My good friend Senator Jennings Randolph, Governor and Mrs. Jay Rockefeller, Congressman Slack, Mayor and Mrs. Hutchinson, Ed Wiles, Governor Bob Scott, and President Arnold Miller, other friends of mine who are interested in the present circumstances and the future of West Virginia:
I started my day in Du Page County, a suburb of Chicago, and I flew down to Springfield to have several meetings, one of which was to address the legislature of the State of Illinois. I talked to them about the proper relationship between government and people and where the strengths lie and the need for trust and an appreciation of the challenges of public service in a rapidly changing, modern technological world.
I'm deeply concerned about your State and deeply hopeful that this meeting today will lead to that bright future in the distance which Jennings Randolph has so eloquently described.
It's great to be here and to see just where Superblock 1 is going to be. It's my second visit. I wish I'd been here last night to hear Willie Nelson play. He's one of my favorite musicians. We've invited him to come and play at the White House in September, when we're having the stock car race drivers as our guests. They will be personal guests of mine and Rosalynn. The taxpayers won't pay for that, of course. [Laughter]
1 Proposed $41 million addition to the Charleston Civic Center.
I think it's important for someone in my position, as is greatly illustrated by these great men behind me, to stay in close touch with the thinking and the hopes and dreams and fears and concerns of American people who have to work for a living and who share with us the prospect for the future of our country.
I'm glad that the Economic Development Administration was able to announce a $5 million grant this week for this convention center complex, which I understand will include a 12,500 seat multipurpose arena, a parking area, and a new lobby connected to this building. I wonder if anybody in the room can guess who started the Economic Development Administration? That's right, Jennings Randolph.
We rode in on an interstate highway. I wonder if anybody can guess who had the original idea for the Interstate Highway System? Jennings Randolph.
And this is the kind of leadership I think that will be pushed forward today. Superblock is a fine example of a proper working partnership between the Federal, State, and local levels of government and the private sector in our great free enterprise system. And I think it's a good example of what can be done to revitalize the urban areas of our Nation. Senator Randolph, Congressman John Slack have worked hard to make this joint development possible. And they, along with local officials and State officials, are providing stimulus for Charleston's economy.
When I spoke to the Nation a year and 1 month ago, I called energy the most serious, continuing challenge that will face our Nation in our lifetimes. I will leave here and go back to Washington, and without delay when I get there, I'll be meeting tonight with the President of France, Gisard d'Estaing. I'll be getting a report from my National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who's just returned from several days consultation with the leaders of the People's Republic of China. Tomorrow morning, if our present plans go through, I'll be meeting with the Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union, Andre Gromyko, to talk about some means by which our two great nations, who are in competition, can live in peace and so that we might, through a SALT agreement, eliminate the threat of nuclear destruction that faces us all if we are not successful.
So, there is no incompatibility between speaking in Springfield about government leadership, meeting here with you about our energy problem, discussing with one of our major allies the strength of NATO, and trying to discuss the future peace in the entire world. These kinds of subjects all have equal importance to those of us charged with shaping the future of the United States.
Energy is inexorably linked to our own prosperity at home and also to our security as a nation in the entire world, both of which are imperiled by our great and growing thirst for foreign oil.
Last year, out of the pockets .of American working people, there was taken $45 billion which was spent to purchase oil from foreign countries. We now import about half of all the oil we use. Last April, to dramatize the seriousness of this challenge, I compared it to war, and in this war, the most formidable defense weapon in our arsenal is coal.
West Virginia alone could supply all the energy needs of our entire country for more than a generation. And Appalachian coal fired the furnaces that made this Nation a great industrial power. It fueled the engines that first connected from sea to sea the people who live in the great land area of the United States.
It provides still much of our industrial and electrical power, as you well know. And ultimately, we will learn to harness the energy of the Sun and the oceans with fusion power to meet our energy needs. But for now, we have no choice but to continue to rely heavily on fossil fuels, and coal is our most abundant fossil fuel. Appalachian coal will be crucial for the remainder of this century and beyond.
In 1975, nearly 400 million tons of coal were produced in the Appalachian hills and mountains—nearly two-thirds of the Nation's total production. And of that amount, northern Appalachia, including West Virginia, produced almost 180 million tons. That production must increase as more and more of our energy-using equipment is modified from petroleum consumption to the use of coal.
West Virginia coal is high quality. Your metallurgical coal is the finest in the world. I know you are experiencing cutbacks at the present moment because of slow steel imports and markets. And I want you to know that Bob Strauss is trying to build up American production of steel. He's our Special Trade Representative, an Ambassador, and he's working on this problem right now.
As we convert to coal, we must assure that the supply is sure and steady, because those who use it must be able to depend upon it. We must solve the underlying problems that have troubled the coal industry for generations.
To that end, I'm announcing today in this meeting the creation of the President's Commission on the Coal Industry.
Your own Governor, Jay Rockefeller, has agreed to be the Chairman of this five-man Commission. He's a man who has intense interest in coal production, and he has the confidence both of the miners and the operators, and I believe that he will do a great job with the other members representing the public, who will be former Secretary of Labor Willard Wirtz, whose experience in labor-management problems goes back to his membership on the War Labor Board during World War II, and Dewey Presley, a distinguished business leader from Texas. I also will appoint a member to represent labor, who has not yet been chosen, and one to represent the coal operators-five people.
In addition to these five members who will vote, nonvoting members will include the Secretary of Labor and Secretary of Energy, and three each from the House and the Senate.
