KFTC's Position on Coal

Adopted August 6, 2007

Coal Is Here Today And Tomorrow – But For How Much Longer?

Today, coal is still an important part of Kentucky’s economy. Coal generates over 95% of our electricity in Kentucky and coal fired power plants dot our landscape from far western Kentucky to Ashland. The coalfields feature billions of dollars of coal mining infrastructure from tipples to rail lines to the coalmines themselves. Obviously, coal is here today and it will be here tomorrow. But coal will not be here forever. Geologists, mining engineers, and energy economists debate the finer points of coal’s future, but most agree – and most coal miners know – most of the coal that can be mined easily and inexpensively in eastern Kentucky has already been mined. The five major coal seams that have produced almost all of Kentucky’s coal have been severely depleted. Coal is a finite resource and there are only a few years left of coal mining as we know it today. Bold predictions of coal mining deep into the future in Appalachia are really only guesses. Extensive new mining in Appalachia can only be done if customers are willing to pay much higher costs and if coalfield residents are willing to accept even greater destruction of the land and water. We believe if a block of coal cannot be mined without causing the physical, emotional, spiritual, and cultural destruction that we experience so often today, that block of coal should be left in the ground.

Kentucky is at historic turning point. Global climate change, severe depletion of Kentucky’s economically recoverable coal, carbon taxes, Kentucky’s dependence on coal for electricity are all coming together, right now, to create a time of great changes where there will be great challenges and opportunities.

We believe Kentucky can and must stop the destruction, mine coal safely and responsibly, and phase out our dependence on coal while we phase in a new sustainable economy with safe, sustainable, living wage jobs, and new, renewable sources of energy.

Coal Is Part Of Our Kentucky Heritage And Culture

The history of Kentucky is shaped by coal, the coal industry and especially by coal miners and other coal industry workers. We are Kentuckians, which means we are coal miners, the families and friends of coal miners, and the descendents of coal miners. Thousands of families across Kentucky have been raised on the wages of a coal miner’s job.

Coal miners are celebrated in our culture and memory for performing the most difficult and dangerous job in the harshest conditions. Coal miners’ efforts for the right to organize have always been met with powerful resistance – sometimes with violent resistance – from the coal companies. Coal miners’ efforts to make the mines safe have been a constant struggle against strong coal companies and weak enforcement agencies.

For decades, coal miners have gone to work every day deep underground with heavy machinery by their side and a mountain over their head. So many coal miners have been killed in the mines that people believe – wrongly – it is an inevitable part of mining.

Historically, coal miners were the economic backbone of their families, their churches, and their communities. But in the past decades, coal miner’s jobs have disappeared, even as coal production has remained strong. Coal companies mine more coal with bigger machines and more explosives – but fewer miners – every year.

Kentucky owes coal miners and other coal industry workers our respect, gratitude, and – as the coal industry continues to change and shrink – alternatives.

We are also the families, descendants, and heirs of those who have fought to protect their land, their homes, and their communities from the most abusive practices of the coal companies and coal industry. We are inspired and reassured by the memory of the Widow Combs, Uncle Dan Gibson, Doris Shepherd, Sidney Cornett, Elizabeth Wooten, Gladys Maynard, Joe Begley and the thousands of famous and unknown Kentuckians who have fought to protect the rights of workers, to protect the rights of landowners, and to protect the mountains of Appalachia.

Coal Does Not Produce Prosperity For The Coalfields

The coal industry claims that they will bring prosperity if we are just patient. The fact is, the coal industry has not and will not bring prosperity to coalfield communities. They provide an ever dwindling number of jobs and a big economic windfall to a few, well-placed political figures. But the fact is that the counties that have produced billions of dollars worth of coal in eastern Kentucky are still among the poorest counties in America. Coal has been mined in eastern Kentucky for over one hundred years. If the coal industry was going to produce prosperity for us, shouldn’t they have done it by now?

Government on every level, federal, state and local has failed the people of the coal producing region for generations and has been complicit in allowing the extraction of billions of dollars worth of coal while not compelling the industry to contribute towards building a high quality of life. It is essential that government now become part of the solution. As the era of coal comes to a close in Kentucky it is imperative that the coal industry immediately stop its destructive practices and funds the transition to the next economy in SE Kentucky. Our political leaders must stop catering to what the coal industry wants and instead work toward creating a strong, diverse, and sustainable economy for Kentucky and the coalfields.

Coal Is Not Cheap Or Clean

The big myth is that coal is a cheap source of energy. Coal is very expensive. But the coal industry is very skilled at keeping their market price down by forcing the true cost of coal onto other people. Those of us who have lost our land, our water, our natural environment, our community, or, most tragically, a family member to the irresponsible actions of the coal industry know that coal is not cheap. Coal should be made to pay its own way, and the market price of coal should reflect the true cost of mining and burning that coal.

And, coal is not clean. In some ways, it is cleaner than it used to be, and it can almost certainly be made cleaner than it is today. But no use of coal from mining to hauling to burning to disposing of the waste can fairly be described as clean. “Clean coal technology” is a new myth, created by the coal industry’s publicity experts and their political supporters to try and gain even more government subsidies for the coal industry.

