Hundreds of miners have been laid off in recent weeks in West Virginia, and several mines in Logan County has ceased operations due to a weak coal market, environmental regulations and competition with natural gas and other renewable energies. For those reasons many political figures, office holders, miners and their families withstood temperatures of more than 100 degrees to march in support of coal and coal jobs from Midelburg Island to Washington Street.
Local coal activist Roger Horton led the marchers through town and emceed the event.
"I know you are hot and I appreciate you coming out here," said Horton. "Because of this weather, you have a tremendous opportunity to understand what our troops who are serving our country are going through right now and what this nation actually means to them."
Josh Nelson, a GOP candidate for District 23 House of Delegates, led the crowd in prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance.
"We're here to talk about coal, and in particular, Appalachian coal and how it is being attacked by the EPA," said Horton. "Each and every day I get up wondering if I am going to have a job. I worry a lot about it. I also worry about the young folks who are growing up today in this country... what kind of future are they going to have? This is the first time in this nation's history that your grandkids are expected to have less than their grandparents. That is absolutely wrong... we have got to change that direction."
Horton said that he, along with 26 others, traveled to Washington DC recently to talk to W.Va.'s U.S. Senate delegation about Senate Resolution 37.
"That resolution would have sent the EPA back to the drawing board and make them think differently about the types of policies. This environmental agency, they are not supposed to consider jobs in the decision that they make. That is absolutely wrong; they need to think about the jobs this country so desperately needs. If they don't do that, then they don't need their jobs."
Horton said coal has been burned in the United States for more than 100 years.
"And it has served us well," said Horton. "Now someone gets the idea that we are going to have renewable energy to take the place of coal. Renewable energy is fine, but we are going to need them all. You can't run this country without coal and they have figured that out too. What they are going to do is hamstring our Appalachian community and ship our coal jobs out West. The Appalachian community is going to be in dire straits if you, the public, don't decide to do something about it.
"This street should be full of people. People who are mad... and want to do something about it. You still have an opportunity to do something. You can call your congressmen... you can call your senators... ring their phone off the hook. You can stuff their mailboxes as much as you can, and tell them to get their behinds back to the drawing table and redraw some legislation that will utilize the most natural resource of this state and other coal producing states," said Horton.
Horton then listed several "green" companies that the Obama administration had backed but had failed.
"These are all businesses that our tax dollars and backed and failed," said Horton. "That money could have been utilized for our coal that works much more efficiently."
Speaker Dennis Adkins urged everyone to back the W.Va. Coal Association and the Logan County Coal Vendors.
City of Logan Mayor Serafino Nolletti urged everyone to continue to fight for coal.
"We need to get everybody involved," said Nolletti. "Just keep on fighting."
W.Va. Senator Art Kirkendoll told the crowd that he had been spending a lot of time in Washington DC.
"Unfortunately I've been spending a lot of time in Washington over coal," said Kirkendoll. "We've got a terrible fight. Senate Resolution 37 recently went through the House but did not pass the Senate. We need to get it back through and get it to where a regulatory agency don't make the laws unless they are put in place except by a legislative process. We've got to ask everybody to send emails and faxes to your leadership in the state house to the White House and ask them to stand up for you and your children.
"I was told that Lisa Jackson didn't need to be at the Legislative hearing where I spoke. She had more important things to do. I had the opportunity to tell those guys at the debate 'what is more important that waking up in the Appalachian region in West Virginia, trying to feed your family and educate your children. If she could attend a meeting more important than that, then she must have been at one heck of a meeting.'"
U.S. Senator Joseph “Joe” Manchin III was unable to attend the WV Freedom Festival, but his support was brought to the event through staff member Michael Browning.
The senator said this administration has an inability to find a balance when it comes to energy, the environment and jobs. Manchin says he has time and again given this administration and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) one message loud and clear, “you live a lot better with us than you would without us.”
Rather than try to shut us down, Manchin said the EPA needs to work with us to produce cleaner energy. Rather than unreasonable timelines that will kill our industry, this administration needs to make investments in technology that will allow use of our reliable and abundant natural resources in the most efficient way.
This country has to wake up and live in the real world when it comes to energy. Our government shouldn't pick winners and losers because when it does, the real losers are the American people. Sen. Manchin says he is fighting every single day for a common sense energy plan to use all of our domestic natural resources including coal, natural gas, oil, geothermal, nuclear, biomass, wind, solar, hydro—all of the above.
Energy Committee ranking senators, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden (D) and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R), were eager to come to West Virginia to see what could be done and how well it could be done in the Mountain State.
Manchin closed his statement by saying, “Every day the fight for fairness to our state continues for the energy source that has always powered this nation, for energy independence and for the good American jobs that we can’t afford to lose.”
Chapmanville Mayor Jerry Price spoke not only as an elected official, but as a coal miner. He told the crowd he gets up at 5 a.m. every morning to mine coal. He said political party affiliations do not matter, "We are here as coal miners, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, mothers and fathers. If you are here for another reason, then go fight somewhere else." Price stressed the need for everyone to stand together and fight for coal.
W.Va. Sen. Ron Stollings M.D. said everyone is touched by coal, "doctors, banks, hospitals and everything else." Boone, Logan, Lincoln, Wayne and Mingo counties make up the largest coal-producing area of the state. Art Kirkendoll serves as Vice Chairman of the Energy Industry and Mining Committee. Stollings praised his work and that of the county commissioners and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.
According to Stollings, the problem is in Washington, D.C. He was part of the group of 47 to visit representatives there and was with Sen. Manchin in the Senate Rules Committee Room as they spoke with senators to encourage support of resolution 37.
"It failed, but it wasn't for lack of effort," he said, "We have to fight on for coal, and also add on to this economy by diversification."
Stollings also said coal has been vital to the national economy and leaders in Charleston understand the impact of not having the coal severance tax, those in Washington don't "get it" yet. He said a Coal Caucus has been formed to study the benefits of coal and includes not only West Virginia, but representatives from Virginia, Illinois, Alabama, Wyoming and all the coal producing states. This caucus will put pressure on the EPA and this administration.
Local businessman Jim Winkler, who also serves as vice president of the Coal Vendors Association, said many of the 50 people working at his company are in their 50s and have worked with him for a long time. Knowing his employees and their families makes the possibility of ever having to cut staff very difficult
"For every coal miner, there are six of us," he said, "You can imagine what the trickle-down effect is going to be for the vendors. I don't care what you do in southern West Virginia — you are going to lose jobs from one end to the other."
Winkler said there is technology available today, but business will have to do their own study and implementation. The technology will allow coal to burn so clean and so hot there would be no need for carbon capture and storage. He encouraged everyone to get involved.
Also attending the rally but not speaking was Republican Gubernatorial candidate Bill Maloney.
For more information, visit wvcoalforum.org.