The following is from Kathy Selvage, Board member of Appalachian Voices and Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards, originally posted on Blue Ridge Virginiafollowing a pro-coal rally in Washington D.C., which preceded the Appalachian Rising conference in September. These are Kathy’s thoughts after she spoke with her federal representatives about the issue:
The industry and busloads of miners headed out to DC [for a rally] and we learned that certain politicians would join them on the public stage. I called Senator Webb’s DC office, got five minutes or less of a staffer’s time and used every second, barely stopping for even a deep breath. I was unable to wrestle his name from him, even though I tried. At the end of our conversation, he did ask again for my name and zip code.
As explained to him, I am a coal miner’s daughter so we do not hate coal miners. My father was an underground miner who also loved the forests and being there (You see hunting and just “being” in the woods is a part of our culture.)
I explained what it’s like to live in a community where mining goes on extremely close to homes and the effect that has on our lives, communities, mountains and streams. Then, as if from Senator Webb’s own mouth (it is from his book Born Fighting), these words rolled: They got their wages, black lung, and the desecration of their land. I said that’s us. These are the Senator’s words and they are accurate, totally accurate. He got it right, then. (Implication: he might not today.)
Contrary to the belief of some, it is not environmentalists or environmental regulation that has taken away the jobs of miners in the Appalachian region but the practice of mountaintop removal through its huge increase of mechanization. If you will track the number of mining jobs over the last decade or more, you will see the number of jobs go down as production goes up. It is the method of extraction that decreases the jobs. (Even though I did not relay this, there is a solution: We should be creating green jobs throughout the region to replace those thousands of jobs already lost to this huge mechanization, jobs that don’t destroy our homeland and our lives.)
And contrary to the belief of some (I told him), we understand that you can’t shut down coal fired plants all over this nation immediately – we wouldn’t have electricity – but that we were looking for a new direction – a start – for green energy.
At the very least, the Senator could have been neutral today and that was my request to the staffer.
I was told this morning of a bumper sticker on a car that said, “Save a miner’s job, shoot an environmentalist,” and I also relayed this to the staffer along with stressing how important it was that leaders respond to this kind of public display and advocating of violence. It was the only time in our conversation that he responded to anything I had expressed. He said, “Gees” (slightly drawn out).