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

September 15, 2009 by Ken Ward Jr.


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 …

20 Responses to “UMWA: Global warming is real, so let’s deal with it”

  1. Rick Wilson says:

    Good for Cecil Roberts. It’s another example of the contrast we saw on Labor Day between Racine and Holden.

  2. Coalfire says:

    This is a sad day for the UMWA. If we only had another John.L Lewis.

  3. hollergirl says:

    I am glad to hear the UMWA face the reality of Climate Change and real change in America. I applaud Mr. Roberts. I agree with the Obama administration that there must be a just transition and that we owe the coal miners a huge debt. Some of my relatives and friends are still having a hard time getting Black Lung benefits as well. We must diversify, retrain, retool and repower and work together.

  4. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    Interesting you mention John L. Lewis — given that he went along with mechanization that cost many thousands of miners their jobs … of course, he did so in exchange for creation of the UMWA health-care funds for pensioners … A big question today is: What will the American people do for Appalachia now?

  5. Rick Wilson says:

    Yeah. John L. peaked as a progressive labor leader around 1939. No disrespect to his memory intended, but what a falling off there was…

  6. bo webb says:

    It’s good to hear Cecil is facing the reality that we all must face if we are to survive on planet Earth. It’s only reasonable that he must also now understand the great importance of banning mountaintop removal given that it has already destroyed over 1 million acres of carbon capturing forest. Global warming IS real. To continue to destroy mountains that help lower green house gases is insane to say the least.
    I’ve said it here before and I’ll say it again. I believe Cecil Roberts has the charisma and skills to become a great leader of our state. I think he is finding his way through the deceptors and I applaud him for that.

  7. Red Desert says:

    “Rockefeller Finds It’s Better to Negotiate on Climate Bill Than Sit on Sidelines”

    lots of info on W Virginia & attitudes about climate change

  8. Nanette says:

    I too am glad that Cecil Roberts is not a climate change denier. This is refreshing news. This is so much different than the videos of the total denial of Blankenship’s rally. At least Roberts is willing to admit that there are problems with climate change.

    It seems as though he is willing to be a working partner in working with his people to retrain for the new jobs that are going to be coming. I don’t think he wants his membership to be left behind in the new energy jobs. I applaud him for that. I believe that he is one man that can work with the Obama administration to see that the transition for his membership is as painless as possible. There will be huge opportunities out there for people who are ready and willing to get to work in the clean energy job force.

    Ken you asked a question and I will try to answer it and hope it is taken with the good intentions that I mean for it to convey. With the political climate now, and we all can see it with the craziness of the town hall meetings, I don’t look for the American people to want to do a thing for the miners. From what I have seen on tv the people today do not want to help anyone. They want what they have and aren’t willing to share a bit of it for any reason. It will take an act of Congress to help the miners adjust, and the coal companies are going to fight it tooth and nail.

    I think that Roberts and organized labor can help shape Obama’s plans for a sustainable future for everyone. None of this can happen overnight, it will take some time, but in my heart I believe it can become a reality.

  9. roselle says:

    The best way for the UMWA to help coal miners is to support a carbon tax. Then money would be available for health care, mine restoration and for investing in diversifying the economy. Thomas Friedman has made the case that since cap and trade is already a tax, and one controlled by Wall Street, why not just have a revenue neutral carbon tax that would reduce the use of high carbon fuels like coal and spur the introduction of renewable alternatives. Since coal miners will be the ones most affected by this, the money raised should be used to help communities in Appalachia make the transition.

  10. Thomas Rodd says:

    Great exchange and dialogue, people!

  11. Nanette says:

    I agree Roselle

  12. Clem Guttata says:

    I agree with Mike Roselle and would take it a step further.

    My advice for the UMWA is to lobby Byrd and Rockefeller hard for money from cap-and-trade funds to make whole that pension fund.

    Money going to carbon capture and storage (CCS) R&D and credits offers no guarantees for the UMWA. Lock in a guaranteed funding stream now.

    There is a much stronger economic justice argument for pension funding and UMWA will find common cause with many environmental groups. We ought to provide a hand-up for coal mining community members, not a hand-out for coal companies.

  13. Boone County says:

    We are most happy to see that the UMWA has not died. I wish she would come back strong, and get our Union back. That is our only defense against minimum wage for Coal Miners across America. If something isn’t done our men and women will be working for just that. They are taking pay cuts every year just so the big man can make his millions and the coal field workers will stay in proverty. Families that have more than 2 people can’t even get foodstamps to subsidize their income to feed their children. Please make a come back UMWA for the “FOR THE SAKE OF THE CHILDREN”

  14. billybong says:

    Sounds like a sellout to me.

  15. coalfire says:

    Boone County, I don’t understand how coal miners are in poverty. Before I left the Coal industry in 2007 to go back to school I was making over a hundred thousand a year. In the years between 2005 and 2007 I got over a seven dollar an hour pay increase. The UMWA not that much. Now, I’m not bashing the Union they did their jobs reforming the coal industry but, they sold out in the eighties. I have a friend who sat on a picket line for four years and the union just gave in. Corrupt.

  16. […] Tattoo readers know that some folks in the coal industry — such as United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts and American Electric Power President Michael Morris – are taking a much more progressive stance […]

  17. […] clear, the UMWA has expressed support to adapt to the changing environmental landscape. Roberts has acknowledged the science that climate change is real. The union has supported ideas such as carbon capture and […]

  18. […] Tattoo readers know that some folks in the coal industry — such as United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts and American Electric Power President Michael Morris – are taking a much more progressive […]

  19. […] worth noting that some coal industry backers in the Appalachian region — notably the United Mine Workers union, American Electric Power, and Sen. Jay Rockefeller — have cited the likely EPA […]

  20. TattooLeader says:

    Then money would be available for health care, mine restoration and for investing in diversifying the economy.

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