CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Ahead of President Obama’s visit to Charleston to talk about the nation’s drug problem, some in the state believed there were equally pressing issues the president has ignored. Around 100 gathered on the capitol grounds Wednesday morning to spotlight and protest the effects of Obama’s environmental policies on West Virginia.
“Seemed like in 2000 when Mr. Bush got in office things were really booming, but when Obama was elected, the environmental part of his wing has taken us downhill ever since,” said Ricky Workman of Logan.
Workman is employed at Patriot Coal’s Guyan Mine and will lose his job Friday. He wasn’t sure what to do next.
“I really don’t know. My wife and I are going to go down south next week and I’m going to look around down there,” he said. “I hate to leave my home, but I’ve got to work. I’ve got a kid starting college up at Morgantown next year.”
Leaving his house won’t be easy for a number of reasons. As jobs have dwindled in coalfield communities in recent years, so have the prospects of home sales.
“If you go from my house to Logan up Route 10 in six miles there’s 47 houses for sale,” said Joe Huff of Chapmanville. “These people are trying to get out of here and they can’t sell what they’ve got because nobody can afford to buy one anymore.”
“Nobody’s got the money,” added Workman. “There’s houses that have been for sale for four years down there and there’s absolutely nobody buying any homes.”
The mood of the small crowd was a mix of worry and anger, but tempered with desperation. Some indicated they aren’t sure what to expect next, like Brock Crites from Philippi who works in the oil and natural gas industry.
“The oil and natural gas industry in West Virginia was a major employer up until this point,” said Crites. “Just the simple fact the drilling operations are slowed by half is pretty detrimental to people’s way to make a living, pay their bills, and keeping their house from being repossessed.”
Chris Hamilton, vice-president of the West Virginia Coal Association vowed to the crowd they would win the war on coal. U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito encouraged the group to stand strong. However even she admitted frustration in Washington when trying to convey the woes of West Virginia’s economy. The region has weathered economic storms before, but it’s a new kind of storm according to Workman.
“We’ve had turns in the coal market but you always knew it would eventually come back,” Workman said. “But we have never had the government so adamant about shutting us down and doing away with our industry.”