Telling it how it is….


I recently engaged in a conversation with people on the “Coal Miners Light” Facebook page, inquiring whether or not the adamantly pro-coal followers wanted their children to become future coal miners. I was not entirely unsurprised to find that everyone was about saving “coal”, but I was surprised that no one would directly answer my question. I pondered this a few days and decided to finally lay it out…

First, let me start by defining “coal”…

I believe in their context, “coal” is the coal industry. You cannot save a rock, nor can a “life of coal” be a tangible object or organization capable of being saved, so “coal” becomes the coal industry
It bothers me how people have become so infatuated with saving “coal” that they choose to ignore such tragic events as the Upper Big Branch disaster and the outcome of investigations making it blatantly clear that–yet again–the greed of the coal industry succeeded in putting profit before the welfare of its employees. Some may say, “That was only one company,” but I disagree. I do not blame only one company for the many tragedies in which mountain people have suffered great losses of life, health, and land. I blame all of the companies whom I combine into the term “industry.” It is they who, in a mutual effort, continue to make people desperate enough to work dangerously within their coal mines. Company names may change, companies may claim to be entirely different having different stock portfolios, different management, different operations–but each put their money into the same campaign funds and into the same organizations and associations who lobby our representatives to adapt laws to their advantage.
The evidence is there, but people choose to ignore it in order to satisfy their own selfish beliefs.
Just a brief examination of statistical data shows that poverty rates in the coalfields remain some of the highest in the nation despite coal mining jobs. Data also shows that the people of the coalfields have the poorest health, and I will not begin to delve into social mobility scores. While other areas of Appalachia with similar terrain and infrastructure survive, and even prosper without coal, the  existence of a socioeconomic stranglehold placed on coal extraction communities by the coal industry becomes overwhelmingly evident. Coal’s powerful influence has remained for so long that a form of the Stockholm Syndrome has begun, thanks in large part to well-funded media and propaganda campaigns initiated by an industry who faces downgrading their profit from “incredible” to “good”.
Only three decades ago, the Appalachian consciousness upheld an absolute and well-founded distrust of the coal industry. Today we have witnessed a complete turnaround in the attitudes regarding the industry’s presence in Appalachia, or at least within the majority of people who I have been able to identify.
From my observations, those who praise coal seem to fall into one of three categories….

  • Those making the great paychecks, even at the cost of their health….most of which are in debt up to their eyeballs, and some of which live outside of coal extraction zones where they do not have to contend with the messes being left behind.
  • Those in managerial or business ownership roles making even better paychecks from coal extraction, and again living outside of the coal extraction zones.

  • Those who have no true understanding of the matter and simply jump on the bandwagon without proper consideration of the facts because it gives them a cause to connect with and rally behind with the common misconception that they are “helping people.”
A quote often comes to mind by Upton Sinclair, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

I can no longer tiptoe around this idea. As unfortunate as the circumstances are for those coal miners who supported the coal industry but have now lost their jobs or who face layoffs–unfortunately luck favors the prepared. Going out to curse at “hippies” and to support an industry that has never shown charity to the Appalachian people is not a very intelligent means of preparing your family for the day when coal markets soften. Realizing the industry is cyclical, eliminating debts and putting money back, seeking alternative job training, and getting politicians to work for the people to bring in job alternatives would have been a much better use of your time and energy. Instead, you have spent your time supporting an industry that funds political campaigns of people who will keep things the same in the coalfields–politicians and organizations that do very little to diversify the economy so that coal remains the only option. You have not only hurt yourselves, but you have hurt the other people of Appalachia.

Even if you were to impeach Obama and all of the “anti-coal” politicians in Washington, it won’t cause China to start buying and using more coal when their citizens are choking to death around their cities. It won’t keep other people from around this nation from standing up for cleaner air. It won’t keep the natural gas industry from competing with coal (though I have much to despise of them as well for their use of hydraulic fracturing). Public opinion stands, and because the rest of the nation wants a cleaner, healthier environment for their children and you don’t, well… majority rules. Ain’t that a bitch….

If you still do not believe me about the morality of the coal industry, this article points directly to their true nature. Take time to justify the Crandall Canyon Disaster, the Sago Mine Disaster, Scotia, Buffalo Creek, Hurricane Creek, and Consol 9. I think you will find they were all preventable, and all fell upon the greed of mine executives and managers seeking profit and cutting corners to get there.
Undoubtedly, there will be those who will argue with me. They will completely disregard the hundreds of statistics and blatant evidence of political corruption. They will scream “Coal Keeps the Lights On,” “I’m proud to be a coal miner,” “Proud to be a coal miner’s wife,” “Proud to know a coal miner.” Some will call me a “disgruntled employee,” the new means of discrediting someone who calls out the flaws of the business they work for or once worked for. I doubt those people will change their way of thinking…it takes to much effort to do so. It would mean having to take a huge hit to their ego as well as working hard to adapt to a life without the many wonderful toys they’ve come to enjoy…darn.