The Commission will produce for the first time a comprehensive review of the coal industry in the United States. Its work will focus on five general areas:
First, the general economic health of the coal industry, including productivity and capital investment now and in the future.
Second, labor-management relations in the coal fields, including collective bargaining, grievance procedures, and such other aspects as the Commission deems appropriate. Most often, when labor and management sit down together, it's in a time of tension or dispute as the details of future contracts are negotiated. But we want this Commission to be able to provide a forum of exchange of ideas, hopefully in a friendly way, but certainly a frank way on how the industry can be strengthened and how the well-being of miners and producers both can be improved and let our Nation benefit in the process.
The third major element of this analysis will be the health, safety, and living conditions in the coal fields and the coal producing areas of our country.
And fourth, the development and application of new technologies using coal.
And fifth, the impact on the coal industry of Federal regulations.
That's a major assignment, as you can see. The Executive order setting up the Commission, which I signed between here and Springfield, Illinois, calls for a final report to be made to me and the public not later than 1 year after the first meeting.
The order also authorizes the Commission to sponsor a White House Conference on the future of the coal industry, bringing in representatives—before the final report is made—of all viewpoints to help find solutions to existing and potential problems.
The five members, of course, who vote will have available to them advice and counsel from many people throughout the country. But before we have a final report to go to the Nation, to the Congress and to me and future Presidents, I want to make sure at the White House that we have a large group of people come together to say, this is what we can do to strengthen the coal industry in the years ahead.
I come from flat country, as you might imagine from the name of my hometown, which is Plains. Our people in south Georgia have a lot in common with the people of West Virginia. But the land is about as different as it could possibly be. I've heard it said that if you ironed out West Virginia, it would be the biggest State in the Nation. I'm not sure about that, but I do know that around Plains our livelihood has depended upon the top 4 or 5 inches of land. The topsoil either made us or broke us.
Here in West Virginia it's long been known that what was under your land was the key to your prosperity and sometimes the cause of your problems. We abused the land in the Deep South for a long time, overworking it, not putting back into it what we took out; we let it wash away and blow away.
For a long time the hills of West Virginia were abused also. Your creeks and your rivers were polluted, your land was scarred and left raw, and too many of those who dug the wealth from under the ground were left poor and sick after their labors were completed.
In recent years we've learned how to stop this devastation, learned how to restore the hills as we have extracted their wealth, learned how to make life safer and more prosperous for those who bring it out of the earth.
The land and the people of Appalachia have sacrificed much to make your great past contributions to to our national development. [See APP Note.] And I'm determined that in the future this land and its people will share in the benefits of meeting our Nation's needs.
When I announced the national energy plan, I promised that increasing production of West Virginia coal would not come at the expense of the environment, the health, or the safety of the people of West Virginia.
With the help of Jennings Randolph and Senator Gary Hart from Colorado, we are developing proposals for a 5-year program of impact assistance to help offset some of the social and economic costs of increasing coal production.
Nationwide this program would provide $675 million in grants and will put up to $75 million to guarantee $1 1/2 billion in loans.
Governor Rockefeller, Senator Randolph, Senator Byrd, Congressman Staggers, and others have been of immeasurable assistance in developing this program. West Virginia has indeed been fortunate to have leaders like these-John Slack and others—represent your interest.
In mountainous country like yours there are extra costs and extra difficulties in building houses, in building roads, waterlines, sewers. These problems are not new, but they make coping with a rapid influx of people—when you develop a new coal field, for instance—even harder and more expensive than growth would be in a flat country.
In meeting your special needs, local and State governments must do their share. But this time the Federal Government will help.
I'm also committed to fair and firm enforcement of a new Federal strip mine law. West Virginia is already doing an excellent job in reviewing mined areas.
We must meet our clean air requirements so that greater use of coal doesn't endanger public health or environmental quality. And we need to meet these goals without giving undue advantage to the coal from one region over the coal from another.
To aid in this process, we must work to ensure that we develop technologies not just to burn coal as it is when it comes from the ground but also to convert that coal to synthetic liquids, gases, and solids that will meet future needs for clean-burning fuels.
West Virginia has been a leader in technological development in this area and will continue to lead as we move toward private sector commercialization of synthetics derived from coal.
Just recently, I intensified our own efforts to bring these technologies on stream through a series of design studies which may lead to construction of a joint government-industry coal liquids demonstration plant here in West Virginia.
The Federal Government should not shoulder the entire burden of developing these technologies. However, working together, we can create the right climate through joint ventures, loan guarantees, proper tariff treatment to help speed private sector development in partnership with the government.
The Nation will need synthetics from coal to meet our future energy needs, and West Virginia will play an important part in supplying both the coal and the technology to make this hope and expectation a reality.
The Congress passed, as Governor Rockefeller mentioned, and I have signed into law new black lung legislation, broadening the benefits and putting them on a sound financial footing. We also transferred the Mine Health and Safety Administration from the Interior Department to the Labor Department.
Despite all the progress, though, coal mining is still one of the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs on Earth. Operating a mine has often been financially precarious, subject to fast-changing demand and an unforeseeable or unpredictable future.
All of this has left scars that are slow to heal on West Virginia's lovely countryside and also on its people. But the healing process has begun. And I'm determined that the rising demand for coal to meet our Nation's energy needs will not leave scars on your land or on the proud and independent people of West Virginia.
Thank you very much. We are partners together.