No one in this area needs to be convinced of the importance of coal mining to not just this county, but to the entire region. For generations, it drove everything here. Every single business and industry in the region was subjected to the industry’s ups and downs, as every business was either completely reliant directly on the industry or at least dependent on the spending of those employed in coal.
When, about a decade ago, the foundation of that industry began to crumble, thanks to both economic factors and regulatory changes that drove coal’s customers to seek alternative sources of energy, we acknowledged as a community that diversification was necessary.
However, we always kept in the back of our mind reassurances that coal would make a “comeback.” This was helped along by officials and political campaigns that pledged to end the “war on coal” without really considering all the factors going into the industry’s woes.
Numerous individuals and agencies have dedicated themselves directly to helping turn the economic tide caused by coal’s current bust cycle. And many of the men and women working in that field have been tirelessly plugging away, attempting to find ways to diversify.
Some ways have been found. Some new industry has been established and new companies are in talks to locate in Eastern Kentucky to help fill the vacuum left behind.
However, recent events have served as a reminder that, while the coal industry will likely be a part of our economy for generations to come, there’s still some sliding to make it through.
Recently, Cambrian Coal informed nearly 200 workers in Pike County that their jobs were being terminated. Those workers were told the termination was part of a sale to another company. We hope that other company can reopen those mines and get those miners back to work, but it’s a waiting game.
Also, just this week, we learned through a press release that Blackhawk Mining had to issue notices to nearly 350 workers in nearby Mingo and Logan counties in West Virginia that, come December, they, too, will be unemployed.
Yes, there’s definitely more downslope left for the mining industry and those who depend on it.
It’s frustrating to see so many of our neighbors lose their jobs in such an abrupt manner and we hope that something can be done to get them back to work.
But, regardless of whether these mines reopen, these incidents should serve as a reminder that, in terms of diversification, the clock is ticking. Time is running out.
We cannot slow down in our efforts to find economic development opportunities in our communities. Instead, we must double and triple our efforts. We must work together to find solutions.
In the days before gas detectors, coal miners used to take canaries in cages into the mines as “gas detectors.” If the canary died, it meant that lethal methane gas had built up to a point where it was no longer survivable and movement outside the mine was necessary if the miners wanted to live.
Well, the canary on our total reliance on the coal industry is dead and these recent job losses, coupled with mining company bankruptcies, should serve as a reminder that the canary being dead is a warning to move, not later, not at a future date, but now.
Coal will always be a part of our economy. But the time in which it is the main or only source of industry has passed.
We ask that those responsible for laying out a road map of the future for our communities simply push harder. Time is running out.