Press Archive


By Chris Hamilton

Albert Einstein once defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” and for the past 83 years, the West Virginia Legislature and the United Mine Workers have done just that. Now, after our Central Appalachian coal production has declined by more than 43 percent, numerous coal mines have closed, and thousands of jobs have been lost, Cecil Roberts is advocating for the West Virginia Legislature to just keep doing the same thing. This is not just recklessness on part of Roberts and the United Mine Workers, it is insanity.

Our Legislative leaders appear intent to do everything within their power to provide the coal industry with help and optimism so it may survive the next couple years of President Obama’s assault on Central Appalachian Coal Operations. Yes, we also have worsening geology and lots of lower-cost gas, but rest assured, as everyone knows who is remotely close to the coal industry, its misfortunes today principally have been brought about by our president’s attacks (which the UMW repeatedly have embraced).

The West Virginia Legislature has elevated its Energy Committees to “major” committee status so it can become more engaged with our energy industries for the foreseeable future. In just a few short weeks, the Legislature already has repealed our state’s Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio, which certainly would have caused less coal to be consumed in years ahead and established oversight controls over DEP in developing the state’s Implementation Plan for President Obama and the EPA’s climate rules. And lastly, the Legislature is taking a close look at the body of law governing our operational standards to ensure they adequately address miner safety and streamline important safety processes.

Towards this end, and before his maddening rant, Cecil Roberts identifies two specific objections to the mine safety initiatives before the Legislature: One deals with transporting injured miners to the outside and the other makes some bizarre reference to diesel fumes.

Concerning the transportation of injured miners, the rule before the legislature requires not one but two emergency vehicles at all locations where track systems of transporting miners exist underground. No other state, not even under federal law, requires that two vehicles be present to transport an injured miner. Under the proposed changes to West Virginia law, there is a vehicle required on the immediate outby end of the track, and based on a recent Senate amendment (which Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Trump championed and our organization supported), there is now a second emergency vehicle on the inby side of the track as well.

Roberts’ assertion concerning diesel fumes is plainly false. As any miner knows, West Virginia has the most stringent laws and regulations found anywhere in the world. From equipment engineering and design to our state’s requirements for ensuring the cleanest burning diesel engines known to man, there is nothing in the legislation that disrupts or changes these laws in any way, shape or form. The proposed change is simply to remove a six-member group of inexperienced laymen who currently are charged with approving mining machines — while they meet in posh hotel conference rooms — and transfer this important task to the West Virginia Office of Miners Health Safety and Training and its 135 highly skilled mine inspectors and safety professionals who are charged with inspecting our coal mines and ensuring that all equipment — both electrical and diesel — is safe to use.

I understand Cecil Roberts’ frustration, for his disciples and he no longer are in charge of state policy. Our hard-working miners get it — they have had enough of President Obama and his party’s rule. We have tried the United Mine Workers’ ways for the past 83 years, and it failed. It is time for a change to make our mines competitive and to save West Virginia jobs.

Hamilton is senior vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association, a member of the West Virginia Board of Coal Mine Health and Safety and a member of the West Virginia Diesel Commission.