The Times Leader – Going Deep to Find More Respect for Miners

The Times Leader – Going Deep to Find More Respect for Miners

Martins Ferry, OH 2/28/15 – As your representative to Congress, I have the honor of visiting many great businesses across Eastern and Southeastern Ohio, both large and small; and, it’s important that I listen to job creators who continue fighting an uphill battle in this difficult economy. A few weeks ago, during a day of meetings, one of those stops included the Shean Hill Coal Mine, located just outside Salineville.

But this wasn’t a normal business tour coal miners don’t work at desks or sit in cubicles. Viewing their workplace meant going to where their shift takes place underground, in very confined spaces and constricted tunnels.

After getting an extensive safety briefing from the folks at East Fairfield Coal, State Representative Tim Ginter who joined me on the trip and I suited up in protective gear to get ready to head underground. The amount of time necessary to put on all the protective gear takes as long as the morning commute to work for some of us.

While this wasn’t my first journey down in a coal mine, I was still a little anxious going underground. After walking hunched-over for about 200 feet down into the shaft, we got into motorized buggies and laid on our backs because of the low tunnel ceilings. From there, we traveled two miles in to the miners’ work site a network of even more tunnels with ceilings only about 38 inches tall. To get around, we had to crawl on our hands on knees. Day in and day out, that is where the miners spend their entire shift their workday. The only light they have to work with is the one on their protective helmets. Most of us probably couldn’t imagine such a challenging environment to work in, but it’s simply a way of life for these Ohio miners – many who have worked in these conditions all their lives, just like their fathers and grandfathers did.

After spending some time with these miners, and observing their work up close, we headed back to the entrance another half an hour ride and then walked back up to the surface. This particular mine has enough coal reserves to operate for the next twenty years if Washington doesn’t stop them from doing so.

About 70% of Ohio’s energy comes from coal, and that reliable, prolific production doesn’t happen easily. It happens because hard-working Americans go underground each day to do the dirty work. These are the same Americans, our friends and neighbors, whose livelihoods are being directly threatened by President Obama’s war on coal.

When the work below the ground stops, everyone pays the price. There’s a saying immortalized in a song titled “Coal Keeps the Lights On,” and it’s true their work results in our lights coming on when we flip the switch, and it’s their work that keeps our homes heated during these cold winter months. Taking coal out of our domestic energy equation just isn’t feasible, and Ohio businesses and families should not have to pay significantly higher utility bills to get their electricity from other, more expensive energy sources.

Since I was first elected, protecting coal miners, their families, and the consumers in Ohio — and across the country — has been one of my top priorities. I’ve introduced multiple pieces of legislation two of which have passed the House of Representatives that would protect our coal jobs, our coal families, and our affordable electricity rates. I’ve seen the impact this Administration’s war on coal is having on mines and associated small businesses. Their war on coal is a cold, calculated political agenda being driven by environmental zealots who’ve found an ally in President Obama. And, it’s an agenda that does not seem to recognize, or care, about the serious human impacts it’s having in our coal communities.

I wish that each and every one of you could have gone down into the mine with me to see firsthand the brave and difficult work that goes on there – it makes dealing with a jammed computer printer, or a tedious conference call in a climate-controlled room seem like not quite that big of a deal. Working in a coal mine is not for the faint of heart.

The coal miners I spent time with, and the work they do, allows us to have so many of the conveniences we have and often take for granted.

If it was possible for me to gain any more respect for coal miners and the incredibly difficult and important work they do, it happened on that cold January day.