production lessens, the state’s population is divided. Those whose families have benefitted from the industry continue to hope that a boom will reoccur, while others hope it will entirely disappear; they look for the return clean water, and blue skies.
Lobbyist for the coal mining industry have influenced politicians to forgo regulations on the industry. The governor of West Virginia, Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat, accepted more than $350,000 in campaign contributions from the mining industry during his last election. He vowed that ‘West Virginia will never bow to the EPA.’
Coal mining produces a product which when burned is destructive to the environment, and during the mining process, thousands of gallons of lethal waste products are dumped into West Virginia’s rivers and streams, polluting the water supply.
No one wins when coal mining exists; least of all the miners themselves.
By James Turnage