There was a news story in today’s paper discussing the continued decline in coal mining in Eastern Kentucky. [Kentucky Coal Jobs Decline] There are a number of reasons for the decline, and the paper notes most of them, which include a move to natural gas, competition from lower cost coal from other parts of the country, a reduction in the easiest to reach coal seams, and tougher environmental regulations.
This is devastating news to the people of the region, and some politicians, like Governor Steve Beshear and Representative Hal Rogers, are trying to address the issue in a reasonable and responsible manner. [Eastern Kentucky Economic Summit] But unfortunately other politicians are willing to use this economic hardship for political advantage. Far too many use it to whip up resentment of President Obama and what they deceptively call the war on coal. If there is a war on coal, the reality is that natural gas is winning.
I do not understand what politicians think they gain by giving people false hope. Employment in the coal fields will ebb and flow, but the overall decline will continue. The main problem is the low price of natural gas, and the environmental advantages of burning gas over coal. This reality is driving the move to gas, and not environmental laws. This trend is not likely to change, and it is unfortunate that many politicians are unwilling to tell people this. I think that leadership means being honest with people, not manipulating them for political gain.
There was one other issue addressed in the Herald Leader article on declining coal jobs, and that was the declining population of many eastern Kentucky counties. Leslie County Judge-Executive James Sizemore said that with the decline in coal jobs, many people will “have to leave to get work.”
I have no doubt that that is a gut wrenching decision for people, and for an elected leader in the region it must be an emotional blow. But the reality of the world is that, since the dawn of time, people have moved to find work. Most of the people in the United States are the descendants of people who left their homes and home countries seeking work, or better opportunities, in a new land. (The exceptions are the natives who were here first, and those brought here in bondage and against their will.) Westward expansion was driven by people looking for new and better opportunities. The move to the Sun Belt after World War Two was driven by people moving to find work, to find new opportunities, and to find a better life for themselves and their families. It is unfortunate that the people of Eastern Kentucky may have to move to find work, but it is a reality as old as human history.