I’m sorry my fellow coal miners, the job you do and the industry you support is doing more harm than good to the people of Appalachia and, well,  the rest of the world.  It is not new knowledge. It’s been written and talked about since the industry came to the mountains. Just because you choose to ignore it doesn’t make it “alright.” There is no denying that coal fuels a sense of greed and selfishness that has been tearing communities apart for the past 150 years.
All those lights folks keep talking about keeping on–most of them are on because people are to damn wasteful. In the case of businesses, that electricity is wasted to make more profit while management pays as little of a wage as they can get by with, thereby ensuring a strong quarterly statement for their already wealthy shareholders but keeping their good-hearted, hard working employees in the red. It’s just business though, right? I mean, I never knew a poor person to give someone a job….

It doesn’t take as much coal as what is being produced to operate the basic necessities: clothes manufacturing, food storage, medical care, heating and cooling in efficiently built houses and buildings. In fact, it doesn’t any coal, probably not even natural gas, and if you really think about it, it doesn’t take more than our own human energy to provide our basic necessities to survive–but I digress.

Most of the coal you are so proudly producing is just being wasted so power companies and coal companies can make insanely high profits that we will never enjoy the benefits of. So here is another way of thinking of it folks; you produce the dirtiest energy in the world so it can be wasted by spoiled teenagers and extraordinarily wealthy assholes living in huge mansions. Coal keeps the lights on! Keep saying it…

The pride of the Appalachian people used to come from being self-reliant. It was the honest and well deserved pride of doing their best with very little all the while helping neighbors. When coal companies came, that pride was used to preserve people’s dignity in the face of outside industrialists who were single handedly destroying the mountain ways of life and happiness.
Today, having pride in destroying your health for a paycheck to afford more than you need, all while perpetuating a system of greed and oppression, well…that’s not a very good thing to be proud of in my opinion…

You want something to be proud of? How about living on less so future generations can drink the water and breath the air.
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10 thoughts on “Telling it how it is….

  1. Very well put Nick and you're exactly right. The only thing I'd say in addition though is that to me it's just not the coal industries that care more about profit thank people. I think it's safe to say that 90% or more of all industries care more about profit. Go to Michigan and people feel the same about the auto industry as the friends of coal do here. Go to Washington State and talk to the employees of the lumber industry and you'll get the same reaction. You look at all those areas and ones like them and you'll see that they are close to the poorest if not the poorest areas in the nation. Then look at areas of the country that are very diversified with different industries and look at how prosperous they are compared to the areas I mentioned. It baffles me how stubbornly blind people are to that.

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  2. Nick, I don't know what to say. Once again, you have put my thoughts into words, much more eloquently that I can. Thank you; I am going to share this on my facebook page.

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  3. Not quite. I actually have many of the same feelings about the natural gas industry, the oil industry, Big Ag, Big Pharma, Big Chem…Just about every big corporation. Everyone is screaming big government, but no one seems to realize that our “big government” is being run by big corporations who are funding political campaigns and lobbying our officials 24/7. Do you think our politicians came by their campaign funds purely on the donations of hard working Americans or their own pockets? Do you think they worked their asses off in a coal mine to raise the money for those million dollar campaign commercials? Nope, it's corporate America and their many associations and clubs who spend money getting their people into office and then help them write the laws that benefit their bottom lines. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer…Google the Halliburton Loophole and you'll see what I'm talking about.

    In the meantime, we get the worst of it all: no workers’ rights, poor education for our children, food that we don't know what it's made of, and don't get me started on the damage to our water sources.

    No sir, I stand for the average person, folks who have to contend with the mess they are left by the wealthy companies who cut corners to enhance profits and don't give a good God Damn what they leave behind in terms of poisonous water and damaged land. If that means having to stand up to their employees who have been bought out by a paycheck to, well then, that's what I have to do. I try to think like my forefathers thought and the native Americans who came before them, there are some things a hell of a lot more important than a paycheck…it's called protecting the land we need to have clean water and grow food. If you were to take all the money in the world and put in a pile, it wouldn't grow a single stalk of corn, produce a single bean, and it sure won't feed a litter of piglets, nor could it filter our water. But I'll tell you what the pursuit of money can do…go try to grow corn on a Mountain Top Removal site. Try to grow beans, or tomatoes, or feed a hog. Get you a big glass of water coming from the rock beds they consider to be “streams” that replaced the spring on the hillside and take yourself a big ole drink of it. Drink some of that water that comes out of a coal mine. Think on that a while and tell me I've got my priorities wrong….

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  4. You have such a limited, narrow view of people. I own a coal mine and I have nothing but the upmost respect and admiration for the hardworking people who risk their health to help make our operation a safe and successful business. I spend time with each and every one of them, thanking them for their work and getting to know them as persons, all the while appreciative of their dedication and hard work. And I humbly believe that they are grateful for the good income that I can provide.

