I did this to highlight, support and applaud the men and women who work in the coal mining industry and proudly carry on the strong tradition of coal mining in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
As an Eastern Kentucky native and legislator for two coal producing counties, I am a strong, sometimes emotional champion for our miners and the work they do every day to keep our homes air conditioned, our lights blazing and our offices open for business.
Unfortunately, this noble occupation has become somewhat vilified in the press, where critics from California to New York to right here in Kentucky are on a mission to put these fine men and women out of work.
It wasn’t always like this.
Coal was discovered and used by Dr. Thomas Walker in 1750. By 1820 the first commercial mine opened near the Green River and Paradise in Muhlenberg County.
By 1843 Kentucky miners were producing 100,000 tons per year; by 1879, one million tons of coal was being produced. Mining employed thousands of workers, providing their families with wages, a place to live and access to social services.
Mine safety brought about the creation of the United Mine Workers of America which was formed to advocate for the opportunity for better wages and better working conditions.
In 1947 the Kentucky Coal Association was formed and in 1970 the Kentucky Coal Severance Tax was established. It recognized that coal was a finite natural resource, and asset from which the communities of Kentucky coal producing counties should benefit. A percentage of the severance tax was directed back to the coal producing counties to use for economic development and infrastructure improvements.
Since that time, millions of coal severance dollars have built roads, water and sewer lines, and made lasting improvements to communities, towns and neighborhoods throughout Eastern and Western Kentucky.
By 1972, Kentucky was the leading coal producing state and Kentucky has been one of the top three coal producers in the United States for the last 50 years. Today, Kentucky ranks third in the nation in coal production.
Protections for miners became important as more coal was produced and more miners were on the job.
In just the last ten years, Kentucky has passed 15 laws designed to improve and increase mine inspections, monitor mine air quality, enforce coal company compliance, improve training and workplace practices, and implement stiff penalties for operators whose miners suffer injuries on the job.
Coal mining is the largest employer in Eastern Kentucky as this natural resource continues to be in great demand across the country and the world.
According to the latest data, Kentucky currently employs 18,850 coal miners. The Kentucky Coal Association’s latest statistics show that Kentucky coal miners produced 107,338,000 tons of coal. Eastern Kentucky miners produced 74,719,000 tons and 32,619,000 tons were mined from Western Kentucky.
The economic impact of coal mining is staggering.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the Kentucky coal industry brought $3.5 billion into Kentucky from out-of-state during fiscal year 2005-06 through coal sales to customers in 30 other states and four foreign countries.
Kentucky coal accounts for about one-tenth of U.S. coal production and nearly one-fourth of U.S. production east of the Mississippi River. Nearly one-third of all the coal mines in the nation are found in Kentucky.
Coal-fired plants typically generate more than nine-tenths of the electricity produced in Kentucky.
These are documented statistics, not made up numbers from me, a Bell County retired teacher who is an ardent, vocal supporter of coal, but especially of our coal miners.
Coal miners have had to suffer the increased barrage of negative comments, editorials, “documentaries” and “studies” which attack their chosen profession as killers of the environment.
These detractors want to put them out of work, and to some degree have succeeded as more do-gooders and EPA officials hold up permits, shut down power plants and deny new applications for clean coal technologies.
To these people I say “shame on you.”
I cannot remember a time in our recent history where a profession and industry came under this kind of radical, misguided assault which has taken on a fever pitch.
The men and women who work in the mining industry are good, honest, intelligent people who want to make a living to feed their kids, buy a house and vehicles, send their children to college and have a nice retirement.
How are these dreams different from the people who put on a suit and tie to work in an air conditioned office, stare at a computer all day, drink $4 lattes from a fancy coffee shop and head home to a giant screened television to watch the latest reality show?
Let’s talk reality.
Where do those folks think the electricity is coming from to fuel those air conditioners, coffee machines, computers and tv’s? Not from the wind or the sun or the rivers or the oceans.
It’s coming from coal, plain and simple. And while they are enjoying all of these nice things, their Kentucky brothers and sisters are coming home from a day of mining, where they’ve been underground or facing the elements outside for an eight hour shift.
No lattes, no shopping on EBay on their computers, no air conditioning blasting on them all day.
But you won’t hear them complain. They appreciate their job and take pride in the work they are doing to supply Kentucky and the entire nation with the means to keep the lights on and the economy running.
I am so proud that I live in Eastern Kentucky and know so many miners well. They are the best of the best and for that reason – and the many I’ve outlined here – I thank them publicly for their service and announce the first Coal Miners Appreciation Week in Kentucky.
If you agree with even one point I’ve made, please thank a coal miner, send a letter to your paper applauding the miners or say an appreciative prayer for our Kentucky coal miners when you go to Sunday services. Ask that the good Lord to keep them safe as they tirelessly toil to make our lives better.