Chuck Witt: Don’t expect relief from ‘war on coal’

Perhaps Kentuckians will no longer have to listen to the constant refrain about the “war on coal,” since our senators, Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell, always attributed the decline of jobs in the eastern Kentucky coal fields as exclusively the result of policies of President Barack Obama and Democrats who were running against them.

More and more — and even during all the years of Sen. Paul’s first term when he refused to recognize market realities — irrefutable evidence clearly demonstrates that the decline in the production of Appalachian coal is the result of declining demand and the increasing difficulty of finding coal seams which can be economically removed, along with the fact that the coal from eastern Kentucky and West Virginia are high in sulphur content.

Regrettably, Sen. McConnell was returned to office in his last election, and Sen. Paul more recently, both relying on the fabrication of lies about why Kentucky coal miners are losing their jobs. They counted on the gullibility and desperation of those who are losing their jobs mining coal and — as all effective lies must — demonized the President and his party in order to concentrate the hatred and distrust of disenfranchised miners.

Sen. McConnell has held his office since 1984 and Sen. Paul is now entering his second term. During the long tenure of our senior senator, coal jobs in Eastern Kentucky continually spiraled downward. It would appear that the “war on coal” has been one of the longest battles in American history, but there could probably be found little mention of it until President Obama was elected eight years ago.

And if the job loss in coal was, in fact, continuing to decline during all the terms of Sen. McConnell, how can it be explained that he did nothing about it during that lengthy period?

It will certainly be interesting to see if the “war” continues during the presidency of a Republican and whether or not Sen. McConnell will have sufficient courage to continue his fabrications while his party holds the White House and both houses of Congress, especially if he knows that nothing can be done to alleviate the problem.

When automobiles came on the scene, the livelihood of buggy whip makers, carriage makers, wheelwrights and farriers were all threatened. Virtually all these professions morphed into other means of making a living.

The same is going to have to be true for Kentucky coal miners. Thousands lost coal mining jobs when surface mining became so much more economical, and the greater use of machinery reduced demand for manual labor, for men to go into underground mines and slave away with picks to produce a fraction of the amount of coal that can be removed by machinery after the topsoil is stripped away.

Maybe now that President Obama is leaving office, Kentucky’s senators can concentrate on doing something really positive to help the miners, like solidifying their pension and healthcare plans, and working to find alternatives to get them back to work in other fields of endeavor.

What is more likely is there will be a great silence emanating from Washington, and McConnell and Paul will sequester themselves, perhaps together, to try to come up with some other bogus wedge issue to use against anyone running against them in their next election.

Kentucky coal miners shouldn’t hold their collective breaths for any relief from those they sent back to Washington.

Chuck Witt is a retired architect and a lifelong resident of Winchester.  He can be reached at