MOUNDSVILLE - The United Mine Workers of America - an organization that strongly supported President Barack Obama's 2008 bid for president - has come out firing following the EPA's recent proposal to cut carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030, a standard that many believe will devastate the nation's coal industry and lead to higher electricity prices.
"Under this rule, our reward is to be kicked to the curb, hopefully out of sight and soon forgotten," UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts said, referring to the coal miners he represents, thousands of whom reside in the Ohio Valley.
"I assure you, if that is the choice before us, we will not go quietly. We will not be out of sight. We will not be forgotten. You will hear from us."
Roberts had been a fervent supporter of Obama in 2008, saying at the time that Obama "shares the values of UMWA members and our families. He understands and will fight for the needs our members have today and the hopes our members have for a secure future for themselves and their families."
"Sen. Obama is from a coal state," Roberts said in 2008, according to published reports. "He understands that coal will remain a primary source for electricity generation in this country for many decades to come and he will join with the UMWA as we work to ensure that it will be used for that purpose in an environmentally responsible way."
The UMWA declined to endorse Obama in 2012. And now, Roberts questions the wisdom of decimating the nation's coal industry and power-generating capabilities when other nations such as China and India continue to burn coal and emit carbon dioxide.
"Why on earth should we be willing to sacrifice the lives and livelihoods of thousands upon thousands of our fellow citizens on the naive bet that current and emerging economic competitors like China, India, Brazil, Russia and others will follow our lead?" Roberts said.
The jobs impact
On a daily basis, nearly 5,000 Ohio Valley families live good, middle-class lives through jobs provided by the area's coal mines and power generation facilities. Now more than ever, those jobs - and those families' livelihoods - are being put at risk.
Coal mining provides 3,664 direct jobs to Ohio Valley residents, with another 1,046 employed at the region's coal-fired power plants, a 2013 survey by the Sunday News-Register found. Combined, that's about as many jobs as the shuttered Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp. and Ormet Corp. provided to area residents 10-15 years ago, when both were still operating.
Coal miners in the region make an average salary of $88,000, while power plant workers take home $68,000. Those are jobs, in the area's current economy, that just won't be replaced at that income level.
Roberts said so-called "green energy jobs" will not fill the void left by the loss of coal employment.
"The jobs that we are told will be created will very likely not be in the coal fields, will not pay particularly well, will not have decent benefits, and will not allow workers to realize what we once called the 'American dream.' The American economy will not benefit from the creation of such jobs because they will come at the expense of the better jobs we have now," he said.
"This is simply a recipe for disaster in America's coal fields, especially the eastern coal fields. That is where the hammer of this rule will fall the hardest. And it's not just that these jobs will be lost - it's that the ability of companies to continue funding pension and retiree health care benefits will be at great risk. That puts hundreds of thousands more - mostly senior citizens living on already-low fixed incomes - squarely in the crosshairs of this rule."
While the UMWA has traditionally supported Democrat candidates, Roberts said Obama's policies will cost "75,000 direct coal generation jobs in the United States by 2020." He said the number will rise to 152,000 in by 2035.
The EPA's proposed carbon rules also could crush the area's tax base, as in Marshall County alone about $22 million annually is collected in local taxes from coal mining and energy generation.
Marshall County Assessor Chris Kessler said for tax year 2013, Consol Energy paid $9.6 million in property taxes in Marshall County for the mines formerly known as McElroy and Shoemaker, as well as some scattered parcels of land. Late last year, Murray Energy acquired those mines and three others in West Virginia for $3.5 billion, renaming McElroy and Shoemaker the Marshall County Coal Co. and the Ohio County Coal Co., respectively.
Additionally, American Electric Power paid $8.8 million in property taxes to the county during tax year 2013 for the Mitchell and Kammer power plants.
The county received $3.5 million in coal severance revenue in 2013. This leads to about $22 million in taxes paid to the county for coal and coal-fired power production in the 2013 tax year.
Of that $22 million, about $14.35 million goes to Marshall County Schools, which has an annual budget of $56 million; $6.7 million to the county's general fund, with an annual budget of $17.1 million; and the remainder split between local municipalities and state agencies.