United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts rallied members at a meeting on Wednesday, June 3, in Morgantown. Roberts says the union will fight the Federal Environmental Protection Agency to keep miners employed.
According to Worforce West Virginia, about 11,500 miners have lost their jobs since March of 2012. Almost 2,000 of those layoffs have come since January of this year.
Roberts addressed the current state of the coal mining industry in front of a packed room at the Morgantown Event Center. He painted a picture of miners caught between an industry trying to cut costs and a government that wants to move away from coal.
Patriot Coal Company filed for bankruptcy for the second time in less than 3 years while Murray Energy announced plans to lay off hundreds of miners.
Roberts stressed that the decline of coal and loss of union mining jobs doesn’t just hurt miners and their families. He said miners contribute a billion dollars to the economy in the coalfields.
“You pull a billion dollars out of the coalfield communities and see what happens here. This is not just our problem, this is every elected official in America’s problem. This is everybody’s problem,” Roberts said.
Call to Action
He called on his members to support legislation sponsored by sens. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., that would allow states to opt out of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. The plan’s goal is a 30-percent reduction in carbon emissions from existing coal-fired power plants by 2030.
Roberts also said miners should fight initiatives to shift from coal-fired electricity generation to gas-fired plants. He urged his union members to oppose county tax breaks for new gas-fired power plants in the counties where they live.
After the speech, Monongalia County miner Dave Earl echoed Roberts’ sentiments.
“Like he said, there’s no jobs in gas. Once the wells are drilled and the pipelines are in, there’s no future but just a very few people there,” Earl said.
Roberts’ call to push back against the EPA and fight for lost coal jobs was well-received by his audience.
“That’s what us as a union have been waiting for. We’ve been waiting for Cecil’s backing and it sounds like we got it. It sounds like he’s ready to make a stand with us on this matter,” another Mon County miner, Daniel Strahin, said.
Tough Battle Ahead
It will be a tough battle, though. Among other tasks, Roberts must navigate Patriot’s second bankruptcy. The company announced Wednesday that it wants to sell the majority of its assets to Blackhawk Mining, LLC.
That brings up the specter of a battle that landed Roberts and others in jail as they protested the terms of Patriot’s 2013 bankruptcy deal. The UMWA fought to keep retired miners’ pensions and health care benefits, among other things.
Meanwhile, a recent report indicates that coal production in West Virginia is expected to drop 39 percent compared with the industry’s last high point in 2008.