Dear Democratic Presidential Hopeful,
First of all, I’d like to thank you for taking time to read this. I know you’ve got a busy schedule of filling the coffers and highlighting how much you aren’t like Trump, so it means a lot that you’d take a moment to listen to someone close to a contentious policy point.
I grew up in rural Appalachia, specifically, in West Virginia. These days, I’m living in Southampton, England, but I don’t forget where I came from. West Virginian issues are my issues. And I have an absentee ballet for you, where those are actually counted.
Growing up, television ads were dominated by law offices offering payouts for mesothelioma and black lung disease. Everyone had a relative with a health condition they picked up at work (mom had carpal tunnel syndrome) and mountaintop removal mining was turning the Mountain State into the Mesa State, with serious environmental consequences. These days, it’s YouTube videos of tap water turned flammable by nearby fracking operations, and stories about chemical spills upstream of public water intake pipes.
It’s disheartening to see how nothing’s really changed when it comes to environmental and health stewardship. We’re very proud of our wild and wonderful state, but I realise it looks like we’re too stupid to take care of what we love so much. So I urge you to understand this:
We’re not stupid. We’re desperate. There is nothing else left for us.
In most West Virginia towns, and indeed throughout most rural areas in the US, there are only one or two companies offering jobs above minimum wage. So they’re the highest sought after jobs. In the town where I grew up, it was a spark plug manufacturer. Literally everyone I knew wanted a job there, had a parent that worked there, or had worked there. The only other real options were retail, and even then those were limited. Everyone cycled through working at the two grocery stores, the one or two gas stations, and the handful of restaurants as they tried to climb a ladder we were all told was there but could never find.
We don’t want to poison our water, destroy our woodlands, or spend our lives struggling to breathe. We don’t want to punish our bodies day in and day out, work in dangerous conditions, or accept that this is what awaits our children. But when it comes to trying to support a family, the immediate benefits of food on the table and electricity mean hidden, long-term costs as well. If the only job around that can cover your bills and clothe your children is in a coal mine, that’s where you’ll work.
And every four years, you come to our state, and to neighboring states, preaching the green gospel. You arrive like a missionary, ready to educate us on the ways that coal and natural gas and other fossil fuels are unsustainable, toxic, and corrupt. We know. You talk of wind turbines and solar panels like Prometheus bringing fire to man. This is the future. This will sustain us. It’s clean, it’s pure, it’s bountiful. We know.
So why do we overwhelmingly vote for the party that punishes us? The party that makes it harder and harder to survive, and tells us it’s our fault? It’s because they, too, come to see us every four years. And they want to talk about coal, too. But they have a different message. They talk about keeping coal jobs around. They talk about clean coal, and a renaissance, as if you can just put more coal in the seams. We’re not drinking the Kool-Aid necessarily, but the bottom line is this: you can keep your decent salary and benefits.
Some Democrats have tried joining the bandwagon of coal as this sacred cow, but that’s just capitulation, cowardice, or corruption. But what other options are there? Well, easy. Tell us how we fit into your plans for replacing fossil fuels. Tell us how our coal miners can migrate to jobs in renewable energy or other industries. Tell us how you plan for us to still feed our families with dignity while giving up on coal.
The problem isn’t our ignorance. You don’t have to tell us how coal and natural gas affect the environment; we’ve been boiling our water for years now. You don’t need to tell us how fossil fuels damage our health; we’ve watched our parents and grandparents decline for years, too. The problem is there are no people in your clean energy proposals.
Address these claims, and you might be surprised how easy it is to win in coal country.