CHARLESTON, W.Va. — This week’s layoff notice to more than 850 Alpha Natural Resources employees in southern West Virginia served another staggering blow to West Virginia’s coalfield communities.
“That is a huge amount of taxpayers who are wondering how they are going to put food on the table and how they are going to make ends meet,” said Boone County Delegate Josh Nelson on the floor of the House Tuesday. “That’s a huge burden on everybody. We’re going to have to figure out how to make up for the loss of tax revenue because of that.”
In the first 25 days of 2016, 1,892 coal miners had been laid off in West Virginia. Since 2013, 10,841 miners have lost their jobs. Companies blame market conditions for coal and the increased burden of intensified regulation.
“Fifty years ago we had a president who came to Appalachia who wanted to end poverty,” said Roger Horton, president of Citizens for Coal. “Now we have a president and an administration who are hell bent on restoring our poverty base.”
Nelson’s father was among those who received the layoff notice this week. Nelson himself worked underground in recent years and blames Washington for the majority of the problems facing the industry.
“Back when I first went underground, if you could pass a drug test and you would show up for work, you had a job,” said Nelson. “You cannot convince me that four or five years later it’s just complete and total free market that drove our coal industry down into oblivion. You cannot tell me that in just four years time we can go from that kind of employment to nothing.”
Nelson called out the state’s congressional delegation on the House floor for what he considered inaction in Congress.
“They have the power of the purse,” he said. “They can give us fair regulation. They can cut the budget until they give us fair regulation, but they just haven’t done it.”
Horton and his organization are calling on a higher power. Citizens for Coal is organizing a day of prayer January 31st in all churches and for all faiths.
“We’re doing everything in our power to let the Highest Power in the world and in the universe know that we’ve done all we can, which He requires us to do,” said Horton. “We’re now asking Him for divine intervention. That’s what it’s all about.”
Horton hoped the clergy of all faiths in West Virginia would see their plight and join the cause of leading an effort to change attitudes and help put those who have lost their jobs over regulation from Washington back to work.