Coal and Steel

In the 2016 presidential election, many workers were given big promises by someone they believed would deliver. Promises aren’t a plan and too often ignore the facts on the ground.

Illinois coal jobs have decreased by 2,000 in the last two decades. Some of this is due to the closure at least 7 coal mines, but some of this is due to technological advances.

Despite the layoffs, coal production has dropped only 11% in Illinois since 1970, with the lowest production occurring from 2000-2010. 

What is also true is that there are ZERO Union coal jobs left in Illinois. These contradictory facts indicate the party politics have been wrong on coal.

Coal actually increased during the Obama years while decreasing substantially during the Bush administration. Also, coal production has ramped up across the country despite losing coal jobs for decades.

What many may also not realize is that coal is vital for steel production. Environmentalists are rightly concerned about coal used for energy production. However, we need coal for steel production. 

We don’t want to purchase steel from China

where environmental standards are much lower than here in America. 

We must be doing more research and development into alternative ways to produce steel. Until those methods are ready for primetime, we have to get steelworkers back to work in places like Madison County.

In an era where our infrastructure is crumbling and must be rebuilt, the time is now to reinvest in steel and in our country.

This will boost local economies, create construction jobs, and usher in new industry.

If anyone has spent anytime on our nation’s railroads, you can see Canadian steel taking our freight from one shore to the other. In fact, steel is over a $14 billion/yr industry in Canada with some 120,000 direct and indirect jobs.

I believe it’s about time we bring back steel jobs to America and bring back manufacturing jobs at the same time.

We can do all the above, promote cleaner processes for Union steel production, and promote Union coal jobs all at the same time. 

The reality is that the sheer number of coal jobs that have been lost over the last few decades are not going to magically return with big promises alone. These job losses were mainly due to automation and technological advancements.

That means we need to retrain many workers into solar and wind energy Union jobs, as well as reinvigorate these local economies to create real opportunities for entrepreneurs everywhere.

Coal and steel workers are hardworking Americans that deserve good paying jobs. Too often, they are laid off, the company closes only to reopen under a different name with lower wages and fewer benefits. That’s why there are zero Union coal jobs left in Illinois. 

Coal strip mining has been given a bad name, but in counties like Saline County, reclamation is highly effective.

There’s active mining on one side of the road with bright green reclamation projects with trees across the way and farmland in the adjacent plot of land. It’s actually stunning. 

These areas need new industry. What they definitely don’t need is yet another industry to be shut down. I won’t let that happen. 

The stakes for families, workers, and these communities are simply too high for a one size fits all approach.

Reclamation projects are just the beginning. Planting trees and grass is not enough. These are opportunities for tourism, showcasing art, solar panels, wind farms, and much more. All of those involve jobs.

When drivers on I-70 pass by Casey, they often stop to see the massive art installations throughout the town. In Charleston, biking enthusiasts hop on Amtrak from Chicago to enjoy Lake Charleston trails that earned it the Governor’s Hometown Award this year.

These aren’t just talking points. This is driving revenue and interest to the area.

It makes these communities more desirable for business investment, for students looking for quality higher education, and families when they’re just looking for a weekend getaway. 

It takes investment to jumpstart these projects. Public-private partnerships are key. Bringing people into these coal communities is a plus for those industries and definitely a plus for the local economies.

We need to do much more. 

  • We reduce roadblocks to Union representation and membership to increase wages and protect benefits.
  • We invest in research and development in alternatives to steel production to bring back Union steel jobs and protect the environment.
  • We invest in people, in energy production, in tourism, and in the environment.
  • We increase federal grants for downtown art communities and for outdoor reclamation parks, bringing new life and a new face to these great towns and counties.

This is how we move the 15th District economy forward again.

This won’t happen until we have a representative that serves the People, not one beholden to the narrow interests of a few large donors. 

I will be that public servant fighting every day to remove barriers, increase opportunity, and protect our communities. We rise together and fall when divided. The politics of division should be long over and the recovery is long overdue.

We do this together. 

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