Coal Stakeholders Urge West Virginia Lawmakers to Protect Industry
By Charles Young
January 9, 2020 - Representatives of the coal industry and the United Mine Workers of America gathered Wednesday afternoon at the state Culture Center on the grounds of the Capitol Complex for the annual West Virginia Coal Forum Legislative Briefing.
Industry stakeholders urged lawmakers to prioritize protecting coal mining and coal-fired power generation during the 2020 session of the Legislature.
Chris Hamilton, co-chair of the Coal Forum, asked legislators in attendance to do “everything humanly possible” to help support the state’s nine remaining coal-fired power plants.
“They are located strategically around the state — each one generates upwards of hundreds of millions of dollars,” Hamilton said.
“We want the Legislature and the state of West Virginia to become more involved with the operation of those plants — partnering with the utilities to ensure that they maintain those plants in a state of operational acceptance and that they retool and perform all the maintenance on those plants going forward so we can preserve those plants and increase the life of those plants.”
Hamilton said one of the Coal Forum’s main aims is to find ways to encourage more use of West Virginia coal.
“The goal is to increase our consumption here within the state, to increase our state’s reliance so we can maintain the jobs, maintain the hundreds of millions of dollars of economic activity in our local and statewide communities,” he said.
Fred Tucker, co-chair of the Coal Forum, spoke about his family’s long history in the mining industry and the importance of coal mining culture to West Virginia.
“I was born and raised in coal. My whole family was coal,” he said. “I come from one of 13 children. My daddy worked in the coal mines 57 years, and you could count on one hand the number of days that he didn’t work in the mine.”
Among all the members of his family combined, there are nearly 400 years of coal-mining experience, Tucker said.
“My family, my dad, my brothers, my sister — 389 years,” he said. “I know what it is: When coal is up, times are better. When coal is down, times are not so good. That’s the bottom line.”
Tucker, who has been a member of the UMWA for 49 years, said the union and the West Virginia Coal Association have traditionally had a less-friendly relationship.
“We have come together to get everybody involved,” he said. “Not just the Legislature, but everybody. Because if we don’t, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said the association and the union joining forces is a historic development for the industry.
“In the ’70s and ’80s, the United Mine Workers and our members couldn’t seem to agree on a whole bunch of issues,” he said. “If we’d propose it, they’d oppose it. If they proposed it, we’d oppose it.”
Even when the Coal Forum was founded with co-chairs from both organizations, there was still often disagreement, Raney said.
“But today, we are together fighting literally for our very survival,” he said. “For the next 60 days — I hope well beyond that — we’re going to be together fighting for the sake of our very survival.”
Coal stakeholders asked lawmakers to help protect their industry during the annual West Virginia Coal Forum Legislative Briefing. Pictured from left to right is Bill Raney, Fred Tucker, and Chris Hamilton.
Photo: Charles Young