A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Carl Shoupe: Crisis in the coalfields and what Mitch McConnell can do about it


My name is Carl Shoupe, from Lynch in Harlan County. I married a Benham woman, so now reside in this great little community that is struggling, much like my fellow miners in coal counties throughout Eastern Kentucky.

I’d like to explain a little about the dreaded coal miner’s disease of black lung, national legislation that pays the health care each month for those miners with the disease, and other legislation that can improve the lives of miners and our communities.

First, it is a known fact that men and women have been mining coal for well over a hundred years here in these mountains. We have contributed to winning two World Wars and keeping the lights on in the United States.

And it is no secret the coal industry is in a downturn with coal companies shutting down mines, filing bankruptcy and putting thousands of coal miners out of work or sick or both. In Central Appalachia, 1 in 5 veteran miners have black lung disease, and younger miners are getting sick at higher rates than ever before, too.

The support received by miners with black lung disease is provided through the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, paid for by a fee levied on each ton of coal sold. Unfortunately, this trust fund is presently threatened financially to the point that if something isn’t done by our legislators in Washington miners with this dreaded disease or their surviving dependents will no longer receive the benefits they are entitled to. The fee that funds these benefits is set to decrease by over half at the end of the year unless Congress moves to extend the fee or strengthen it as is really needed.

We coal miners, our fathers, and our grandfathers had to fight for anything and everything that we’ve ever gotten from coal companies. So we can’t quit now. Our forefathers literally fought for benefits received. But times have changed, and at this time in history, we can turn to other methods. One method is through contacting our representatives in Washington, D.C.  

We must start now. Already 15 cities and counties in Eastern Kentucky, including the Pike County Fiscal Court, have passed local resolutions asking Sen. Mitch McConnell to support legislation in the U.S. Congress to strengthen the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund. As usual, the National Mining Association opposes anything that will help the coal miner. We can’t let them block this legislation. These coal companies weren’t concerned when we were two miles underground, working in dust so thick that sometimes you could barely see your buddy’s lights. It’s time again to fight for the benefits we have earned and deserve.

Those local resolutions also ask that Congress pass the RECLAIM Act. Just sitting in a fund in Washington, D.C. is hundreds of millions of dollars for the purpose of fixing our mountains and communities that have been torn apart by mining. The RECLAIM Act would make sure this money is passed on to coal communities that need it. This money could employ thousands of miners who have been laid off by the coal industry to work on infrastructure, cleaning up waterways and land, and promoting economic development.

And the resolutions have one more request: that Congress protect UMWA pensions so UMWA miners can continue supporting themselves and their families.

Sen. McConnell is dragging his feet on these three pieces of legislation! Congress won’t do anything unless Mitch McConnell, Hal Rogers, and our Kentucky members of Congress hear from us. These men say they support our communities, so why don’t they show it by passing this legislation?

Fellow coal miners, spouses, businesses, and friends: we need you to call Washington (use the capitol switchboard: 202-224-3121) and ask these legislators to support and pass these bills that are extremely necessary for us to live good lives and preserve our homeland of Eastern Kentucky.

We need to strengthen the Black Lung Trust, help us coal miners maintain a decent income, and make sure we have a secure retirement. This is not too much for us to ask, considering all we have done for this great nation.

Carl Shoupe is a disabled and retired coal miner and member of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth.


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