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An Editorial: Blow at Coal Industry

We are all dependent upon the coal industry for a livelihood. Therefore anything that is injurious to the coal industry is of vital interest to us—whether we are in the newspaper business, a merchant, a clerk in a store, coal miner—or whatnot. It is a well known fact that for years, under the Roosevelt administration, reciprocal trade agreements with other countries have been striking at the very heart of the coal industry. We are all aware, too, that because of these trade agreements and because of regulatory measures, the demand for coal has been considerable less. In other words, to make a long story short, coal has been replaced to a large extent by cheap imported oils and natural gas. There was a time when high protective tariffs kept the cheap imported oils out of the United States—much to the benefit of the coal industry.

That is why it is of particular interest to refer to a recent Reciprocal Trade Agreement made with Venezuela which permits cheap imported oil to flow freely into the United States to replace coal as a fuel. John D. Battle, executive secretary of the National Coal Association, recently made some pertinent comment in regard to this agreement, that should be carefully diagnosed by all those engaged in and dependent upon the coal industry for a living. Said Mr. Battle: “The reciprocal trade agreement with Venezuela which the state department has announced is certain to increase the pressure upon Congress to terminate the entire trade treaty authorization. The Venezuela Agreement caps the climax of a tariff reduction policy which largely ignores the needs and concerns of American industry and American labor. This agreement cuts in half the existing excise tax on oil imports, notwithstanding the strong and unanimous opposition which had been registered with the state department by coal operators from coast to coast, both bituminous and anthracite, and by the United Mine Workers and by the spokesmen for the independent oil producers. Congress imposed a half-cent per gallon excise tax on oil imports in 1932 for the protection of our own fuels in our own markets. This tax so far failed to afford the needed protection that bills are now pending to increase the excise tax to 3 cents per gallon. The Venezuela Agreement not only reduces the excise tax to one-quarter cent per gallon, but ties the hands of Congress and prevents any increase in this tax so long as this trade agreement remains in force. The five per cent quota which the treaty drafters have inserted as a sugar coating is without practical effect and is a palpable subterfuge. The present taxable imports of crude and fuel oil, which come principally from Venezuela, large as they are, are nevertheless considerably below this five per cent quota limit. That means that as a result of the Venezuela Agreement oil imports may largely increase at the expense of United States coal, and at a time when the oil wells of many United States producers are shut in for want of markets. Existing oil imports represent a displacement of some ten to twelve million tons of bituminous coal annually, which takes from twelve to fifteen million dollars out of the pay envelopes of mine labor and takes more than twenty million dollars away from the railroads. Our industry will not suffer this blow in silence. We shall renew our protests to the state department and to the White House to make the record clear, and we shall carry this fight to Congress with the expectation that Congress will heed the protest and be moved to put a stop to this policy of delegating to the executive branch of the government law-making and treaty-making functions, which policy has in practice proved so destructive.”

Source: Logan (WV) Banner, 14 November 1939