CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's hard for me to wrap my head around what the Coal Association refers to as a "war on coal." You mean when the people, through their government, attempt to enact legal limits on environmental degradation and threats to human health?
Looking back historically, a major battle in the war on coal may have been the enactment of the child labor laws that were passed in this country during the Franklin D. Roosevelt Administration. This act of Congress threw thousands of children out of work in the mines and cut deeply into coal company profits. Other coal war battles waged by Congress included the Coal Mine Safety and Health Act, the Black Lung Compensation Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, Surface Mine Reclamation Act and the Forty Hour Work Week.
A real war on coal would be something much different. It would entail sabotage against coal mine equipment and operations, such as derailing coal trains, blowing up bridges, blasting train tunnels, that sort of thing. Desperate people might attempt to mess with mine operations in any number of ways. They might take it on themselves to go after coal trucks and coal haulage roads, strip mine bulldozers, Caterpillar machinery suppliers, coal company law firms, or any number of collaborators in partnership with the coal industry.
People engaged in a war on coal would go after the boards and management of coal companies, their business relations, collaborative financial and accounting firms, sympathetic politicians, and so forth.
A real war on coal might look a lot like the war fought against mine unionization in West Virginia back in the early 1900s, when your chances of survival in a coal mine were worse than surviving in the military engaged in "real" war.
I saw recently that around 10,000 coal miners died from black lung disease in the 10-year period from 1995 to 2004. That's more than the American lives lost in the George Bush wars since 2001. If there is a "war" going on in the mining industry, the body count is piling up entirely on the side of the mine workers, not the industry that finances and runs the mines.
Obviously, the people in West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Kentucky are not yet ready to wage a real war on coal. But if enough people get tired of suffering and dying, this could change.
Harman is retired and lives in St. Albans.