Overheard on CNN.com: Coal mining families aren't only ones facing shifts in industry
Amanda Sedgmer, with her kids in Hopedale, Ohio, worries about the survival of the coal industry and her family's way of life.
July 18th, 2012
04:16 PM ET

Overheard on CNN.com: Coal mining families aren't only ones facing shifts in industry

Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on CNN.com series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.

Two teams of producers are traversing the country as part of CNN Radio and CNN iReport's Embed America project. They're talking to voters about how the 2012 presidential election affects them, and focusing on issues identified during phase 1 of the iReport debate.

CNN visited Hopedale, Ohio, to meet iReporter Amanda Sedgmer. She's the mother of five children and the wife and daughter of a coal miner. Sedgmer told CNN she feared that if President Obama was re-elected, her family's way of life would be threatened. At the same time, competition from natural gas and a new rule from the Environmental Protection Agency are contributing to the demise of some coal plants. The resulting story garnered thousands of comments. One topic the readers discussed was how other fields have changed due to circumstances. Some offered messages of hope for Hopedale.

The war over coal is personal

The decline of auto manufacturing jobs in the Midwest left this reader out in the cold, and she offered advice to Sedgmer.

Jakes_momma: "Ms. Sedgmer, please don't blame the POTUS for the decline in coal production. The energy industry is changing. Coal was once king, now it's natural gas. That's not the government, that's industry moving on. If you and your husband are smart, you'll make a change quickly and leave the area, as much as it saddens me to tell you that. I've had to leave my childhood home of central Indiana when the auto industry shut plant after plant after plant in the city we lived in during the '80s. There are no longer good paying production jobs of any quantity in that area. We didn't wait until the last plant closed to leave, we sold our home and moved on. We would have loved to have had a GM job like our dads but it was not in our control. You may be voting for Romney but you would be wise to keep the Obama 2012 slogan in mind - 'Forward.' What is really in the future of the coal industry regardless of who is president is more closures. I think they have fracking in Ohio; that's the future (at least short-term). Good luck to you, your family and your area! It's hard and very sad to watch an industry change, even if it's better for all."

Some said readers should try to be understanding of the family.

Andrea Dawn Bignall: "If you were in their situation, you would probably do the same. They have kids to think about, and jobs are harder to come by nowadays. Yeah, its bad for the environment, but so is driving you car back and forth to work everyday. Put yourself in someone else's shoes."

One commenter asked if the family is lucky, in a strange way.

whitefences: "Yes. Families like this one have a head start in planning for change. They should be doing so. To help themselves through the inevitable."

Progress happens, said this reader, who added that they feel skeptical of "clean coal" technologies.

boogbop: "I can understand that this lady is scared of the only way of life she has known disappearing but it is the way of progress. It happened to whalers in New England and blacksmiths all over the world. If she thought about it she is really wishing for her sons to enter one of the most dangerous profession in the world and for her daughters to marry those who practice these professions. Clean coal in an invention of the industry and relying on coal for electrical production might be cheap on the moment but is incredibly expensive in the long run when you start factoring in the health costs associated with the extraction and use of coal and the environmental coasts. If the coal mining industry disappears people will survive and prosper just like the whalers did."

At least one person was critical of liberals' record on energy.

FareTaxVoter: "Liberals have failed to give us alternative energy for 50 years. I don't see them coming through any time soon."

Another suggested alt-energy projects be used to put people to work.

Adam Collins: "Couldn't we build alternative fuel plants in these coal mining communities? Build a series of windmills, and solar panels (maybe even nuclear power?) and hire the people who would lose their jobs to the declining coal business."

This reader said they are concerned about the possibility of pollution as a consequence of coal mining.

kat17954: "I have lived in anthracite coal country Pennsylvania my entire life. The few jobs that coal mining has left (most work done by heavy machinery) are nothing compared to the environmental devastation felt by everyone in these communities. ... Don't get me wrong, coal has its place in nostalgia for me, but it is TIME to move on to cleaner more efficient sources of power across the grid."

Several readers said they sympathize with Sedgmer, but believe the energy industry must advance.

BlueVibe: "Unfortunately, you can't support the coal industry without also supporting massive, and irremediable, environmental destruction. Once it's gone, it's gone. This is a way of life that needs to evolve into something else. I'm not a tree-hugger, but coal is just not sustainable over the long run. These people need to realize that they're smart enough to learn new ways of life and not insist on continuing this because it's basically a cultural habit. It's one we can't afford."

