Coal Tattoo

In his inaugural address this afternoon, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin offered no real surprises on coal policy, with the possible exception of his promise that he would see to it that West Virginia’s coal production heads the opposite direction from what just about every industry forecast projects. Here’s the key line:

I will continue to protect and increase the production of coal in West Virginia.

The governor has taken this rhetorical route before, pointing to small blips in natural gas prices as what he believes is evidence of a coming coal rebound in Central Appalachia. Maybe he’s right. But we certainly haven’t seen industry experts agreeing with him, and it seems more likely that coal’s challenges in West Virginia will continue. And if today’s speech is any sort of preview, Gov. Tomblin doesn’t plan to try to lead the state toward any sort of a reasonable discussion about dealing with those challenges.

That, of course, gets us to the other part of Gov. Tomblin’s coal soundbite, his pledge to continue to “protect” the coal industry — which he presumably was elaborating on when he said one of West Virginia’s biggest challenges is to get the federal government “off our backs”:

… I will continue to work to improve our job climate.  Unfortunately, for me that means, in many instances, fighting the federal government to get off our backs and out of our way. But it is a fight I will not concede, and I will never back down.

We’ve talked about this stuff before here on Coal Tattoo in The cognitive dissonance of coal politics in West Virginia. During last year’s State of the State address, Gov. Tomblin had this to say about the federal government:

This is not Washington D.C., where uncontrolled spending has led to uncertainty, a lack of confidence, and a fundamental breakdown in the operation of government. This is West Virginia, where we figured out in a realistic way to cut waste, balance the budget, reduce the tax burden, and commit to our citizens and our businesses, that this is a great place to work, live, and play.

This is not Washington D.C., where the EPA and other governmental agencies engage in back-door policy making that threatens the very livelihood of so many of our fellow citizens. This is West Virginia, where we appreciate the need for reasonable, open environmental regulations but understand the fundamental need for jobs and for low cost, reliable energy developed right here in the United States of America.


As I wrote at the time:

Never mind the huge role that federal outlays for our aging population, the disabled and the poor — not to mention the fact that, as the fine folks at the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy explained, federal government spending has played a major part in the economy recovery in West Virginia.  I was reminded of the scene from The West Wing where President Bartlet asks his election rival, a fictional governor who campaigns on an anti-Washington platform, if the federal government can have back all the money it funneled that state’s way

Much of Gov. Tomblin’s focus today was on education, in a portion of his speech in which he said:

If our children are to succeed, they must have a world-class education and must grow up in a community free from the temptations and problems associated with substance abuse.

We have hard working teachers. Per capita, our education funding ranks among the nation’s best. But on our most important metric—student achievement—we’re falling behind. It doesn’t need to be this way—and it must stop.

The key to our success lies in making sure our children are prepared and ready to have a successful career in the 21st century economy. That means focusing to ensure our youngest get started on the right track, with meaningful programs designed to make sure that, by the third grade, children have the key building blocks for a lifetime of learning. That means making sure our vocational training programs are responsive to the needs of today’s economy. That means making sure our institutions of higher learning have programs designed to prepare our teachers to teach in today’s world. That means making sure that teachers have the support they need in their classrooms. That means ensuring our students are guaranteed the instructional time they need to excel. That means giving our school systems the ability to be innovative. And that means making sure parents become more responsible for their children and their learning. It won’t happen overnight—but we must give our students a better chance at success.

Today, and almost always when I hear our state’s political leaders talk about their pledge to protect West Virginia’s coal industry and “our way of life,” a thought nags at me. This coal booster-ism is basically saying that, if we can just get the federal government “off our backs,” then happy days are here for the coal industry — another boom will ensue, and tens of thousands of new mining jobs would materialize in our coalfields. That’s the unspoken and not-so-subtle hint. And if it’s true, then why worry so much about our schools, about improving our educational system? If kids right out of high school can get one of those $70,000-a-year coal-mining jobs, why bother with school? If we want our kids to think education is the key, shouldn’t we stop pretending it’s not?