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CHARLESTON, WV - Since President Barack Obama was due to speak in Charleston, West Virginia in the afternoon, mining industry officials, political leaders and pro-coal citizens took the opportunity to have their opinions heard the morning of Oct. 21.
 
They gathered for a Coal Forum Rally at the State Capitol grounds, beside the miner statue on the west side of the grounds, just a few hours before the scheduled arrival of the president.
 
Organizers said the rally was planned "to demonstrate disapproval with federal policies affecting West Virginia’s mining industry and the state residents it supports."
“President Obama is here in Charleston to discuss the impact of substance abuse on our population and that of the nation," said Chris Hamilton, co-chairman of the West Virginia Coal Forum. "Unfortunately, his administration’s regulation of the mining industry has contributed to the loss of more than 8,000 direct mining jobs and tens of thousands of support positions in our state. Lack of employment – and the hopelessness that creates in the individual – is certainly a contributing factor to substance abuse, and we hope he recognizes that during his visit.”
 
The event, which was sponsored by the West Virginia Coal Forum, a publicly funded organization, featured comments from a variety of individuals, including Chris Hamilton, the organization’s co-chairman, U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.; state Senate president Bill Cole, R-Mercer; Speaker of the House of Delegates Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha; Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney and coal miners.
 
Several other politicians, including Delegates Rupie Phillips, D-Logan, and John B. McCuskey, R-Kanawha, and state Sen. Daniel Hall, R-Wyoming, were in attendance.
 
“Today, West Virginia leads the nation in unemployment with a rate more than two percent above the national average,” Senate President Cole said. “Even more troubling is that over the last year our unemployment rate has continued to increase as we lost over 11,000 more coal and coal related jobs. We are the only state in the country where less than half the state’s working age population has a job. 
 
“According to the West Virginia Coal Association, we have lost more than 8,000 mining jobs since the war on coal began – and let me be very clear – There is a War on Coal. Add in the ripple effect on suppliers and local businesses, it is no wonder our state’s economy is hurting. 
 
“President Obama now comes to West Virginia not to meet with the displaced coal miners or small businesses shut down as a result of his war on coal, but to offer the federal government’s help in fighting a drug epidemic that he helped to accelerate. We lead the nation in drug overdoses and there can be no mistake about the correlation between the loss of our coal jobs and the growing drug epidemic,” Cole concluded.
 
Discussing the president during his introductory remarks, Hamilton said, “His actions on our industry and our miners are so laced with callousness and an absolute hollow contempt for the men and women who mine coal.
 
“We’re going to prevail,” he added. “We’re going to win the war on coal.”
 
Capito, who was among those greeting Obama as he stepped off his plane and who would later join the president — along with U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. — for the president’s forum at the East End Family Resource Center, said she came to the rally in order to send a message to the president that the country needs policies that are not “wrecking our jobs, wrecking our economy.”
 
“We need an all-of-the-above energy policy, and we need to look at the costs of his policies,” Capito explained, while acknowledging that she respected the fact Obama was coming to West Virginia to discuss the opioid epidemic that has claimed thousands of lives.
 
Sen. Daniel Hall, R-Wyoming, said the Obama administration has completely decimated the coal industry, adding that the president has been “no friend of coal," Hall said. "And that’s a nice way to say it.”
 
“This is a rally for everyone that tries to make a living from the mining industry,” Hall said, adding that addressing the drug abuse problem in West Virginia is also a worthwhile cause.
 
“That’s an important issue, too,” he said. “I’m glad the president is showing an interest in that. But it would be nice if he would allow us to make a living ourselves and raise our own tax base with our coal miners and we’ll deal with our own drug problem. We wouldn’t need his help if he would let us mine some coal.
 
As the various speakers addressed the audience many waved signs including ones which read “Obama is not West Virginia’s president” and “Obama Your Change Destroyed Our Hope” as well as Friends of Coal signs.
 
“Drug abuse is absolutely an epidemic, said Roger Horton, president of United Citizens for Coal. “I have watched as coal miners are laid off, lost jobs and ended up getting on drugs. You can't tell me there is no linkage. To address this problem we must have hope and must have jobs.”
 
Horton was echoed by WV Coal Association President Bill Raney.
 
“Job losses and poverty is the fertile ground in which drug abuse grows,” said Raney. “Several of our counties are struggling with 13-15 percent unemployment, and that is with a labor force participation rate among the lowest in the nation, and many of our people have simply given up looking for jobs. They have lost their homes, their cars, their dreams and their hope. And it is in this fertile ground that substance abuse thrives.”
 
“Mr. President, I thank you for coming to our state to discuss the problem, but with all due respect, part of the problem is the rampant unemployment that your anti-coal policies are creating, Raney added. “These policies are creating misery on a scale unimaginable even a few years ago. When you were elected, the unemployment rate in West Virginia was around 4.5 percent. The coal industry was thriving even during one of the worst recessions this country has faced.”
 
Boone County resident Daniel Belcher said he was there to protest the president.
 
“He’s part of what’s caused our drug problem,” Belcher said of the president. “You take the jobs away from this state — well, what are you going to have? You’re going to have crime and drugs. People have nothing else to turn to.”
 
Joe Huff, of Chapmanville, said the chief executive’s energy policies have made such a detrimental impact on the state that he is partially to blame for the drug epidemic.
 
“This president has been the most devastating president in my lifetime to the state of West Virginia,” said Huff, who carried a sign that read, “Obama you’re no Martin Luther King, get your Al Sharpton behind out of West Virginia.”

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