For over a hundred years, coal has helped power America's economy.' In short, without coal mining no industrial revolution would have occurred. "Coal fueled the new industrial capitalism."' Moreover, from the very beginnings of industrialization in the United States, "Appalachian coal and other fossil fuels have fired the engine of American industry,"' and it was Appalachian coking coal that helped make the steel America needed.' Coal transformed the United States into "an industrial superpower from a virtual wilderness."" This massive use of coal has come at a price to the miners." The death and injury rate from mining is matched by few other industries. From 1892 to 1992, 120,000 miners died in the United States.' Thus, in providing the United States the energy it needed to make its steel, power its electricity, and move its goods, miners have suffered. Only when tragedy strikes the coal fields does Congress act to help the coal miners. In the past such tragedy has taken the form of explosions, mine floods, fires, and roof collapses. Lurking in the future for many coal miners is another tragedy, one more subtle than others but every bit as deadly: black lung.' In addition, the families of the miners have suffered. Sarah Ogan Gunning, a miner's wife from Harlan, Kentucky, conveyed some of this suffering in the song, "I am a Girl of Constant Sorrow." Throughout the years, miners have placed their trust in those that let them down. Their union, the United Mine Workers of America (UMW), let them down due to corruption." Their government let them down by ignoring black lung disease for decades and for failing to win its War on Poverty; in part, "because it offered too little in too short of a time without enough understanding of the unique forces that had shaped Appalachia into the nation's poorest region." This paper has an Appalachian focus and examines the heavy toil that coal mining has taken on these workers and their families. It concludes that these hard-working coal miners and their families have not received the recognition that they deserve. It further concludes that for their work and sacrifices, miners and their families deserve additional compensation that we as a society need to provide.
Priscilla Norwood Harris, The Coal Miners Have Taken Care of Us: Let's Now Take Care of the Coal Miners, 6 Appalachian Nat. Resources L.J. 15 (2011-2012).