There's no doubt about it. These are hard times in the southern WV coalfields. Unfortunately, while the rhetoric is white hot (accent on white, by the way), straight talk is hard to find, especially in an election year. Here's a glum assessment of the current state of political debate here from my friend Ken Ward at Coal Tattoo.
On the positive side, some state leaders want to actually do something about it. State Senate President Jeff Kessler is holding a press conference tomorrow announcing the creation of a coalfield revitalization initiative. Obviously, it's way too soon to even guess how this will go but I think it's a big step forward just to create a task force to talk about the issues.
Meanwhile, people are starting to talk about the idea of some kind of federal assistance for displaced miners. Here's a piece from Grist titled "Should the feds bail out coal miners?" My short answer to that is, yes, as in programs modeled on other efforts to help workers displaced by trade agreements.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, Republican WV Congressman David McKinley introduced a bill with a Democratic co-sponsor from Vermont to do something like that. The odds of it making it through congress any time soon don't look good, but it's another step in the right direction.
Another positive step that I've mentioned before is the What's Next, WV? effort, which is going to hold deliberative forums all over the state about our economic future.
None of this, however, is a big help right away to the over 5,000 miners who have lost jobs in southern WV over the last few years due mostly to shifting market forces.