I count myself as a friend of coal. Coal helps fuel our great state, pumping $26 billion into the economy each year and providing more than $3.2 billion in wages for West Virginia families.
More than 60,000 West Virginians have jobs because of coal, good jobs that pay an average of $68,500 a year. As a lifelong West Virginian, I see the positive impact of coal every day on my neighbors, my family and my friends. There's no question about how much coal is indelibly linked to our past and our future.
As I drive around our state, there are constant reminders of the enormous political and financial muscle that the coal industry flexes in West Virginia.
"Friends of Coal" license plates and stickers adorn countless vehicles of our residents. "Friends of Coal" also sponsors one of the most anticipated sporting events in our state: the annual Friends of Coal Bowl between the West Virginia Mountaineers and the Marshall University Thundering Herd. And let's not forget the innumerable "Friends of Coal" underwriting of symposiums, auto fairs, athletic tournaments and educational activities -- events that thrive through coal's generosity.
During election season, politicians battle for the "Friends of Coal" seal of approval, fighting to show who is the better friend to coal. Ads for coal-endorsed candidates and issues blanket our airwaves, while coal miners are trotted out to press conferences to provide a backdrop of credibility to West Virginia voters.
But it appears that "Friends of Coal" are really just fair-weather friends -- at least to the men and women who toil in the dark so we can live in the light.
Where are these so-called friends when it comes to the 22,500 active miners, retirees and their families who depend on Patriot Coal for their health care and pension benefits?
Patriot Coal is gaming the system to shed its obligations to these workers, retirees and their families. It's a brazen scam that working Americans know all too well these days.
And the friends of coal have remained eerily quiet. They should be ashamed.