Growing up in Western Pennsylvania, I learned some lessons on how the economy works
It’s a black thing and that black thing is coal. Southwest Pennsylvania has produced coal for energy and steel as long as most folks can remember. The area was blessed with an overabundance of this material that literally comes right out of the ground and has provided generations of people with jobs for centuries.
When you talk about helping the middle class, the economics of coal is at the heart and soul of this region. Immigrants of every type came here in the 1700-1800’s to dig holes in the ground to bring it to market. They risked their lives and their health but the results were nothing short of amazing. This nation that we helped to build (yes, we did build this) was fueled by the energy and materials we made using that energy. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but it did the job. We did the job.
But the current administration and their EPA cronies have made coal Public Enemy Number One. They are convinced that coal is an evil and insidious enemy that must be stopped. Obama even said that in his lead up to the election. He was going to make it so expensive to use coal, it would cease to be an effective energy source. I am willing to bet that since this state went Obama in the last election, the people here were either not paying attention or did not think he was serious.
The once vital economy of this country and especially this region has been the prime victim of his liberal and uninformed ideas. It has led to some interesting changes in the Mon Valley.
But who is really affected by the closing and marginalizing of the mines? After all, its kind of ironic that the labor union led by Trumka would be the biggest loser in this attack on an American icon. Are there other victims?
Yes there are and the list is a lot bigger than you would suspect.
A picture says a thousand words.
The picture above is looking down on the Monongahela River near a small town called California. This was coal country. It all starts with those chunks of coal being dug from the ground by people and machines. Its dirty, it burns and gives off unwanted bi-products, it needs careful handling in large quantities and it vexes environmentalists who are willing to sacrifice an entire region at any cost. What it also represents is something called a Value Stream: Money for countless generations of Western Pennsylvanians and many more beyond the valleys.
First Value Stream: The Mines.
The miners were paid decent wages with benefits and health care plans secured by their unions. That money went to buy houses, cars, food, vacations, luxury items, educations for their children, clothes and other consumable items. Their communities benefitted from this through taxes, Churches benefitted from tithing and gifts, and all of the retail and service people benefitted by having paying customers. Retail stores and building supply companies grew and prospered from the wealth created by these miners.
Second Value Stream: Transportation.
Between the trucks that hauled the coal, trains which made it even more efficient, and the riverboats that played their roles, people and companies earned livings and made profits for their share holders. Coal going to market and mills made the transportation system hum which in turn returned money back to the same groups as the coal mines themselves.
The companies that supported the coal and transportation systems also added to this rich texture of wealth and jobs. Someone has to fix the machines, the railroad tracks, the tug boats and barges up and down the river. Add to that the communications networks that have been updated to support more efficient delivery, technology advances, improvements in restoring the lands and you have a whole new series of value streams offering a broad range of jobs to an area that needs them.
What about the support networks? The Third Value Stream
Hospitals and universities like the one in California PA have long been the recipients of coal related grants and gifts. The growth of this industry was nurtured using that black dirty ore from beneath the hills. Even the government which has poorly managed those resources has been a mighty recipient of the revenue from all of the Value Streams mentioned. This translates to jobs, jobs, jobs, and more jobs. Why in the world can’t anyone in that house on Pennsylvania Avenue understand that they are killing Pennsylvania? Or if they do understand, why don’t they stop?
In 2008, people thought they were doing a great thing by electing the first person of color to the highest office in the land. Many must have felt good about being a part of a historic movement. Despite the fact that we are mostly a blue collar region, we have a high degree of veterans and peace activists who lived through the sixties.
They must have felt a special thrill pulling that “D” lever that propelled this smooth talking man to the Presidency.
The thrill is gone.
I have been driving around the are for a few weeks and yard signs are popping up all over the valley.
I have to be honest with you and tell you that I was stunned when I saw the first one. After a few hundred, I stopped counting. Apparently, some people who live here may not be as enamored of the President as they once were. The houses that have these signs in the yard do not appear to belong to the top 1% we keep hearing about. Not that you should judge a book by its cover, but frankly, a house is a pretty good indicator of a person’s wealth.
I keep hearing that Biden and Obama are concerned for the middle class.
Maybe they are; I don’t know their hearts. What I do know is that once you stop producing the number one thing that has fed generations of Pennsylvanians, you put a serious hit on their lives.
Drive through some of the communities that have already died and it breaks your heart. What is left when you destroy the chief product in so many Value Streams and all you have left is desolation and despair. The tugboats stop running, the trains will be reduced to a skeleton, the mines will close forever, and everything they touch will be effected.
Up and down the Mon Valley, people are literally dying every day from that desperation.
Drugs, crime, murder, theft, corruption have all become the new Value Stream in this War on Coal. Frankly, when I compare the valley to Chicago, I see a lot of similarities. When you take away people’s hope, what is there left for them to do? When you take away their livelihoods how will they be forced to survive?
This area built a nation.
It gave its sons and daughters to defend that nation. Go to any community graveyard and count the red white and blue reminders of that service.
All they asked in return was a chance to build a better future when they came home. What would they think of a government that wanted to kill their children’s and grandchildren’s future.
Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden:
Stop killing our future; stop killing the coal industry
Last note: The valley still has local fairs and festivals this time of year. I went to one this afternoon and noticed the local democratic party had a little booth set up. This particular Township has been a died in the wool blue area for as long as anyone can remember. I walked by it and saw some literature for the local congressman and a few local issues near to their hearts. It wasn’t until I started to walk away until I realized something.
There was not one single Obama-Biden sign, poster, picture or sticker anywhere in sight. Not one. Oh, I know they were probably there, probably just below the table. What a difference four years makes.