Although the motivation for the President’s visit to Charleston was to focus on combating substance abuse around the country, others thought he should be more concerned with the decline in West Virginia’s economy--specifically in the coal industry.
The West Virginia Coal Forum held a rally Wednesday morning, focusing on Obama and his administration’s stances on energy and emissions.
Chris Hamilton of the West Virginia Coal Association kicked off the rally at the State Capitol Complex, explaining why he, members of the Coal Forum and federal and state leaders were on hand before the president’s visit.
“When it was announced last week that the President was coming to Charleston, our phone lines and computer began to light up. Social media began to run wild and the question began to flow,” said Hamilton.
“‘Are we going to rally? Are we going to protest? Are we going to the line the streets with laid off coal miners?’ Today’s event is in direct response to those inquiries,” he added.
While speakers like Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, Senate President Bill Cole and House Speaker Tim Armstead did acknowledge the President’s reason for visiting Charleston, they also put the blame on Obama for the decline in the state’s coal industry. Attorney General Patrick Morrisey blames that decline--at least in part--for West Virginia’s problems with drug abuse and addiction.
“I think [the decline in the coal industry and West Virginia’s issues with substance abuse] is completely related,” said Morrisey.
“One thing that we’ve seen is that this president’s policies have led to a vicious cycle of poverty, hopelessness and despair--and he is at least partially responsible for that.”
Morrisey’s sentiments were echoed by others at the rally, including the West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney.
“We’ve got 8,000 coal miners, multiple thousands of support jobs that have been taken out of the equation here in West Virginia --because of federal policies and power plants closing,” said Raney.
“When people have unemployment, when they don’t have a job, when they have uncertainty--that’s fertile ground for substance abuse. You can’t come down and think you’re going to solve one problem and not pay attention to the other.”
When asked about a recent report that showed an increase in employed miners testing positive for drugs, Raney and other speakers said they believe that comes from an uncertain future for coal mining.
Reports from West Virginia Public Broadcasting produced in May, stemming from data made available by the state health statistics center, show that West Virginia’s highest overdose death rates since 2001 have been in Cabell, Jefferson and Brooke Counties. All three counties produce little to no coal.