Statement of John D. Battle, Executive Secretary of the National Coal Association [excerpts], in Hearings before the Committee on Military Affairs, House of Representatives (74th Cong., 1st Sess., 1935).
Appearing here today as spokesman of the bituminous coal industry of this Nation, I wish to make it clear that the coal industry is not opposed to the Government constructing dams designed to prevent soil erosion; is not opposed to the Government erecting dams to control flood waters; neither is it opposed to construction of dams to improve navigation on the rivers of this country. There is just one phase of this program to which we object most seriously, and that is the Federal Government spending the taxpayers' money for the erection of power plants which, as we feel, are not needed for the very simple reason that generally, throughout the country, there is an abundance of power capacity, and particularly in the Tennessee Valley region there is already an excess of capacity. We are at a loss to understand how the power generated at Government-built plants can be disposed of except to take the place of privately owned power plants now supplying that community - the great majority of which plants use coal in the creation of that power.
A great deal has been said about the social experiment. We approach this subject from the standpoint first of the employment of our people. There is a human element involved. There are about 400,000 men working in the coal mines of this country. It is their only means of livelihood. The program, as put forward by the Government, is calculated, in our opinion, to destroy the jobs of a number of these men. When the jobs are destroyed there is no sale for the coal, the investment in the property decreases or vanishes. Something like 65 percent of each dollar paid for the cost of producing coal goes to the mine worker; 20 or 25 percent of the dollar goes to the purchase of material and supplies; and there is a considerable portion of that sum that is paid indirectly to the worker employed in those industries supplying the mines.
I wish to call your attention to the fact that we cannot account for those employed by coal mines by the mere number of those directly engaged in mining operations. We have a situation analogous to a soldier in the trenches; to keep a man in the coal mines requires several people behind him; and when we consider those indirectly employed, this industry is directly responsible for several million peoples' livelihood. There are those who are not only direct dependents of the workers who are involved, but all of those engaged in the distribution of coal throughout the Nation, as well as those engaged in industries that supply the coal mining companies with the materials, who are also vitally affected.
It is our estimate that for each ton of coal displaced by some form of energy or fuel it means a loss of a day's work to some person either employed directly or indirectly in the bituminous coal-mining industry.[...]
There is no disposition on the part of this industry to the electrification of America. We rather feel that there is a need for an extension of electrical current to the rural regions. But we do not feel that it is the function of the Federal Government to use the taxpayers' money for the promotion of these projects. We feel that the American business man is far more capable of visualizing the needs for electrical power and far more capable of designing ways and means by which it may be furnished to prospective customers than is the Government itself.
Just as there is a demand for power, I think we may well rely upon private industries to meet that demand. I wish it made clear here that we hold no brief whatever for the private power companies or the utilities of this country. Our interest is in the production and sale of bituminous coal. An enormous quantity of this coal is sold to the private utilities. They are among our very good customers.
When power can be produced by hydro on an absolutely business basis, all factors being taken into consideration, more cheaply than by coal, then we are willing to admit the justice of the competition. That is not the case generally today with Government hydro projects. [...]
I repeat that we buy a lot of power from the utilities. Some of it may be produced by hydro; I do not know about that; I do not care, just so it is on a sound business basis, and not subsidized by the Federal Government and paid for by the taxpayers throughout this Nation. We do not care to buy power on that basis.
As we view these proposals, they cannot help the coal industry in which these millions are employed. They cannot help the railroads. They cannot help unemployment, but, we feel, they will add to the breadlines of this country.
We are as much concerned with the great social developments as any other citizen, but we do not believe that we have started in on a wise course in the development of these power programs. Men, women, and children have millions of dollars invested in the coal-mining industry, and they are entitled to your consideration just as the 400,000 men who have jobs and the more than 2,000,000 dependents who get their living from this industry.
It has been said that the coal industry was a dying industry. We deny that. We deny that we have reached the stage-coach route, because it has not been demonstrated to us that hydroelectric power, such as is proposed, can be produced as cheaply as coal.
I repeat that we have no objection to electrifying America, but we do object to it being electrified by the route of the United States Treasury, and we repeat that the Federal Government, in our opinion, has no authority to go into the power business.
The water-power development program upon which our Government is now embarked and which contemplates Federal expenditures in excess of a billion dollars in the creation of a vast network of Government-owned and operated hydroelectric power dams and transmission lines which will blanket the Nation, has been challenged by the bituminous coal industry. The protests and the opposition of our industry to this titanic Government undertaking are met with the assertion that we are selfishly seeking to impede the march of progress.
It is conceded that this projected addition of huge blocks of Government subsidized hydro-electric power in areas where existing power plants have capacity far in excess of present consumption or demand must inevitably be inimical to the coal industry. It is self-evident that as a consequence the market for coal will be severely curtailed and in some areas quite probably utterly destroyed. The advocates of the Government's power promotion schemes are politely regretful of this impending disaster to coal, but view it as not more than a minor incident in the process of electrifying America via the United States Treasury.
No one disputes electricity's beneficence nor opposes its increased use whenever and wherever it is honestly economically superior to other agencies, or supplementary to them. To charge that the critics and opponents of the present water-power promotion program are opposing the spread of the use of electricity, is rank misrepresentation. To answer the indictment which the coal industry has brought against this program by simply labeling the program progress and saying that hence any opposition to it is simply opposition to progress, is to beg the question and obscure the issue.
Mr. Chairman, our story, I hope, is quite simple. It is the humane side that we are primarily interested in. We simply cannot afford to see our people thrown out of work without voicing our protest. We do not believe that you want to do any such thing. We are just as loyal to this Government as any man here. We believe in its institutions, and we are relying a great deal on the statement of the President that when he found that something was wrong, he would change his mind. We hope to convince him that he is wrong in this. [...]
Mr. Hill. You say that it is all right to go to work and build dams in order to assist in flood-control work, and that it is all right to improve the rivers for navigation purposes, but that you must let the power that goes over those dams go to waste?
Mr. Battle. Absolutely; and I am opposed to gas and oil being subsidized by the Federal Government. If you are going to subsidize those other industries to the detriment of ours, I will be here and have something to say about it; but as long as they run their business on a private basis, we have to meet that competition or quit.
Mr. Battle. I made no such statement. I said that if the Government wants to improve rivers for navigation, let the Government improve them, and, if they are doing so, of course, some of the coal companies will use them. [...]
Mr. Battle. No; I would not say that, because I do not know it, but I know that we have no objection to that program, as long as the power is produced by private industry and it is sold on a businesslike basis.
Mr. Thomason. Mr. Wilcox whispered to me a few minutes ago that the stage-coach people did not think much of the railroads when they came in, just as the railroads now do not think much of good roads, and of trucks and buses.
Mr. Battle. Perfectly true, and we are willing to be put out of business if it can be done in a plain straightforward business like manner, but we do object to our Government putting us out of business.