Coal miners are struggling, and the federal government isn’t really helping, Cecil Roberts, the international president of the United Mine Workers union, said Wednesday.
“First of all, coal’s not back. Nobody saved the coal industry,” Roberts told a room of reporters and UMW miners at the National Press Club, in Washington, D.C. “Now, that’s a harsh fact, and it’s a harsh reality.”
As coal-fired power plants close around the country, the market is shrinking, Roberts noted. The country’s needed a transition for decades, he said.
“We have never denied ever, ever, the existence of climate change,” Roberts said. “However, how we deal with it is the question.”
He rejected the proposed Green New Deal from progressive Democrats and instead pitched technology that would remove carbon emissions from the burning of coal. He emphasized that coal remains the dominant source of energy around the world, with millions of miners still working across the globe. Climate change is a global problem, he said.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, electricity generation from natural gas and renewables will increase into 2050, while coal will decrease. Although the United States will continue to export coal through 2050, exports won’t increase because of competition from other global suppliers.
Each of the democratic candidates running for president in 2020 has been invited to meet with the UMW to talk about coal and energy issues, and all of the “top-tier” candidates have expressed interest, Roberts said.
Still, he said, the country has been largely dismissive of coal miners. Political candidates pay attention during elections, he chided, and then they forget.
Federal regulations targeting pneumoconiosis, or black lung disease, began in 1969, and the potentially fatal disease has only increased among coal miners in the past two decades. Miners’ pensions and health care are at risk.
In Kentucky, unpaid miners have been blocking a railroad since Blackjewel LLC declared bankruptcy and the miners’ paychecks bounced. The rest of the country really pays attention only when there’s an “insurrection,” Roberts said.
“We’re starting to think the government’s just waiting for us all to die and go away,” he said.
Meanwhile, the public continues to look down its nose at miners and dismiss them as “uneducated and racist,” Roberts said, “just because they don’t like what we do. You’ve never heard us call people names just because we don’t like what they say about us. But the truth is, this is the most progressive union that’s ever existed on Earth.”
Public support for coal miners from President Donald Trump would help, he said.
“I’m happy with a tweet,” Roberts said.
He also touched on an order last week from a federal magistrate who recommended that the criminal mine safety conviction of Don Blankenship, the former Massey Energy Co. CEO, be thrown out. Blankenship was convicted in December 2015 of conspiring to violate federal mine safety and health standards at the Upper Big Branch Mine in the months prior to the 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners.
Roberts called the recommendation the “most absurd thing known to man.”