Chris Hamilton is co-chairman of the West Virginia Coal Forum and senior vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association.
Personally, I struggled with the thought of President (Barack) Obama visiting West Virginia this week. On one hand, we have a serious substance abuse problem in this state and we can use all the help we can get to fight it. On the other, I believe some measure of West Virginia’s drug issues are directly attributable to this president’s policies on our coal industry and the resulting joblessness of thousands of miners.
The Obama administration and its Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have treated coal as a pariah for the past seven years. With EPA regulations forcing utilities nationwide to abandon coal for other generating fuels, West Virginia mines are shutting down and more than 8,000 miners have lost work. Our people’s resilience is being severely tested. Hope is fading; despair is setting in.
In other places, such trends have been matched by a rise in drug abuse as people who see their future opportunities crushed try to ease the pain of that loss. It is a tragic choice, but we know that people often turn to drugs out of futility.
President Obama’s visit was to acknowledge that our state has a sizeable and growing drug problem and to offer Washington’s help in addressing that problem.
But how did the problem get so bad in the first place? Like other states, we’ve always had drug abuse in West Virginia. And yet we’ve never seen an explosion of drugs on the scale of the past couple of years — when, it just so happens, West Virginians have been losing their hope for the future on a similarly massive scale.
Can it be that our drug problem is tied to our economic problem? If so, then the president’s search for ways to help us should begin with trying to alleviate the economic crunch West Virginia faces. And one of the best ways to do that would be to back off of the hardcore environmental policies that are costing more West Virginians their jobs month by month.
Even if the current drug epidemic cannot be directly attributed to the coal industry’s sudden decline, the prospect of more coal industry job losses also raises the specter of dozens of nearly empty coal mining towns, where those with education or other skills have moved elsewhere seeking work — and those who remain may be tempted to turn to drugs in their loneliness and despair.
Also, remember this: the clinics, counseling and other help we can expect President Obama to offer will have to be paid for through taxes. With the coal industry crippled, neither the companies themselves nor their dwindling numbers of workers will be paying taxes at levels of the past, so there is less money to help those in need.
Ultimately, we should appreciate the fact that President Obama is aware of West Virginia’s drug problem and is ready to help. But he should look honestly at what some of the root causes might be — the loss of hope brought about by his misguided environmental programs — and look for ways to help our people regain their jobs and optimism about the future.
See the article here.
- On October 24, 2015