Dust-up in West Virginia about Economic Justice

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PERSPECTIVE-Politicians have a knack for making some of the dumbest statements. Hillary Clinton not only made one, but chose the worst place to utter it. 

Saying, “...we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business…” in a state that mines 10% of the nation’s output of the fossil fuel seems comparable to some of Donald Trump’s many foot-in-mouthisms. 

The statement was taken out of context – Clinton did indicate her administration would help prepare coal miners for different careers – but specific solutions were neither offered nor alluded to beyond unspecified retraining. 

Retraining: a promise we’ve heard before from many candidates at all levels. But if you are going to suggest it as a solution to a group facing the growing prospects of unemployment, then specifics are in order, not to mention facing up to reality. 

Coal miners do have generic traits any employer would welcome: fierce work ethic, commitment to productivity, unselfishness….but the transition from a lifetime in the mine shafts to other industries where technological skills are becoming increasingly common will represent an insurmountable challenge for many. 

Determining what industries or skills would provide the best prospects for miners is almost a crap shoot – even retail. How many WalMarts can West Virginia support? In any event, competition for any job will be fierce. Some employment opportunities could also involve relocation, a prospect which may not be practical for many. 

A more sensible approach is to let the coal industry die a natural death over a long period of time. It is already in a steady state of decline in Appalachia: five major coal companies have filed for bankruptcy within the last twelve months. Mining jobs have also vanished, especially in West Virginia. It hasn’t helped the state that easier-to-mine coal can be found in Montana and Wyoming, and cheaper natural gas is abundant. 

There is no need to rush it along for the sake of climate change, especially when coal is and will continue to be heavily burned in China and India. We will also always need some coal production, as it is important to have diverse and secure energy sources. 

In the long-run, though, coal usage will diminish as cleaner sources become more economical. That’s a good thing. 

Let as many as possible of the current generations of miners work to retirement. Encourage the rising generations in the coal mining regions of Appalachia to aspire to other careers by emphasizing the benefits of science, business, engineering, agriculture and technology careers in schools. More importantly, apply the resources necessary to make that happen. 

According to CNA (it is not an acronym,) a company specializing in economic, social and defense research, referring to Appalachia,  “the national focus on college and career readiness for all students presents a particular challenge in a region where, in the past, college was neither needed nor desired and careers outside the coal industry are limited.” 

CNA’s study also suggested a strong desire for students to remain close to home and choose occupations where a college education is not required. 

That particular aspect of the region’s culture has to change. The support of the adult population is critical in order for that to occur. 

Pulling the rug out from under those whose livelihoods depend on the coal industry is not how you win their hearts and minds. 

The bad feelings will not be limited to West Virginia either. The swing state of Ohio is in play, where 33,000 are employed in the industry and coal provides 69% of the state’s electricity. Those employees have friends and relatives, so the potential for a meaningful block turning out in a tight race is there. 

I have no horse in this presidential race, but I understand the volatile mix present in this nation which could make the outcome go either way.

 

(Paul Hatfield is a CPA and serves as President of the Valley Village Homeowners Association. He blogs at Village to Village and contributes to CityWatch. The views presented are those of Mr. Hatfield and his alone and do not represent the opinions of Valley Village Homeowners Association or CityWatch. He can be reached at: phinnoho@aol.com.) Photo: LA Daily News. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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