|Kentucky “Friends of Coal Tag” Unveiling – Gov. Steve Beshear|
A while ago I decided to do some investigating on who or what “Friends of Coal” was. What I found surprised me.
Friends of Coal wasn’t a group of coal miners and their families working to help one another. It was an organization created and maintained by coal companies through their “coal associations,” or, in other worlds, organizations where coal companies pool their money and efforts. Think of it sort of like a union for the coal companies.
I found all of this by going to the West Virginia Coal Association’s website, the coal association that started Friends of Coal. I looked around until I found their membership roster and all I can say is I didn’t find a list of coal miners and their families. Here are a few links to show you what I found:
These organizations have millions of dollars to put into political campaigns and lobby politicians that will protect their profit interests. With such vast resources, they can also afford to pay for public relations and advertising campaigns to “win” the hearts and minds of the people. While many coal miners are laid off, and many more are retired or disabled and struggling to make ends meet, the coal companies are dumping hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of dollars into their coal associations to make sure everyone still supports coal.
I began wondering about all the other campaigns and organizations that support coal like “Coal Mining Our Future!,” “FACES of Coal,” “Count on Coal” etc…take a wild guess who’s behind those organizations and who provides most of their funding?
If you start digging around you’ll also find out these associations have well paid employees who live and work full time in the state capitals and Washington DC as lobbyists for the coal industry. They also have lawyers on retainer (or in other words, full time lawyers), living and working in these places. While many coal miners are struggling to survive, the industry is paying people six figures to waltz around the halls of our government to protect their profit interests. One might think that this is for the benefit of providing good paying jobs to coal miners, but nothing could be further from the truth—especially when safety regulations come in conflict with profit potential.
To my knowledge (that includes five generations of coal mining in the heart of Appalachia), coal companies have never helped coal miners except to give them a job. In most every accident, in most every disaster, companies go straight into defense mode, denying whatever they can and trying to point blame elsewhere, whether it be on the coal miner, the conditions, or even acts of God. Every time a miner was injured in the mine where I worked, the coal company would send their safety officer to meet the ambulance at the hospital. Every story was the same, the first thing the safety officer pushed for was to get the injured miner to pee in a cup (i.e. take a drug test). I mean if we go back through the record books, few, if any, coal companies have taken blame for an accident or disaster. You can also find that between since 1900 over 104,840 coal miners were killed in US Coal Mines and 75,000 more have died from black lung since 1960.
But I digress.
Knowing this, it must be realized to, that coal companies and their organizations do not spend their time in our state capitols simply fighting for jobs to benefit our people.
For instance, in this article in the WV Gazette it was reported how the West Virginia Coal Association sat right across from the widow and infant son of a fallen coal miner, listened to her pleas to adopt proximity detection systems on continuous miners that would save coal miner’s lives, only to have the West Virginia Coal Association vote against the proposal.
In this article on the WV Coal Association website, the WVCA and Friends of Coal thank West Virginia state senators for passing a bill that reduces workplace safety despite claiming the opposite.
In October 2013, in an investigation by ABC News, it was finally revealed that coal companies had been paying doctors at Johns Hopkins University to read x-rays for black lung claim appeals. The result–nearly all claims were denied.
It doesn’t end there. These associations are also going into our children’s schools with programs like “Coal in the Classroom” to tell our children a new version of coal’s presence in Appalachia, convincing children that coal mining is the best option for Appalachia despite the thousands of miners who have been injured or killed throughout the years. Lesson plans created by the Coal Education Resources and Development of Southern West Virginia (www.cedarswv.com) neglect to tell of the many coal mine disasters and their causes, the bloody labor struggles against company hired mercenaries, and even attempt to rewrite the history of coal camp life. Yet again, we find within CEDARS an abundance of funding from coal companies while many miners are being laid off.
The coal associations, and the companies that comprise them, are looking for the next generation of coal miners. It says so in the the Friends of Coal Mission Statement which explains “By working together, we can provide good jobs and benefits for future generations, which will keep our children and grandchildren close to home.” Why are we allowing them to steal our children’s futures?
It’s not simply a matter of education either. For someone to want to work in a coal mine, they have to have few other job choices. In Virginia, the coal industry has infiltrated economic development and diversification efforts. Eight of the fifteen* members (i.e. the voting majority) that comprise the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority. are directly tied to the coal industry and include Michael Quillen founder of Alpha Natural Resources and former chairman of the board and Donald Ratliff, VP of State and Government Affairs at Alpha Natural Resources. If you investigate it further, you’ll find the others are high ranking officials within other coal companies or own businesses that support or supply the coal industry without Southwestern Virginia. What motivation would they have to bring in job alternatives that would compete against their coal mines for labor?
I think if you spend as much time as I have looking beneath the surface of the license plates and stickers, the banners and billboards, you will find out like I have that these organizations are the coal companies doing what they’ve always done, protecting their interests while they ship billions of dollars of coal out of the mountains. In turn, the people of Appalachia are left with broken backs, choked lungs, and no decent economy to speak of (along with pain medication abuse running rampant among our youth, a lack of clean water and badly damaged road infrastructure.)
If we are to have any hope of raising our Appalachian home out of the crippling poverty and ill health that has plagued us for well over a century, we must start by realizing the cause and fighting to stop it.
I can tell you without any hesitation that supporting Friends of Coal is one of the worst things someone can do for coal miners and their families, and well, anyone else living in the coalfields.
*Following the release of this article and many other posts about the VACEDA, they finally upped the board to 16 members and tried to down play Mike Quillen’s role with Alpha Natural Resources as working for Paramont Coal Company. Also, Donald Ratliff doesn’t just work for Dickenson-Russell Coal Company. He’s ANR’s Vice President of Governmental Affairs.