West Virginia miners: ‘We want to not be forgotten’

Coal workers angry about policies on livelihood

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West Virginia, though, is pretty much a lost cause for the president, even if ticket-splitting is likely to be the order of the day Nov. 6.

“Romney is going to win here,” Mr. Berch said. “The two conservative Democrats are going to win the Senate and governor’s races. Voters are making a pretty big distinction between national Democrats and state Democrats.”

Coal’s clout

How big a role energy policy will impact this election cycle is uncertain. In 2010, voters in coal-producing states such as Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio ousted incumbent members of Congress in favor of Republicans, offering a reminder that the industry still matters in targeted areas.

Ken Green, an energy policy analyst at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, said coal and fossil fuels are regional issues. But they still can have an outsized impact when the industry views its vital issues as threatened. He noted it was coal-state Democrats, not Republicans, who torpedoed Mr. Obama’s “cap-and-trade” plan to limit carbon emissions in his first term. Mr. Obama and national Democrats also have said relatively little on issues such as climate change, in part because of the political costs in energy-producing states.

“They will be silent until after the election, and if they are re-elected they will plunge full speed ahead with coal regulations,” Mr. Green predicted, noting Mr. Obama’s warning shot during his first White House run to make anyone who opened a coal mine go bankrupt.

“I think there is no question about it. They’ve been pretty explicit about putting coal out of business. There has been no one in Obama’s entire administration that has bucked the anti-coal agenda.”

In the meantime, coal miners like Logan Hall vow to continue to mount a grass-roots fight to keep alive an industry they say sustains their very way of life.

Mr. Hall, a father of four from Virgie, Ky., broke his back in a mining accident and was laid up, only to turn his misfortune into a career break when he auditioned for a country music contest and won it.

Now he is living his ultimate dream of playing music for a living and warming up for Southern rock icons such as Lynyrd Skynyrd. He is using his newfound celebrity to write songs to honor his old buddies still toiling in the darkness and trying hard to scrape out a living and support their families.

“Mine work — that’s all we know. You cannot come into eastern Kentucky, southern West Virginia or Pennsylvania and find one person that doesn’t work in the coal industry, has a family member who worked in it,” Mr. Hall said.

“I think that we have been forgotten over the last few years. We want to not be forgotten anymore. There is a huge problem and as far as myself, I know the majority of people think that the coal-mining problem has just been lost in the mix. Maybe we can refresh some people’s memory that there’s real people living here.”

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