Coal Tattoo

UMWA: Global warming is real, so let’s deal with it

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The United Mine Workers of America union isn’t supporting the American Clean Energy and Security Act — at least not yet. But while coal industry leaders like Massey Energy’s Don Blankenship and front groups like Faces of Coal Friends of America peddle the idea that global warming is some made-up scam, UMWA President Cecil Roberts is facing facts.

In a recent interview, Roberts had this exchange with Steve Curwood, host of the public radio show Living on Earth:

CURWOOD: Let me just get one thing clear here. The United Mine Workers and coal miners that you represent do feel that there is a serious problem with climate change – that the science is real and that this is something that we’ve got to deal with. Do I have that right?

ROBERTS: That would be correct. The union has never taken a position arguing against the science of climate change. We’ve engaged in the debate as to how to deal with it. We’ve spent lots and lots of time and resources of coal miners trying to deal with this issue in order to protect the jobs of the coal miners and, quite frankly, the jobs of many people, particularly in some of the hardest and most difficult economic areas of the country.

I’ve blogged before about the UMWA and the climate bill here, here and here.

But the Living on Earth interview is especially interesting. Well, for one thing, it was just nice to hear a spokesman for coal industry workers talking sense on a show that is tremendously popular nationwide among environmentalists.

As the union has done before, Roberts explained that the UMWA is concerned about the pace of climate dioxide reductions required by the current bill, given the huge challenge the nation faces in making Carbon Capture and Storage work:

I think probably the most important thing to say about this bill is as it moves into the debate over on the Senate side is can we get to these types of reductions of 17 percent by 2020 and also develop this technology in such a short period of time and also deploy that technology onto the coal fired facilities that are in existence now and would be constructed into the future. We’re very much concerned we may not have enough time to do both.

Most interesting, though, was this exchange prompted by a great question from Curwood:

CURWOOD: Let me ask you this, Cecil Roberts. If the time table for the technology that would allow the burning of coal to continue while not endangering the planet, if that doesn’t come forward, would it not be in the best interest of America to indemnify those workers who aren’t able to continue working because this is really a special case? Would you see that?

ROBERTS: I think what’s problematic here I believe is that we’re talking about miners who are earning a very good wage and benefit for their families currently. They have healthcare. They have pensions. We have 100,000 retirees. Then there’s about a four to one to six to one ratio of support jobs that go with every mining job, depending on what part of the country you’re in. This would be an enormous cost obviously if the government said, “well, we owe these people something.” And I certainly agree that the country owes a great debt to coal miners. I think if would be difficult to convince Congress, the government, to do this.

You can listen to the whole show or read a transcript here.

Not for nothing, but remember one of the things the Obama administration said when it announced its plan to try to reduce the impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining:

Federal Agencies will work in coordination with appropriate regional, state, and local entities to help diversify and strengthen the Appalachian regional economy and promote the health and welfare of Appalachian communities.

We’re waiting for the Obama administration to announce its plan for doing this …