Friday, October 19, 2012

Laid-off Appalachian miner blames politicians, but not those you might think, for region's woes

Thousands of Central Appalachian coal miners have been laid off since January as coal companies decrease operations in the region and move to more lucrative mining areas, including the Powder River Basin in Wyoming. There are several reasons for this, the biggest of which is cheap natural gas. Mimi Pickering and Sylvia Ryerson of radio station WMMT in Whitesburg, Ky. recently interviewed Letcher County miner Gary Bentley, to collect his thoughts.

Bentley, 29, lost his job with Arch Coal Inc. in June, and after months of searching, was hired at a mine in Owewnsboro, Ky., five and a half hours from Whitesburg in the western part of the state. He worked for Arch for 10 years, and is a Letcher County native. The layoffs are unlike anything he's seen, he told Ryerson and Pickering, and he doesn't think it's fair.

"People come in here and they make billions of dollars, and they've been doing it for hundreds of years here, and now when they're leaving, they're just leaving us with nothing," Bentley said. He was lucky to find work in Kentucky, he said, because many other miners he worked with had to get jobs in Alabama, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and even Australia. It's also been slightly easier for him because he has a high school diploma. Some older miners he knows have no more than a sixth-grade education, and were hired before mining companies began requiring at least a high school education.

Bentley said local politicians want to blame Central Appalachian coal's decline on the federal government because of increased Environmental Protection Agency regulations, but what he saw at EPA hearings in Pikeville, Ky., showed him a different story. "I was real disappointed with our local, state and regional politicians because I felt like they all wanted to get up there and point fingers and say 'It's this person's fault, it's this person's fault. They're trying to destroy our industry; they're destroying Eastern Kentucky,'" Bentley said. "But at the same time, they're in the position. Why weren't they doing more to stand up for the region? Why weren't they doing more to try and bring in other industry?"

Bentley continued: "Anybody with any sort of intelligence that keeps up on the coal industry saw the declines coming. ... So, I feel that the political leaders really failed us by not having a back up plan for this area and for these communities. ... We need real answers and real solutions, not just a bunch of hot wind." To listen to Bentley's full interview, click here.

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