Stop The Destruction – Mine Coal Safely And Responsibly

Today, even when it is being mined legally, coal is not being mined safely or responsibly. Mountaintop removal is perhaps the most obvious and apparent example of the devastation left in the wake of coal mining, but it is not the only example. Our groundwater and surface water are being polluted and eliminated. Enforcement agencies regularly fail to enforce reclamation and mining laws. Our homes and communities are damaged by blasting, flooding, and subsidence. Our roads crumble under the weight of overloaded coal trucks and people die each year from coal truck accidents. Some families have had their land stolen by dishonest coal operators. Some families have been split apart by the tactics of land and mineral companies. And, underground and surface miners continue to face hardship in difficult, often underpaid coal jobs. Some die every year in tragic accidents that did not need to occur.

The Canary Project has four main goals:

  1. We want coal companies to obey the law, and enforcement agencies to enforce it!
  2. We want new laws where existing laws are inadequate to protect our homes and communities!
  3. We want a new sustainable economy with good jobs in the coalfields!
  4. We want new, survivable energy sources for the nation!

To achieve these goals, we are supporting a number of initiatives.

  • Immediately halt mountaintop removal and other forms of radical strip mining that are eliminating the mountains of Eastern Kentucky.
  • Immediately stop the valley fills that are burying our precious headwater streams.
  • Improve coalmine safety with new regulations to prevent accidents and help miners escape, if there are accidents, and especially stronger enforcement of existing regulations.
  • Support the rights of miners to organize their workplace. Union mines are safer and provide better pay, benefits, and job security for the coal miners.
  • Force the coal companies to follow the law – fairly and vigorously enforce the letter and spirit of the surface and underground mining laws that were designed to protect the land and people.
  • Accelerate the inevitable transition back to underground mining. If we use responsible underground mining with better safety protections for the miners, there will be less destruction and more jobs.
  • Stop the rush to build new coal fired power plants, expensive, government subsidized clean coal illusions, and coal conversion schemes.
  • Instead, invest our resources in locally generated, sustainable economic development for the coalfields and clean renewable energy sources for the country.

 

We Want A Better Future For Our Children and Grandchildren

We believe that a better future – beyond coal – is possible for the Kentucky coalfields. We have much to be proud of and to build on including skilled workers, resilient communities, natural beauty, valuable resources such as mountains, forests, and water, and a rich culture. But we must be smart to create a just and prosperous future, and it won’t happen if we continue to allow the coal industry to control the economy and wipe out our land, water, homes, and communities.

To build a better future, we have to phase out the subsidizing of the coal industry and phase in efforts that invest in our people and our region. We can have good jobs and a strong economy if we invest in local people, create excellent schools, and demand a real democracy with political leadership that will represent the interests of Kentucky, not coal companies.

There are many possibilities for long-term, sustainable development in the region. One place we can begin is with something we know a lot about – energy. Kentucky could phase in plans and programs that can make Eastern Kentucky a source of renewable energy if we only choose to invest our intelligence and our resources in new ideas rather than sacrificing our future to the demands of the coal companies. Kentucky could develop a modern tourism industry in the mountains. Eastern Kentucky could become a hub in the information economy with the right public and private investment in infrastructure, education, and training. The possibilities are great.

The High Road Initiative

To help create the policies and practices that can make our vision of a better future a reality, we have helped launch the High Road Initiative. Through this partnership with ally organizations, we will assess Kentucky’s current economic development system, learn from other states and schools of thought, and develop a roadmap of policies and models that can build a better future. The goals of the High Road Initiative include:

Expand Opportunity and Prosperity — Invest in New Strategies

The greatest justification for using public funds to create jobs is to improve the prosperity of communities that struggle with challenging economic conditions. Kentucky communities suffering from economic challenges are often those whose heritage and culture are best preserved and represent an exceptional opportunity for innovative and creative approaches to make the most of those qualities.

Create an Effective and Accountable Economic Development System

Kentucky needs to reorganize its economic development system and governance to include a unified development budget (showing budget and tax expenditures in one place), a comprehensive state strategy, greater public accountability, broader participation and better coordination between departments and agencies.

Invest in the Foundations of a Strong Economy

Kentucky must make sufficient investment in the basic building blocks of a community. An economy can thrive when there is a system of lifelong education, a fair and adequate tax system, technologically current infrastructures, improved social services and accessible health care. Strengthening these fundamentals improves the quality of life, raises the possibility for innovation and creativity and expands opportunities for more people and businesses.

Strengthen and Respect Community Standards — Create Meaningful Public Participation

The collective knowledge and experience of Kentucky’s educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, local governments, private business and the general public should be included in the process of crafting effective economic development plans. Greater community input insures that the standards of economic conduct are reflective of the community’s values.

Conclusion

Coal has shaped the economy, the environment, and the politics of Eastern Kentucky for the past century. Today, we have new opportunities. We do not have to serve the coal industry any longer, but can instead serve the interests of all the people of Kentucky. All this and more is possible for our coalfield communities if we demand it and our political leaders have the vision and courage to help make it happen.