Speeches by John F. Kennedy

From the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy at Morgantown, West Virginia, April 18, 1960

This is a transcription of this speech made for the convenience of readers and researchers. One draft of the speech exists in the John F. Kennedy Pre-Presidential Papers at the John F. Kennedy Library.

If new vision, and new leadership, and new understanding can restore prosperity to the coal industry - and I believe it can - then I am here to tell you that prosperity is on the way. For just as no industry has suffered more from government neglect in the last eight years than the coal industry - no industry holds greater promise for the future. And a new Democratic Administration in the White House - and Administration in the great human welfare tradition of Franklin Roosevelt - an Administration which understands the great contribution which coal can make to America's strength - will make next year the beginning of coal's march toward prosperity.

The people of Morgantown have witnessed the suffering and despair of the coal industry. You have seen the disastrous decline in coal employment, from 127,000 in 1948 to less than 50,000 today. You have seen what this decline in employment has meant in the stark, tragic terms of human suffering and hardship - deprivation and hunger. You have seen your once prosperous state transformed into an island of poverty and distress in a vast sea of American plenty. And you have seen how every effort to help West Virginians help themselves has been hampered, opposed and destroyed by Republican leadership in Washington. But this is the grim side of the coal picture - there is also a brighter side, the side of the future. America has a rapidly expanding population and a growing economy - more Americans and more industry will need ever-increasing supplies of fuel and power - and coal is our most abundant and economical source of energy for the future. Over a trillion tons of coal - 40% of the world's supply - is scattered throughout 33 of our 50 states - and West Virginia is Number One in the nation. The reserves of other fuels are insignificant compared with these vast deposits.

Perhaps even more important is the increasing productivity of the coal industry - and the important new markets, new uses, and new applications for coal which are within the reach of our science and our technology. Our experts tell us that coal consumption can be doubled and tripled within the next twenty years - but this is a challenge, not a guarantee. And we must act now to meet this challenge if coal is to be in the future - as it has been in the past - the foundation of American strength and the source of American plenty.

There is much which can and must be done. We must establish a national fuels policy, greatly increase our coal research, and stimulate industrial development. But perhaps the most visionary, and yet the most promising and the most fruitful prospect for the future of coal lies in the development of new steam plants - in the increased use of what can be called "coal by wire."

Great steam plants, located near the coal reserves which will drive them, can profitably use ton after ton of coal every day of the week in manufacturing electricity to serve the ever-increasing needs of the four great metropolitan areas which lie within a 500 mile radius of central West Virginia - Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia and New York - four of the five largest metropolitan areas in the United States. If, with Federal help, West Virginia can make the most of her strategic location and your abundant coal reserves, the future of coal and the future of West Virginia can both be bright.

Today the ancient power of coal - burned at the mines, and transmitted over huge cables - can re-enter the homes of America in the most modern of forms - as electric power. And this electricity can be produced on a completely competitive basis with other fuels - it can bring coal back to the American home - not by trucks and a shovel, but by wires and a switch.

Not only can "coal by wire" help supply the electricity needs of today - it can help to create vast new markets in the future. Today the average homeowner uses 3300 kilowatt hours of electricity each year, the equivalent of one and one-half tons of coal. With the installation of electric heating - and coal by wire can make such heating economical and desirable - electricity consumption can jump to 22,000 kilowatt hours, the equivalent of eleven tons of coal. It is easy to see what this can and will mean in terms of increased jobs, increased income and increased prosperity for West Virginia.

But something must be done to get this great movement underway - to make "coal by wire" a reality instead of a dream and a hope. It cannot and should not be done by handouts and doles from Washington. But it can and must be done through a sound program of economic assistance - a program which will return its cost many times over in terms of increased production, cheaper and better power, and a healthier and more prosperous people.

First, we must immediately begin a program of long-term development loans to encourage the construction of steam plants - to attract the necessary private capital. This is what we do for Europe and Asia - we can do the same for our own people. Secondly, we must provide a sound logical program of tax and financial incentives which will stimulate investors to take the risks which any new industry involves. And at least we must eliminate the present harmful discriminations against the coal industry.

With such action - carried out with vision and vigorous leadership - with Democratic leadership - we can envision the day when vast steam plants will be found near every vital and abundant coal reserve - supplying power to a growing America - and

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