This week’s public hearings on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan have the usual roster of speakers: environmentalists, industry bigwigs, and politicians looking to make stump speeches for or against the rule. But it’s likely only one has the résumé of Jimmy Rose: Iraq veteran, coal miner, and third-place finisher on the reality show America’s Got Talent.
The Pineville, Ky., native will speak Wednesday at an EPA hearing in Washington as a guest of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell before heading to the Capitol to perform his signature song “Coal Keeps the Lights On.” The song carries an obvious — and for the Kentucky senator a politically potent — message. Rose’s lyrics invoke red-meat imagery (“tires on the truck and a sundress on my baby girl”) to underscore the importance of coal jobs to Appalachia, before admonishing “plumb-down crazy” Washington for anti-coal policies. McConnell has appeared with Rose before and even referenced Rose’s song last fall in trying to introduce a bill that would have blocked the EPA rules.
Rose spoke to National Journal about the message he hopes to bring to EPA, how he wrote “Coal Keeps the Lights On,” and whether EPA is dodging criticism of its climate plan. Here are excerpts from the interview.
What message are you bringing to the EPA hearings?
I hope they let me sing, but I’ll get to sing my song at the Capitol [in a press conference with McConnell]. It’s going to be clear and straight to the point about what they’re doing to us here in Appalachia. I want to put a face on what they’re doing and the restrictions they’re putting in place. This war on coal, it’s different if you’re not from around here in coal country. I want to show them in some way what they’re doing to us. It’s a real honor to be a part of this with [McConnell]. We’ve done several events with him. He’s fighting this battle, and it’s an honor to be with Mitch and to represent coal country as a whole.
McConnell has said that EPA ought to be holding a hearing in coal country. Do you agree?
It’s easy for them to hold these hearings outside the real affected area. They don’t have to look at the people, they don’t have to look at the poverty-stricken communities. They don’t have to make up some excuse to make them feel better. It’s a sad thing they won’t drive through the towns and communities and look at the schools. This is a war on coal, I feel strong about that. I think they should have to come around and listen to the people they’re affecting. Any opportunity I get, I’ll jump on it to be heard, but it’s sad they won’t come to the combat zone.
How did your song “Coal Keeps the Lights On” come about?
I wrote that song several years back, even before I was on America’s Got Talent. I wrote that in support of my people and my hometown. The people who are losing their homes and their jobs and have to move away just to find work. To me, it’s being a voice for my own people. I personalize it when I talk about the bobcats and the mountain lions [local high school mascots], so it’s who I am and my grass roots. I wrote it out of anger and out of resentment and from my personal experience. I’ve worked in the ground; I know how it feels.
Why do you think EPA should hear the song?
If I can sing it to them, I hope they’d truly listen to the lyrics and the true meaning of what I’m trying to say. I think they’d get a sense of the repercussions of the decisions they’re making. I’m all for saving the environment, I’m for saving the future, but I think we’ve got to save us first. I don’t know if my song will affect any decisions, but hopefully it will make them consider the impact of their actions.