Around the Nation
5:13 pm
Mon January 21, 2013

In Kentucky's Coal Country, A Resentment For Obama

Originally published on Mon January 21, 2013 8:22 pm

If the voters in Louisa, Ky., had their wish, Mitt Romney would have taken the oath of office Monday. Louisa is in eastern Kentucky, and "coal" was the one-word issue in the election. President Obama is seen as an enemy of coal mining and he got only 27 percent of the vote in the county.

And now comes word that Louisa is going to lose its biggest industry — a power generating plant that's been burning coal since 1962.

Stand outside the courthouse in Louisa, a small town of 2,000 people, and you'll see that it's easy to meet a coal miner. Mitchell Maynard is a third-generation miner. He's not happy with the president.

"Anything to do with coal, Obama's against it, so that hurt us real bad," Maynard says. "I mean, everybody's losing their job. I just got back to work just two weeks ago from being laid off. Everybody you talk to's against coal anymore."

Four miles north of Louisa, on some days 200 coal trucks unload at the Big Sandy Power Plant.

This power plant has been online for 50 years, sending electricity through the grid even to New York City. Now the emission technology is out of date. The Environmental Protection Agency, pushed by the White House, wants cleaner-burning plants, and the company says this one will shut down in 2015. The company, American Electric Power, does say that one of the furnaces might be converted to natural gas.

The Louisa Rotary Club meets at the First Baptist Church and has Kentucky Fried Chicken. There are lots of Big Sandy Power people here, including retired engineer Bill England.

"We moved here in 1962 when they opened up Unit 1," England says. "We raised a family, they're both [University of Kentucky] college graduates; they both have jobs. Louisa's still a small town. It's a friendly town and I love it here."

Elaine DeSario has a long Louisa family history. Her great-grandfather ran a depot "when the trains started coming in with all the coal on them," she says. DeSario, an optometrist, moved back to town after earning three degrees.

"It's scary now," she says. "I've just hired three new people at my business. A large percentage of my patients comes from the power plant. I provide their safety glasses, their regular glasses. I know that I'm going to lose a lot of them. My appointment book is not nearly as backed up as it used to be."

In downtown Louisa, as you watch the big trucks rumble past all day, you wouldn't think the industry is slowing down.

If the Big Sandy Power Plant indeed closes two years from now, more than 100 jobs will go away and so will a lot of tax money — $400,000 a year for the county schools, $60,000 a year for the new library building.

Louisa resident Cody Endicott is 16 and his family's job is coal.

"My dad's a highwall miner. My uncle works on the strip mine. My pa-paw runs a 475 Komatsu dozer. The rest of them work in coal too but I'm not sure what their jobs are."

The teen will finish growing up as Louisa starts another new chapter. He says he won't work in coal. He plans to go to college and train to be a nurse.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

If it had been up to the voters of Louisa, Kentucky, Barack Obama wouldn't have a second term. Louisa is in Eastern Kentucky where the top concern going into November's election could be summed up in one word: Coal. President Obama is seen as an enemy of coal mining and he only got 27 percent of the vote in the county. And now comes word that Louisa is going to lose its biggest industry, a power-generating plant that's been burning coal since 1962.

NPR's Noah Adams visited the town as it faces an uncertain future.

NOAH ADAMS, BYLINE: Stand outside the courthouse in Louisa - it's a small town, 2,000 people - and you'll see it's easy to meet a coal miner. Mitchell Maynard is a third-generation miner, not happy with the president.

MITCHELL MAYNARD: Anything to do with coal, Obama is against it. So that hurt us real bad. I mean, everybody is losing their job. I just got back to work just two weeks ago from being laid off. Everybody you talk to is against coal anymore.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAFFIC AND MACHINERY)

ADAMS: Four miles north of Louisa, on some days, 200 coal trucks will arrive to unload at the big Sandy Electric Power Plant.

DAVID MILL: You see that red cab on that truck down there?

ADAMS: Yeah.

MILL: He's getting ready to raise his bed and he's gonna dump his coal that he's brought in here from a local mine.

ADAMS: Our view is from the roof of the plant. This is David Mill, the operating supervisor. This power plant has been online for 50 years, sending electricity through the grid even to New York City. Now the emission technology is out of date. The EPA, pushed by the White House, wants cleaner-burning plants. And the company says they'll shut this one down in 2015. American Electric Power does say that one of the furnaces might be converted to natural gas.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) God bless America, land that I love. Stand beside her and guide her...

ADAMS: The Louisa Rotary Club meets at the First Baptist Church and has Kentucky Fried Chicken. Lots of Big Sandy Power people here, including retired engineer Bill England.

BILL ENGLAND: We moved here in 1962 when they opened up Unit 1. We raised a family, they're both UK college graduates; they both have jobs. Louisa's still a small town. It's a friendly town and I love it here.

DOCTOR ELAINE DESARIO: My great-grandfather ran a depot when the trains started coming in with all the coal on them.

ADAMS: Elaine DeSario, rotarian, has a long Louisa family history. She's moved back to town after earning three degrees. Dr. DeSario is an optometrist.

DESARIO: It's scary now. I've just hired three new people at my business. A large percentage of my patients come from the power plant. I provide their safety glasses, their regular glasses. I know that I'm going to lose a lot of them. My appointment book is not nearly as backed up as it used to be.

ADAMS: In downtown Louisa, watching the big trucks rumble past all day, you wouldn't think the industry is slowing down.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRUCKS)

ADAMS: Here's a truck coming through town right on the main street, going over the railroad crossing here. These drivers, they look so determined. They're sure not stopping for lunch.

If the Big Sandy Power Plant indeed closes two years from now, more than 100 jobs go away and the tax money, $400,000 a year for the county schools and $60,000 a year for the new library. Actually, it's a new building. The library dates to the 1930s when they used packhorses. Evie Burchett showed me that scene in a library mural.

AMY BURCHETT: They had, like, a small collection of books that they would pack up in their saddlebags and ride out to the rural people and deliver books to be read.

ADAMS: A basketball, a driveway, teenagers. Cody Endicott is 16. The family job is coal.

CODY ENDICOTT: My dad's a highwall miner. My uncle works on the strip mine. My pa-paw runs a 475 Komatsu dozer. Then the rest of them work in coal too, but I'm not sure what their jobs are.

ADAMS: Cody Endicott will finish growing up as Louisa, Kentucky starts another new chapter. He says he won't work in coal. It will be health care. He plans to go to college and train to be a nurse. Noah Adams, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.