One of the sad truths about Kentucky, my adopted home state, is that there are a lot of good people here who are poorly educated. There are a lot of historic reasons for that, but two key parts of the history are that:
- Coal mine owners have been exploiting the poorest of the poor here for generations. This fact is not in dispute. Hell, they didn't even pay people in actual dollars until the 1950s. Prior to that you were paid in company "scrip" that was only good at the company store. There's a song about that.
- For the first 150 years of coal production (1820-1970), state, local, and federal governments sided with mine owners over miners roughly 100% of the time when it came to labor disputes, working conditions etc. (today it's down to about 85%). Take a 1932 Kentucky law that forbid the conversion of scrip into actual cash as an example; I wonder whose idea that was?
Scrip is just one obvious and particularly egregious example. Dangerous working conditions, shooting workers who tried to form unions, dumping toxic waste into water supplies... mine operators are a special kind of shitty, they have been for generations, and they're not changing any time soon.
For Eastern and Western parts of the state, coal has been the biggest (and often the only) industry that dominated local economies for 200 years. In these far reaches of our state, their whole world has revolved around coal for literally as long as anyone can remember. You maybe graduated high school, but you definitely didn't go to college, because all you needed was a job at the mine and you could raise a family, just like your dad and grandfather did. Critically, you can't talk to the electorate in these regions about the global energy market or the economics of coal extraction because they are, in the truest sense of the word, ignorant. If your only motive is profit and you have zero sense of ethics, can you imagine a better scenario than an ignorant labor force who's entirely dependent on one industry? Me either. No wonder the mine owners ("Friends of Coal") desperately want to maintain the status quo.
Kentucky's coal industry is in decline due to a wacky thing called economics. It's been in decline for 35 years. We lost our spot as the nation's top coal producer 1 year after Mitch McConnell was elected. If you're ignorant and don't trust Obama because he's a black Muslim, the EPA is absolutely to blame for this, what with their pesky regulations about keeping mercury out of the water supply and sulfur dioxide out of the air. That shit ain't bad for you, if you don't understand anything about biology or chemistry and your kid doesn't have asthma yet.