Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

June 30, 2013

Rising electric costs: Who will suffer most from the president’s attack on coal?

— Miners’ helmets in the basement. Dinner buckets on the kitchen counter. I grew up in a family in which the men toiled underground. They did not have desk jobs or 9-to-5 days. Instead they embarked on back-breaking labor daily to pull a fossil fuel from the earth to power and build this great nation.

My father, grandfather, brother and uncles were proud of the job they did. The metallurgic coal they helped haul from the Appalachian mountains helped stop Hitler’s war machine during World War II and build the nation’s skyscrapers that tower over America’s landscapes.

They were coal miners. Strong men in a dangerous profession. The danger they faced daily was offset by the pride in serving their country.

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It’s not often the leader of the United States attacks a domestic industry. Yet President Obama did this very thing last week. In his climate action plan released Tuesday, the president’s No. 1 target was coal-fired power plants — plants that provide a relatively cheap energy source for thousands of Americans.

The president’s concern, we are told, is climate change — the prevention of some type of catastrophic event, perhaps one such as was showcased in the Hollywood blockbuster “The Day After Tomorrow.”

We here in coal country certainly don’t want to doom the earth. West Virginians and Virginians tend to be humble people, and many have labored extensively to provide the energy to power the lights, cameras and other action used in such movies that ultimately result in an attack on our very way of life.

Roughly, nearly 50 percent of America’s power is generated by coal. In West Virginia, that number is in the high 90s.

I often wonder if those who write scathing letters and emails attacking this industry have windmills in their backyards? If not, are they using the industry they so despise to light their homes, power their cellphones and spread their anti-coal views electronically?

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Those in support of the president’s climate action plan argue that this action is necessary to ensure a healthy planet. My worry is for the elderly residents of Appalachia and other parts of this nation who are already struggling with high heating and cooling costs.

I don’t want to damage the earth but, in the short term, I also don’t want elderly widows freezing in the winter and suffering heatstroke in the summer because they can not afford to pay their electric bills.

Have we reached a point in our culture where the choice is people or polar bears? I hope not. But if so, I’d like all those who choose the bears to come to southern West Virginia and live the life of a retiree making do on Social Security.

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An accident at the intersection of Route 52 and Route 123/Airport Road spurred discussion on the Daily Telegraph’s Facebook page last week. One reader compared the dangerous crossing to another deadly traffic site of decades past.

Many years ago, the intersection of Lorton Lick Road and Simmons River Road near Montcalm was the site of many vehicle collisions. Most were minor accidents, yet frequent complaints were made to the Department of Highways about the hazardous intersection. No action was taken.

Then, in the ’80s, tragedy occurred. Two Bluefield State nursing students who were Montcalm High graduates — Anna Shrader and Pam Ball — were killed in a collision at the intersection. The public was outraged. Suddenly the intersection that “couldn’t be fixed” was a DOH priority. Part of a mountain was torn down; visibility was made clearer. The rash of accidents stopped.

And so the question arises: What type of horrific event will have to occur at the intersection of Route 52 and 123 before the DOH takes a closer look at the dangers of that intersection?

Anna and Pam were beautiful, kind and caring young women. It’s a tragedy they were lost at such a young age.

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In the midst of a hectic, gloomy news week, one can still find sights that bring a smile.

Running errands in Bluefield, Va., at lunch one day last week, I pulled onto South College Avenue from the Ridgeview Plaza parking lot only to find myself braking immediately. A mother duck and her half dozen babies were attempting to cross the busy four-lane.

Suddenly a young man appeared beside the road. His attire indicated he worked at one of the plaza’s businesses. Carefully, he stopped traffic allowing mama duck and the ducklings to safely make their way across the roadway.

Looking at the faces of the other motorists, I saw no signs of irritation or frustration at the delay. Instead, all were looking at the waddling ducklings — and smiling.

Soon, the mother duck and her babies made it safely across the road and traffic, once again, began flowing normally.

It was another beautiful day in Four Seasons Country.

Samantha Perry is editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at sperry@bdtonline.com. Follow her @BDTPerry.

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