Zorf: "Clean coal technology is a marketing scam dreamt up by the coal industry. It doesn't exist."

A few asked about other industries that have declined in the past as technology progressed.

JeremyClarksonEsquire: "We cant hold the world back (or in this case damage it) because people want to keep their outdated jobs. Should we save the steamboat industry too? The typewriter industry? How is coal mining any different than all the other jobs that were replaced with better things? If these people are too stubborn to adapt and find a new job then its not our problem, barely anyone gets to keep the same job their whole life, things change, coal is dead, learn something new like everyone else."

Boater39: "When the telephone company became automated and no longer required manual switchboard operators, a lot of people lost their jobs. That's what progress is all about. Should we go back to the stone ages of technology so those people should have kept their jobs? Or, should have those switchboard operators learned new trades?"

Vivek Saxena: "I totally feel this lady's struggle. However, that's life. As an example, the Google Penguin/Panda algorithm update destroyed a lot of people's online careers. So should Google reverse the update because of this? Absolutely not! Change is necessary to root out mediocrity. Likewise, coal must - and will in due time - GO. It's an antiquated, environmentally unfriendly method of energy procurement. Some will suffer, but again, that's life!"

And then, this reader noted her need to "go where the money is."

cyberidian: "I so agree with all these comments. I would have liked to be a teacher, like my mother before me, but the need to pay off my college loans turned me into a programmer. I would still rather teach kids than write code, but too bad for me. Economic reality shapes our lives and we must accept it, so I am a programmer and volunteer with the Girl Scouts. My point is sometimes you have to go where the money is even if you would have preferred to continue the family tradition - or accept having less money. Also I was a Dramatic Literature major and would have also liked a career in the arts, but there is no money there either. Did I cry and blame the president because the arts are underfunded and Dramatic Literature degree won't get you a job? No, I hit the books, learned to program and got a job with those skills."

What's your take on coal mining and alternative energy? Have you ever had to change your career direction because of changes in the business climate or technology? Share your opinion in the comments area below and in the latest stories on CNN.com. Or sound off on video via CNN iReport.

Compiled by the CNN.com moderation staff. Some comments edited for length or clarity.

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Filed under: 2012 Election • Energy • Environment • Overheard on CNN.com • Politics
soundoff (46 Responses)
  1. fuzzy math?

    Truth is that coal will be with us for some time. Sure America will continue to diversify its energy production, but we have nothing that can replace coal for the near future. Ultimately, use of coal for energy, as well as other hydrocarbons, will be replaced by clean energy like fusion, highly efficient solar, wind etc.. Yet even then, we will still mine and still and frack because hydrocarbons aren't exclusively used for energy. This woman has nothing to worry about. Maybe her grandchildren. BTW, these changes will occur regardless who is elected, or what party controls what.

    July 18, 2012 at 9:58 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Adam

      Well, yes she does have something to worry about. I concur that the coal will exist in the earth and pursuit of a new energy source will endure, but the Environmental Protection Agency advancing 0bama's green agenda has shut coal down now, so now her revenue stream is shut, the kids are hungry, and they have to move to make a livelihood elsewhere, and good luck with that in the new socialist economy. You can't dismiss that. Western Pennsylvania, eastern Kentucky, all West Virginia: Coal mining is their economy, and in three years since 0bama's election it has been shut down.

      If this lady's vote helped 0bama gain office, no sympathy. If she didn't vote for him, my deepest regrets. Join the long line of victims.

      July 19, 2012 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
    • Piers Morgan, Supervillain

      Adam, do you really think that putting another republican in the WH is the answer? The failed policies of the GOP got us in this mess in the first place. When Romney was Governor of Massachusetts real wages went down in his state while they went up all around the country. He cut all kinds of programs that helped train people for jobs and increased unemployment. In executing the GOP's strategy of simply manufacturing hatred for the man in the WH at all costs, they haven't offered any kind of actual solution. In fact, one of their biggest complaints was once their solution – the healthcare mandate that was concocted by a conservative think tank and USED by Romney in Mass.

      July 19, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio) "Right Wing Insanity"

    little mister, feel free to huff some more spray paint.

