ABINGDON, Va. – There is a war on coal.
That’s the message officials from four states, including Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia and Tennessee, told those in attendance at Saturday’s “Rally for Appalachian Coal” in Abingdon, Va.
“This is a war against our jobs, our families, our communities and our way of life in the coalfield region of Appalachia,” said West Virginia state Sen. Art Kirkendoll (D-Logan). “The United States Department of Environmental Protection has declared war and we must stand up and send a message that we will not let them take our jobs, harm our families and communities and try to destroy our way of life.”
Kirkendoll called the EPA “The Employment Prevention Agency” because of its recent actions in denying, delaying and pulling coal mining permits.
“We are seeing miners in southern West Virginia getting laid off every week and mines being shut down because of the EPA’s war against coal,” Kirkendoll said. “It’s going to take all the people from the Appalachian states and help from across this great nation to win this war, but we will continue to fight for our coal jobs, miners, families, communities and our way of life. I will not rest one day.”
Kirkendoll was one of several speakers that included Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Virginia U.S. Sen. George Allen, Virginia U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, Kentucky House Majority Leader Rocky Adkins, Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and several other political leaders from all four states.
Rocky Adkins received the largest ovations from the large crowd.
“Who elected the EPA? What right do they have to wage this war against coal?” Adkins said to a standing ovation. “We will stand up for coal and against anyone trying to take our jobs. We will remember come November.”
“Coal is in trouble in America,” said Pike County Judge-Executive Wayne Rutherford, who presides over the largest coal-producing county in Kentucky. “America needs to wake up and understand what coal means to America. We are here to let everyone know that coal can save America today. President Barack Obama’s administration and the U.S. EPA needs to get off of coal’s back.”
Rutherford said most Americans outside of the coalfields need educated on the importance of coal to the country.
“Without coal, energy prices would be so high that people would be deciding between food and medicine,” he said. “Some already are and that is just not right in America.”
Rutherford and other said that states should be able to regulate their own industries and environmental impacts.
“We love our streams, hills and mountains,” he said. “But we also need coal, along with mountaintop removal so that we can have flat developable land that we so desperately need in many parts of Appalachia.”
State Rep. Hubert Collins, who is House Transportation Chairman, says people in the coalfields must join the fight to save jobs.
“If we don’t stand up for what we believe, the jobs will be lost and communities and families will be devastated,” he said.
Collins says it’s coal that keeps the lights on in the majority of the country.
“Do they realize when they flip the light switch on that it’s most likely coal that generated that power?” he asked. “Without coal, the cost of electricity would be so high hardly anyone could afford to pay for it. It would also affect the prices of nearly everything in our economy and hundreds and thousands of communities and families would be thrust into poverty and hardship. I will continue to fight for coal every day.”
Ernie Moore, of McDowell, a coal miner who runs a shuttle car, says he thought the rally did well and hoped it would deliver an important message to President Obama and the EPA.
“Coal mining jobs and related direct and indirect jobs to the coal mining industry are all these Appalachian communities have,” Moore said. “I have been working in the coal mining industry for over 36 years and this is the worst I’ve seen it when it comes to jobs.”
There were only a handful of protestors handing out what they called “informational” materials. They didn’t wear any anti-rally type of clothing or have any type of signage.
The group Appalachian Voices out of Boone, N.C., had members in attendance that called some of the political speeches “rhetoric.”
“There have been no new mountaintop removal permits since 2009 in Virginia and jobs at Virginia coal mines are up,” said Matt Wasson, director of programs with Appalachian Voices. “We want people to listen to the facts and not the political rhetoric.”
“We are not against coal,”Wasson said. “We are against mountaintop removal coal mining and mining that creates dirty water.”
Bill Raney, executive director of the West Virginia Coal Association, said coal miners are not against the environment and don’t want dirty water or air, but they do want their jobs.
“These coal miners live here and do a great job of mining coal without harming the environment they live in,” he said. “I don’t think some people living outside of the coalfield regions understand this and are being given so much wrong and misinformation about coal mining. Coal mining is what made America what it is today and can put our country back on track by decreasing our need for foreign oil, while also creating good-paying jobs for people to support their families and help communities thrive.”
“This is a non-partisan issue,” Raney said. “It’s a coal issue. Coal means jobs and we must stand up to this war on coal.”