By Chris R. Hamilton, SVP
West Virginia Coal Association
Watching President Obama’s State of the Union speech Tuesday night, I found myself wanting to move to whatever country he was talking about – it sure wasn’t the United States.
Seriously, it was impossible to watch this speech without shaking your head at the options in front of you –President Obama paints a portrait of a nation with a “growing economy, shrinking deficits, bustling industry and booming energy production” — a nation “freer to write our own future than any other nation on Earth.” What he neglects to say is that our economy by all good measures is stagnant at best. We have the highest number of people on government assistance than any time in history, our national debt has doubled and then some, and our industry and energy sectors are recovering not because of some policy of the Obama Administration but IN SPITE of the best efforts of his EPA to destroy them.
Obama either is so out of touch with the reality on the ground that he believes the United States actually is stronger today than it was when he took office, or he knows he is lying to the American people. Either option is beyond troublesome. And the saddest part of this is that no state or region has borne the cost of Obama’s failed policies more than West Virginia and Central Appalachia. And no group of people has endured more by his hand than coal miners and their families.
Across the coalfields of West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia, unemployment is topping 10 percent in many counties, and workforce participation rates are below 50 percent. More than 4,000 coal miners are out of work in West Virginia alone – combined with another 20,000 or more people who work in support industries. Across the region, reports indicate more than 17,000 coal miners and 90,000 support jobs have been lost, draining literally BILLIONS from the region’s economy, pushing states that should be thriving into raids on rainy day funds and the potential – if not reality – of deficits. It is worse in many counties and cities in our region, with the great likelihood that some will face bankruptcy and be forced to look to the state for help in meeting the needs of school systems and public services.
Obama said in his speech that he wants to “commit … to an economy that generates rising incomes and chances for everyone who makes an effort.” What about the coal miners and railroaders? What about the folks at machine shops and service companies around Appalachia? What about the workers at electric utilities that are shutting down because of the policies of the Obama EPA? No one works harder than they do. Do they no longer count? How do you run an economy without basic industries?
The reality is that Obama is relentlessly pursuing a radical agenda that has crippled our industrial sector – from the coal mines, farms and electric utilities all the way through the economy to the parents who pour over the mountains of bills they cannot pay on unemployment. Under this administration, families are suffering.
The reality is that Obama doesn’t care about the average American. He is beholden to radicalized groups willing to destroy our economy to protect mayflies and combat the chimera of “climate change.”
Among Americans, Obama has made it clear the lowest of the low is the American coal miner. They are expendable in his political calculations, just as West Virginia and all of Appalachia is expendable.
Luckily we have help on the state level. Here is West Virginia the people stood up to the policies of Obama and elected a new leadership – one focused on meeting the needs of our people. Led by new and effective leaders — Senate President Bill Cole and House Speaker Tim Armstead — the new Legislature is intent on doing what it can to help our basic industries survive and thrive. They are committed to actively seeking out new markets to ensure that every single ton of coal in our great state is mined and marketed.
The only “answers” we heard from the previous leadership was talk about “change” and “transforming away from coal mining.” Instead of real action to take on the Obama Administration, we got SCORE – a “listening tour” that was nothing more than a way to kick the can down the road and hopefully allow them to continue presiding over the slow death of our state. I guess for them, they were content to answer voters the same way Satan answered God in Milton’s “Paradise Lost” – “Tis better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.”
The new leadership already is taking action – repealing the state’s renewable energy portfolio law, our version of Obama’s cap-and-trade proposal. We say good riddance to a law that would do nothing but kill jobs and drive up energy costs to everyone.
The bottom line is West Virginia and the Appalachian region should be thriving, since the President claims we are in a supposed “economic recovery.” Our coal mines should be working day and night to fill the need of a rapidly growing industrial sector and global demand for power. This should be a “golden age” for West Virginia, with thriving coal and natural gas sectors.
With the help of the new Legislative leadership, we now see light at the end of the tunnel. In two years, the Obama Administration will end, and hopefully we will have a new president who puts the needs of America and Americans first. West Virginia must be ready to move quickly to take what actions we can here at home to blunt the damage done by Washington and the failed policies of the past. It’s time to lay the foundation for a truly new “golden age” for our state – one fueled by the coal and energy sectors. Thankfully, we now have leaders who see that future for West Virginia and are willing to fight for it.