By Leo Gerard
Special to The Meadville Tribune
Coal miners wake up before the sun rises, travel miles into the darkness of mountains and with only a lamp on their helmets help power our country. They have a dangerous job, and they deserve a president who fights for them.
Our economy is stronger when workers receive good wages and benefits, which is why President Barack Obama has rolled back harmful labor regulations and policies designed to undermine collective bargaining.
Critics charge that recently enacted emission limits hurt the coal industry, but coal-mining jobs nationwide reached a 15-year-high last year, with the industry employing more than 90,000 workers. Coal-mining jobs in Pennsylvania are up more than 5 percent.
Mr. Obama is committed to protecting clean air and clean water for our families while also helping the coal industry. That is why he promotes clean-coal technologies to ensure that the industry remains competitive.
The president wants mine workers who clock in each day to stay safe on the job. His administration has launched an inspection program that targets mines with patterns of violations, and it’s paid off. Between 2010 and February 2012, the injury rate at inspected mines dropped by 18 percent. Last year saw the second-lowest number of mine worker fatalities since such statistics have been recorded.
Let’s also not forget that Mr. Obama’s health care law is a Godsend to longtime miners with black lung disease who no longer have to prove a direct cause to help their families get the benefits they deserve.
Of course, it’s not enough to produce good jobs today. We need to invest in the long-term security of the coal industry so that mine workers don’t have to wonder whether they will have a job to support their families next year, or the year after that.
With countries like China and Germany competing with us to lead the global clean-energy economy, Mr. Obama is making the most significant investments in clean coal of any president in history. His administration is partnering with businesses and universities on clean-coal projects in more than a dozen states and plans to rapidly deploy new technology.
The goal is to have five to 10 commercial-scale, low-carbon-power-plant demonstration projects online by 2016 and to have the technology become widespread within a decade. The manufacturing of clean-coal technologies is already supporting supply chain jobs in the United States. Facilities are making investments and hiring workers to manufacture components for clean-coal projects and to supply electricity to utilities.
Mr. Obama has been working to build a clean future for coal, but Mitt Romney abandoned the interests of coal miners and utility workers as governor of Massachusetts by attacking their “dirty power plants,” refusing to protect their jobs and even declaring that a Massachusetts coal plant “kills people.” He claimed to enforce strict regulations on coal-fired plants — in his words, “without compromise.”
Mr. Romney also would re-institute policies that are harmful to labor and that would weaken federal protection of the right to collectively bargain. By attacking coal jobs as governor, refusing to help the coal industry stay competitive and deriding labor unions, Mr. Romney dismisses what coal means to our economy and the economic security of mine workers across America.
What does Mr. Romney’s hostile record toward coal say to our miners? And how does it compare to Mr. Obama’s?
Here’s what the president said as the nation mourned the loss of 29 coal miners at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia two years ago: “Day after day, they would burrow into the coal, the fruits of their labor, what so often we take for granted: the electricity that lights up a convention center; that lights up our church, or our home, our school, our office; the energy that powers our country; the energy that powers the world.”
Gerard is president of the United Steelworkers of Pittsburgh.