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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Coal miners alert - Black Lung disease symptomiatic of Trump presidency

While endowed with abundant natural resources, Appalachia has long struggled and been associated with poverty. In the early 20th century, large-scale logging and coal mining firms brought wage-paying jobs and modern amenities to Appalachia, but by the 1960s the region had failed to capitalize on any long-term benefits from these two industries.

Although Donald Trump made empty campaign promises to vulnerable unemployed (and even employed) coal mine workers, the fact is, the stigma of "black lung disease" is now a metaphore for the failed administrative agenda.  "16 tons and what will they get?".

A letter to the editor in the Dallas Chronicle

Coal is the cause of Appalachia poverty. 

Three classes of people colonized the 13 colonies: Landed gentry settled the agriculturally rich piedmonts, poor white trash, predominately Scotch-Irish immigrants, retreated to the mountains, and slaves.

The landed gentry are the genesis of oligarchs. Poverty precipitates from oligarchs exploiting “poor white trash” and slaves. That exploitation is abundantly clear in Appalachia.

In the 1870s and 80s charlatans deceived the cash strapped Mountain People from Alabama to Vermont to gain mineral and timber rights in exchange for tax payments. The tricksters convinced the mountaineers they still owned “their land” although all they had was surface rights.

Every deed contained language to the effect, “…right to enter... carry away all coal…without liability for injury or damage to the surface...right to have and use all spaces without charge…” The robber barons swindled the coal from the Clampetts!

My family owned a dairy farm in southwestern Pennsylvania. In 1949, my father raised the Washington County fair champion Holstein heifer.

A gas-well derrick fell, killing his prized cow. Because of the coal company’s deed language, my dad received no compensation. A few years later, the coal company razed our early 1800s log home and strip mined. Our story dominates the regional history, see the PBS series Appalachia.

Appalachia mining is a continual battle of simple, religiously fundamental mountain people against the oligarchs.

Tennessee Ernie Ford’s famous ballad of “16 tons” is a description of life of coal miner families, “… slack in your pants and soaked with sweat, St. Peter don’t you call me because I can’t go… I owe my soul to the company store…” A small step above slavery, it was survival of catastrophic mine explosions and black lung disease.

The presidential election is another coal black chapter in that exploitation. Ryan/McConnell/Trump have rescinded a regulation preventing dumping mine waste in streams although a 2014 spill into the Elk River made water in 9 counties undrinkable.

A new epidemic of black lung has combined with silicosis to render miners’ remaining lives to misery. Cory Robertson’s companies have declared bankruptcy (a Trump trick) leaving miner’s families without health insurance and states full of toxic superfund sites. Wyoming is the new mark. Robertson’s fortune grows as Appalachia remains with broken bodies and ruined environment. Appalachia voted heavily for Trump as the miners sang, “Praise the Lord and breathe the coal dust.” John L. Lewis rolled over in his grave. More to come…

Terry B. Armentrout

(MaineWriter note- Black Lung Disease is sadly as much a metaphor for poverty as it is a diagnosis for a terminal illness.)

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