Read the entire piece (long) at Daily Kos
Here are some selections.
Ladies and gentlemen, I want to talk to you about coal.
For practically every minute of my life, I’ve been involved in coal. I grew up in a part of Western Kentucky that was then the biggest coal producing area in the country. When I was small, my home town held a “Strawberry Festival,” because the country produced a good part of the nation’s strawberries. By the time I was a teenager, the festival was renamed as the “Coal Festival.” Those strawberry fields were long gone.
It wasn’t as if coal was a newcomer to the area. Both of my grandfather’s had worked in underground coal mines. Even forty years after their time in the mines, you could still see the bits of shale and limestone stuck under their skin by roof falls and explosions gone bad. They were both veterans of the union wars. I don’t use the word “wars” lightly. They’d both been shot at and pushed around by hired thugs. They both knew what it was like to receive your pay in the form of “scrip” – little metal tokens that could only be redeemed at the company store.
In my youth, I watched many of those underground mines give way to enormous surface mining operations – strip mines, as they’re better know (though the industry hates that term). These operations employ fewer men, and replace them with machines of truly Brobdingnagian scale. Draglines taller than a twenty story building. Trucks that make an sixteen wheeler look like something made by Tonka. It was these surface operations that stripped away the strawberry fields.
In my own time, I went to work in the mines myself. I drove a water truck at a surface mine (a water truck runs around all day at about 3mph, spraying water on the gravel haulage roads to cut down on dust). I did general labor underground, walking the conveyer belts, building stoppings to control the air flow.
I came out of school with a couple of degrees, but the only one I’ve really put to use is one in geology. For three decades, I was either an exploration geologist for the coal industry, or a consultant to that same industry. There is hardly a single state in this country that I haven’t been to, looking for coal. Alaska? Been there. From the middle of the desert Southwest, to the Appalachians, to a scenic little spot on the Oregon coast, I’ve led teams that drilled into the ground, looking for coal. I’ve worked for the industry my whole adult life. And folks, I work for them right now. I might no longer be pulling the trigger that moves the earth, but I’m no less involved. When you think of the coal industry, think of me.
Sorry to give you such a lengthy piece of biography, but I felt it was necessary to establish my bona fides before I started some straight talk on the subject of coal. If you learn something about coal out of this, that’s about all I can hope for. If you think my vested interest in the industry has blinded me to what’s really going on… you’re probably spot on. Feel free to slap me down.
What’s right with coal
Some of you would likely say nothing. But I want to tell you, from nearly thirty years of personal experience, and generations of my own family to speak to the subject: this is an industry that’s much better than it used to be.
What’s Wrong with Coal?
Okay, so I’ve revealed myself as a complete corporate stooge. A spokesmen for the Man. No doubt I have Dick Cheney on speed dial and eat baby bald eagles for breakfast.
There’s not much in what I’ve said above that’s likely to upset my boss, or his boss, or his boss . But what I’m about to say sure will.
The coal industry has done all those neat things. They’ve made it safer. Made it cleaner. Reclaimed the land. Why did they do it? Because we friggin’ made them do it, that’s why.
What should you do?
I’m asking two things of you.
First, bills will come before congress this summer to restore the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act to the regulations as they existed before Bush ripped out the heart of this legislation. Back the restoration of these acts. Support Julia Bond and her organization. Support Appalachian Voices. These organizations are run by people local to the area, and they have a lot of respect from the people of West Virginia – miners included. Honestly, I think restoring the Clean Air Act is a nearly impossible fight under this administration and this congress. But I think that mountaintop removal is so insanely hideous that even Republicans will feel the heat to end this practice. Shine the light on this, people. Make it a priority. We can win this one.
You may find the second thing harder than the first. I want you to understand that the coal industry isn’t going to go away any time soon. The United States has abundant coal reserves, and much of that coal can be mined using well understood, economical methods. Coal produces more than half the electricity in the country. I’m not asking you to stop fighting for reductions in CO2 production, or limits on pollution, or to let up on these guys one inch. Stay on top of them. Force them to adopt tougher and tougher regulations. I’ll be right there with you. What has been accomplished is remarkable. I’ve no doubt that if we raise the bar again, they will find a way to get over it.