As a native of Eastern Kentucky and a third-generation coal miner, I read with interest Justin Maxson's comments on the area being the master of its fate.
Maxson, of the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, cites that paragon of hard work, U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, saying the coal industry was fighting the Environmental Protection Agency instead of looking for ways to move forward.
The same thing can be said about government agencies. They are focused on a scorched-earth policy in their quest to eradicate coal, rather than being part of the solution of what comes next.
They ignore the talents and infrastructure that have been developed over generations to safely and competitively mine coal in Appalachia. If wind power is part of the future, a large support capability would be needed. A few years ago, we could not get bearings for 200-ton haul trucks because they were being used to assemble the gear cases for large windmills. These components, along with the electrical units, have a finite life and will need repair.
I would not hesitate to say that per capita we have as many experienced mechanics and electricians as any geographic area in the United States, along with machine shops and support in the field. For a windmill to be effective, it needs an unrestricted flow of air, which is hard to find in this area.
Mountaintop-removal mining has been demonized to the point it is almost a swear word to some. But to others, it is a mature mining process that can correct some past errors. I am sure that a mine site could be designed so that hollow fills and cuts could be made to maximize and channel the air flow to desired spots. Perhaps a large water impoundment at the foot could provide a heat sink to increase the air flow.
Remember, we move mountains. A government that is truly trying to be part of the solution should look at the entire picture and try to use the existing assets, rather than total destruction and retraining workers for useless, low-paying jobs.
Coal operators are portrayed as protectionists who try to inhibit all progress. To compete in an environment of ever-changing politics, the exact opposite is true. New technologies, sophisticated maintenance practices and savvy management are the only way they have stayed in business. If they were offered the opportunity and political climate where they could be part of a solution, I am sure they would be on board to a man.
The solutions mentioned in the column are more of the same old tired rhetoric. The programs suggested will have catchy acronyms like many others representing millions of dollars wasted in the name of Appalachian help programs. It will be another case of bureaucrats making jobs for bureaucrats, with very little benefit to the people who need assistance.
Surely, with all of the resources available today, someone can think outside the box a little and come up with a way to use all of the assets we have to offer. Silver BBs will have a place, as Maxson argues, but the solution to Eastern Kentucky being the master of its own fate will involve a cooperative effort of the coal industry and a government offering incentives, instead of attacks.
Thinking small will help, but thinking big is the real answer. Oh, and don't expect us to stop fighting a regulatory agency that has no checks and balances and preys on industries that helped make this country what it is.