Will SOAR propel Eastern Kentucky into the future?
One thing is for sure, if nothing is done, there is no future.
Private business needs to have the ability to thrive while the politicians need to provide resources and get the heck out of the way. If our government — federal, state and local — were run like business, there would be a lot of unemployed politicians.
For many years coal mining and coal severance tax revenue have been the economic backbone of the region. And for many years, we have been told to prepare for a future without coal. The politicians haven't done that.
All the economic development plans and surveys have stated that if this area is to thrive we all need to work together and we need to diversify from coal. Some get it and others believe you can make gas from coal, efficiently. Hence the summit.
Coal will be mined for a long time and politicians from both sides with myopic views are trying their damndest to shut down the industry that has powered the nation for generations.
We all want clean water and air, we all want jobs and affordable electricity. Coal is abundant but the mining practices of some operators gave the industry a black eye.
Shutting down mining without a backup plan is shortsighted and sophomoric. The universal opinion is that the sun and wind will not produce enough of the energy required to replace coal.
If a mountaintop is to be reconfigured to mine coal, protesters are out in droves. However, move that same mountaintop for a shopping mall, a housing development or a new highway and the protesters call it progress. Farms and meadows are removed in Lexington to build malls with hardly any opposition. Add coal mining and let the crucifixion begin.
No one is asking for a handout. We are asking for fair opportunities so that we can compete.
The politicians need to offer incentives for us to develop our own sustaining economy and keep their regulations and deal making out of the equation. Private business is alive and well, and, as long as someone has the courage to start a business in this area, our work force will handle the task.
Any man or woman who mines coal for a living will work in manufacturing, service, agricultural or any other industry. As long as there are jobs, we have a work force.
The SOAR summit may not be the answer, but SOAR may offer hope. SOAR may provide diversification the area needs to be self-sustaining. This summit needs to be devoid of politics and egos but rich with ideas and opportunity.
And the rest of the state needs to embrace and support their fellow Kentuckians in the east.
Jeff Vanderbeck is the publisher of the Appalachian News-Express in Pikeville.