"We have still adequate coal for a century plus with today's mining techniques," he said. "We continue to make the case to our president and Congress that coal is a viable energy resource, and we need to make sure that our nation takes advantage of this affordable, abundant resource."
Other speakers addressed economic alternatives for the coalfields, if the downturn persists or worsens. One, Bob Brown, cited the ambitious Reconnecting McDowell initiative. The proposed five-year plan involving private companies, nonprofit groups, government agencies and others seeks to rescue that county's ailing public schools by addressing such community ills as substandard housing, drug abuse and chronic unemployment.
McDowell was once the heart of the West Virginia coalfields, and nearly 100,000 people lived there in the 1950s when machines began replacing miners. Its population has since dwindled to 22,100. Brown said a major challenge to Reconnecting McDowell has been sufficient training and skills among its working-age adults. Finding people who can pass drugs tests has been another, Brown said.