Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

November 3, 2012

Veteran coal miner voices concerns about ‘war on coal’

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BLUEFIELD — By way of example, “Big” Al Palmer, a fire boss and roof bolter operator at a Wyoming County coal mine, cut loose with a Tarzan yell like the one he uses in the mines to get the attention of his fellow coal miners.

“We are like family in the mines,” Palmer said. “I love my people. I love my work and I love my industry.”

Palmer’s father worked for Eastern Coal in McDowell County, both of his grandfathers worked in the mines in Mercer County and now his son works in the same mine where he works.

“My question is, how can something that has been so great for all these years wind up being so bad in just four years,” he said. “The coal that we have mined here has fueled and powered this country for almost 200 years. The steel that you have that’s holding this building up came from the high-grade coal that came from right here in this part of the country.

“The government has taken all of that away from us,” Palmer continued. “Now, we’re sending all that high-grade Pocahontas No. 3 coal overseas where they don’t have scrubbers on their smoke stacks like we do. We’ve wasted our time spending money to prop up failed energy products like Solyndra when we have all the energy we need right here.

“In the past, I’ve actually had people come up to me and thank me for keeping their lights on,” Palmer said. “Now, the government is using our own tax dollars to put us out of work. It bothers me because we’re the ones who industrialized the world. Why would they just turn around and try to shut us down.

“Coal miners used to be heroes, but now many of my brothers and sisters in the coal industry fear for their family’s livelihoods,” Palmer said. “We have lost most of our steel jobs to the rest of the world and now it looks like the politicians and the (Environmental Protection Agency) wants to give the mining jobs away to the rest of the world.

“I am not against new sources of energy, but we have spent billions on failed companies,” Palmer said. “We have some of the cleanest-burning power plants in the world, but if they don’t meet EPA standards, why not use those wasted tax dollars to help them buy scrubbers instead of closing them.” Palmer expressed his concerns over the environmental impact of solar panels as well as wind turbines that “kill and harm airborne animals,” he said.

“Four years ago, President Obama promised that the electric utility rates would go up for people who get their power from coal-fired power plants,” Palmer said. “He also promised that if a company tried to build a coal-fired power plant, he would bankrupt them,” Palmer said. “It’s pretty serious when people mess with your job security and your job.”

Palmer said that he can’t stand idly by and watch someone come in with a jackhammer, knock out the foundation and watch my home crumble,” he said. “Coal has powered this nation for years. Please don’t throw us away now.”

In his letter, Palmer provided a history lesson of how the coal industry developed, and included some of personal recollections about how coal was considered as being “vital to our national economy, freedom and strength.”

Palmer said that his boss had asked him not to do his Tarzan yell in the mines for a while, but he said that he asked him to continue the call because it seems to boost morale.

Palmer worked for the power company before going into the mines on April 28, 1980. “I’ve enjoyed coming to work every single day,” he said. “People portray coal miners as not being very smart, but we are professionals and we love what we do,” he said.

— Contact Bill Archer at