Coal miners were in town and that could only mean one thing. It was time to rally.
Many of the supporters were in Russell Park on Capitol Hill by 8 a.m. Wednesday morning, though the event itself would not get started for nearly another two hours.
This afforded plenty of time for those attending to talk, but coal miners along for the trip had been instructed not to speak to the media as organizers hoped to keep participants’ focus on the mission at hand — to, in some part, educate lawmakers about the true importance of coal.
“We would like to educate the people that vote on this to give them some knowledge and know just how vital this is and how ridiculous some of the things they want to pass is,” said Linda Hall, with Coal Operators and Associates. “A bottle of water does not meet the water quality standard that they have exacted on the coal mining industry.”
Also joining supporters on Capitol Hill Wednesday was Gary Fields, of Raccoon in Pike County, a veteran coal miner and musician who has written and continues to record an album of 10 songs, many about the current climate between the coal industry and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its push for new regulations, lawmakers and President Obama’s administration.
As one of several charter buses pulled into Union Station, Fields explained where many of his songs came from.
“I’m a coal miner of 38 years underground and I know what coal mining is and I respect them,” said Fields. “Miners don’t get the respect they deserve and they keep this country going. Without coal, the country would be idle. Everything would have to shut down.”
Fields said he believes that lawmakers and politicians are distanced from the real work of mining coal.
“I made a living at it,” Fields said, who retired after an injury in 2006. “I put my son through college coal mining and I know how coal miners live. These people that make these laws have no idea what a coal miner really is.”
In Russell Park, a group of several women wearing mining caps sat up tables along the sidewalk. One of those woman, Martha Davis, a Hippo resident and owner and operator of MD Trucking, said the situation is difficult, but simple. “All of us, coal, is getting a bad rap, period. We’re getting pushed out.”
Another supporter, Amanda Henderson, of Harold, talked of how exclusively her state and county depend on the coal industry.
“This keeps thousands of people with jobs,” said Henderson. “Without those jobs in Eastern Kentucky and all over, it would be a ghost town because we don’t have a thing to fall back on.”
Before speakers took to a stage set up just in front of the Capitol Building, Haven King, of Hazard, took the microphone and started a back-and-forth chant with the crowd.
“That’s weak!” King would exclaim after each shout from the crowd. “We can do better!”
Both U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers were on hand for the rally, with McConnell directly referencing the other side of the aisle and President Obama on the issue of coal.
“Coal is under assault in this town,” McConnell said above the crowd’s cheers. “This administration and Congress have been the most anti-coal in the history of this country and we must continue to keep up the fight.”
Rogers took the opportunity while addressing the crowd to announce that he and 11 others in Congress had introduced legislation, HR 6113 or the Electric Reliability Protection Act, that he said would function to stop further EPA regulations.
“This bill would stop the EPA’s power grab and put Appalachian coal miners back to work,” Rogers said. “Today we are sending a message to unelected bureaucrats that they will not regulate us out of business.”
The newly introduced HR 6113 would, if passed, prohibit the EPA from executing new regulatory guidance until going through the formal rule-making process which would include public comment. The legislation, according to Rogers, was prompted by EPA’s recent implemented standards for surface mining across six Appalachian states, including, of course, Kentucky.