The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce is playing dirty with health care reform. It’s pressuring its homestate Democratic senators, Robert Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, to block health care legislation unless the Obama administration ends what the Chamber calls a “war on coal.”
The Obama administration and Congress have waged “a growing campaign against the mining and use of coal,” said West Virginia Chamber President Steve Roberts in a press release. He cited both the administration’s efforts to cut carbon emissions via climate legislation, as well as its tougher enforcement of environmental standards for mining practices. “This needs to end before irreparable damage sets in,” Roberts threatened. “It seems counterintuitive to ask taxpayers in this country to pour money and take on a trillion dollars in future debt to expand health care coverage and benefits while at the same time the Obama administration and Congress are working to destroy jobs, eliminate good health care benefits and hurt people’s well-being.”
Coal, however, does not “improve the health and well-being” of either miners or local residents. Coal mining, combustion, and disposal can cause serious health problems, including black lung, asthma, and mercury pollution, to name a few. And the number of coal-related jobs is on the decline in West Virginia and the rest of the country, in part because coal has laid off workers after mechanizing much of its operations. There are fewer than half as many jobs in the coal sector now as there were in the early ’80s, according to the Energy Information Administration. There are now more jobs in the wind industry than in mining.
A third of non-elderly West Virginians were uninsured at some point in 2007-2008—most of them for six months or more. Yet the state’s Chamber wants its congressional delegation to block legislation that would provide those residents with access to health care. “Votes to advance national health care reform are at razor-thin margins in both houses of Congress,” Roberts concludes. “West Virginia’s congressional delegation needs to use this time—and their clout and seniority—to get this anti-coal situation stopped.”