    Generalizations hurt everyone. For shame…

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  5. I disagree, naturally. The fact that you operate a business that provides an opportunity for people to “risk their health” speaks volumes to your views. You have respect for those who work for you, but not so much that you are willing to close your mine down and lose the benefits of operating a “successful” business (successful meaning highly profitable) in order to ensure that no one loses their health or has the opportunity to be seriously injured or killed. Any coal miner can tell you that even if something is done correclty, accidents still occur. Of course I'm sure you are about to recite the age old, “You can be killed just as easily driving on the road” mentality, to which I would reply, being in the mine is like driving on the road 8 to 10 hours per day. The longer you are exposed to danger, the more likley your chances of getting hurt or killed. But at least in a car, you are not subjected to dust and diesel particulate matter and you are not p lacing your body in awkward damaging positions that will lead to permanent damage of the joints.

    I'm hoping that you will reply to this message explaing who you are, what company you own and what percentage of your profit over operational costs goes to your employees. If after equipment, maintenance, supplies, and electrical bills you happen to cut your employees into 75% of the profit in pay and benefits (including a guaranteed pension, and a legally binding guaranteed retirement healthcare plan) my hat will be off to you.

    Regarding generalizations, I do not believe I was to far off the mark. If you tell me that you are using your profits to support economic diversification within the coalfields i.e. brining in jobs that are not coal related, and that you support candidates that put all coalfields citizens, not just the minority that are employed by coal, ahead of coal industry politics, then I will stand corrected and gladly withdraw my generalization, adding the ancedote that there are, on the extroidinarly rare occasion, small operators who put their employees ahead of selfish profiteering, who operate coal mines for the fun of it, working in the mines themselves, and giving their employees the best of everything for their sacrifices…benefits that would make Bob Goodnight of SAS Institute look like a greedy bastard. Look at their benefits by looking up SAS Intitute on Wikipedia…

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  6. although uncommon, there are some good owners in the coal industry. chris cline for example…he has brought coal mining to a new level in illinois. he provides his miners w top of the line, state of the art equiptment, brought many new jobs to illinois w his mines, visits us regularly, goes underground and greets us, and they do much for us and our families outside of the mine. also, by paying way above average salaries, he has forced chokehold owners that fit your description like bob murray, to pay his employees competitive wages….to bobs dismay. im not a salary…”company” man…just an average roofbolter…that has pride in my brothers in the mines, pride in my mine, pride in my company, and pride in myself as a hardworking coalminer. i understand your views and am sure that the doings in west virginia have left you jaded and w good cause…but its a new era, and things are changing for the good in the coal industry in places like southern and central illinois. i dont have all of your eloquent wording..and cant quote you statistics, but i dont see anything wrong with us standing up for our way of life. those mentioned tragedies most certainly could have been avoided, but we are urged…forced even…to work in the safest possible manner…no differant than any other occupation. cline mines are the exception. sorry to ramble…just voicing my simple opinion. god bless.

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  7. Jeremy,

    Thanks for speaking up and sorry it took me awhile to get back to you. I am glad to hear that there is still a company that treats its workers well. I know they exist, but they are very few and far between. In Appalachia, as you mentioned, it's a much different story, and sadly, a lot of companies band together and overstep their bounds, so when I speak of the industry, I am speaking of the whole. Yes, it is a generalization, but then again, people generalized the Nazis for good reason.

    I do have to ask, what kind of retirement is offered? This is often the place where owners are seperated out. Some will pay a high wage in the mean time, but leave their employees hanging later in life with substandard retirement plans and retirement healthcare benefits.

    And as far as standing up for a way of life, I can understand where you are coming from. I admit there are days I miss going in the mines, there's just something about it. Perhaps had things worked out differently and I worked for a company as good as yours and they hadn't destroyed the valley we lived it, I would still be working in the mines. Eventually I would have had to admit that it was like smoking cigarettes though. You know it's bad for you, but you keep doing it, and one day you curse yourself for having done it and taking years off your life you could have spent enjoying your grandchildren. I also had to admit that what I was doing was not helping our children live in a better world, that the coal I was producing was simply being used to make people richer without building a more just and sustainable world for future generations. It's a way of life that can give you some pleasure now, but it is ultimately a case of short term gain and a long term loss no matter which way you look at it.

    Stay safe.

    Nick

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  8. The thing is, if our ancestors hadn’t had their mineral rights practically stolen, we’d be the job creators in this state.
    And the same can be said for all our natural resources which continue even in this day and age with the natural gas boom.
    A lot of people are getting rich.
    And it ain’t us.
    So the thieves decide maybe they will throw some jobs our way and thus began a history of labor enslavement and a historical fight for rights AKA the UMWA.
    My biggest beef is that coal miners are now being used as a poster child for the GOP.
    Of course it is the continuous and never ending greed of that sociopathic entity known as industry that is the true culprit.
    That is fueled by the Laissez-faire attitude of a general outside Appalachia public who view coal miners as some ignorant throw-away commodity whilst worshipping science.
    So here is where I digress with you Nick, if you will allow my thoughts.
    There ain’t nothing wrong with having job pride. While I highly doubt we will bring back coal to the pre-1970’s era here is one thing I am certain of:
    We will never have as many good paying jobs in this country as we did before the introduction of Ronald Reagan.
    And that is where I do agree with your thoughts, and will add that I’m tired of seeing our country reduced to an oligarchy.

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