By Marc Kovac
Alexander Stephen lives about 15 minutes away from American Energy Corp.’s century mine, where he has worked for a year and a half or so.
He makes the trip every work day to the site, near the border of Belmont and Monroe counties
He’s not alone. Mines in southeastern Ohio’s Appalachian coal country employ thousands of people. For those willing and able to work, it’s often the only employment available.
“This is the biggest thing in this county and the surrounding areas,” Stephen said Tuesday while waiting to hear GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. “And if you took away this coal mine, the soup kitchen line would be a mile long. ... That’s what it means to these people here today.”
Stephen was among the 1,500-plus people who were on hand for the first stop on Romney’s bus tour through Ohio.
Routes through the area were dotted with signs declaring the importance of the industry and chastising the president for his “War on Coal.”
The Obama campaign has countered such assertions, calling the president the only “candidate in this race” that “actually has a record of finding a clean future for coal.”
Spokeswoman Lis Smith said in a released statement, “President Obama has increased investments in the research and development of clean coal technology and employment in the mining industry hit a 15-year high in 2011. This stands in stark contrast to Mitt Romney, who, as governor of Massachusetts, spoke out against coal jobs and said that a coal-fired plant ‘Kills people.’”
Such comments have not swayed Romney’s supporters, like Deborah White and her husband, David, who made the trip to Ohio from their home in Pennsylvania.
They grew up in the coal fields of southern West Virginia, and David White has worked in the industry for more than three decades. They’re backing Romney.
“We’re here to support the miners here in Ohio,” she said. “... We’re here to support people who want to vote [Obama] out of office. If he gets another term, there will be no coal mines left. There will be no communities left once he gets through with them.”