    July 18, 2012 at 11:45 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Lee

    The reality is the country (like the rest of the world) needs energy. Today, coal is important in meeting that need. Fossil fuels will continue to be center-piece of our energy mix for the next few decades....IF you want to maintain your current way of life. The US needs to move towards alternative energy generation, but we can not simply "jump off of the cliff" just yet. Wind, solar, hydro can only supply a fraction of our current energy needs. Natural gas, like coal is a finite resource, someday it will be gone. Before that happens, the next generation(s) will need to figure out how to significantly reduce energy consumption to ensure the lights do not go out permanently.

    July 19, 2012 at 5:51 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dwayne

      You must have voted for Bush you big carbon lover. Have you ever heard of "global warming". Bush destroyed the economy, and at least 0bama knows that the future is in solar. The repoob lickins oppose his job bill and stimulus initiatives. Stop carbon energy, invest in renewable, and make the rich pay their fair share to balance the budget.

      What are your questions?

      July 19, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Pete

    Coal is also an energy producer for some of your major refineries that use coal instead of borrowing power from the surrounding grids.They also sell off some of their excess power to surrounding power companies as well ,so its beneficial to all in the area..There's also a new system that uses a three phase system of reburns of coal so they optimize all the coal for greater efficiency,its cheaper that way..There's new technology coming out daily on all energy alternatives like T.Boone Pickens and his wind turbines,but he was shot down by the government and corporations because of his purchase and use of Chinese made products ,something you republican hypocrites actually try to distort on most of these sites.Pres.Obama is truely for domesticly made products and power generation is also one of his key proposals to help get us out of foriegn energy dependence but it takes time and people today expect results overnight.Did Bush with his catastrophic agenda ruin us overnight,I don't think so because you republicans voted not once ,but twice for that idiot didn't ya!!

    July 19, 2012 at 9:21 am | Report abuse | Reply
    • Obama Mama

      Voting republican is voting for more outsourced jobs. Voting for republicans is voting for the wealthy to not pay for Wallstreet, breaking down mainstreet, and making jobs in the US that pay minimum wage without any benefits, and insurance so high regular people cannot afford it. Whish means it is on the backs of all middle class.

      July 19, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Obama Mama

    Maybe sending her children to school to learn a new trade or vocation. Why would you want your child to breath in mine dust? And as far as the child saying he wants to work in a mine, doesn't every child want to do what their parent do, just because that is all they know. Maybe he wants to do a desk job or be a doctor. The child live in a community of 900, driven by coal, what is little Ben suppose to say, I want to work on wind turbines?

    July 19, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Report abuse | Reply
    • Pete

      @Obama mama,in the three phase coal burn system coal dust is reclaimed and burned to assist in a more efficent clean burn technology.It doesn't escape and if some does it goes thru a series of scrubbers that ultimitly burns 100% of all coal residues,that's what makes it so efficent and clean burning..Some plants called peaker plants burn natural gas as in Fairless Hills,Pennsylvania but they found while building the plant natural gas prices skyrocketed making it less attractive to use,ya can't pass on that cost over to consumers because your R&D department could forecast that nasty fact,so it sits,not being used,nice ha!!

      July 19, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Andrea Sempirek-kleeh

      My husband went to college for teaching and has an electrical degree. He was a union electrician. With all of his education, one can not control the economy. He was without work for a year and was forced to work in the coal mine. This is a great thought but unfortunately the reality in the Ohio Valley many college prepared men must work in the coal mines to support their families. No one wants to work in a mine but it pays the bills and powers our nation.

      July 19, 2012 at 11:00 pm | Report abuse |
  6. cartmilln

    I come from a coal loving area and there is a mentality here that you almost have to see to understand. Coal miners and their families are proud of what they do. They understand that until recently they produced the main source of energy for the country. There is an honor in knowing that they keep the lights on. It is a hard thing to move on from a job like that to a service job or to transition the next generation to something new. Not to mention, moving on costs money, which isn't always easy to come by when embarking on an entirely new career. I would like to point out that technology has trimmed more coal jobs than the EPA can ever hope to.

    July 20, 2012 at 9:45 pm | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Eric

    I watched my grandfather die from black lung as a child. Myfather was killed along with 36 others in a mine explosion.
    His twin brother was buried alive for almost an hour and was never the same. Stories like these are common in the coal fields. Since I was old enough to remember,I was told that I was never going to be a miner and was going to college.

    I did,and have never regretted it. Coal might be a dying industry but it is a killer industry also, led mainly by men who value production first and safety last. Always have,always will.

    July 23, 2012 at 6:40 pm | Report abuse | Reply
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