There is a folder in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum titled National Coal Policy Conference that documents an apparently successful effort to influence a rising political star to support national policies that favor coal over natural gas, residual oil and atomic energy.
The NCPC, whose existence lasted from its founding in 1959 until it was disbanded in 1971, was a lobby group representing the complete coal supply chain in the United States. Here is a description of the NCPC from the group itself:
In the National Coal Policy Conference there are combined the strength and prestige of
(1) railroads of this Nation;
(2) the ingenious manufacturers of our mining equipment, who seem to be only on the threshold of things far greater than anything we have contemplated;
(3) the United Mine Workers of America, the labor organization representing the employees of our industry;
(4) major utility companies — those customers of ours who probably have the greatest stake of all in the efficient and low-cost mining of coal and who have joined with us so that a strong, healthy, vigorous coal industry will make it possible for them to produce the tremendous amounts of electrical energy that will be necessary to carry our economic growth to heights never before dreamed of, and
(5) our own group of far-sighted, clear-thinking coal producers.
What a combination!
Paragraph breaks added to original quote.
(The New Image of Coal, NCPC, Page 4)
The folder in the JFK Library contains digital image files of an historically important series of communications between Joseph Moody, President NCPC and Senator John F. Kennedy. The letters and documents were exchanged during the period of February – March of 1960, within months after Senator Kennedy announced that he was running a campaign to become President of the United States. (Kennedy’s announcement was published in the January 2, 1960 edition of the New York Times and other newspapers around the country.)
In date order, the library folder contains the following documents:
- February 12, 1960 Speech by Joseph Moody to Mid West Coal Producers Institute titled The New Image of Coal
- February 12, 1960 Press release from the National Coal Policy
- February 19, 1960, Letter from Joseph Moody to Senator John F. Kennedy sent with the above two documents as enclosures
- March 6, 1960, New York Times article headlined Oil Men ‘Defect’ in Fuels Dispute. There are three separate subtitles:
- Independent Group Joins Coal Industry in Stand on National Policy
- Studies are Favored
- Texas Producers Call on Others in the Field to Participate as Well
- March 8, 1960, Press release from the National Coal Policy Conference welcoming the support of the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association in discussions leading to a Congressional Study of a National Fuels Policy
- March 9, 1960, Letter from Senator John F. Kennedy to Joseph E. Moody, President, National Coal Policy Conference, Inc.
Conference titled National Fuels Policy Held Vital in Cold War Production Race
Though the full 17-page collection is intriguing, one part of Moody’s speech titled The New Image of Coal virtually leaped from the page.
Many years ago Adam Smith cynically remarked that whenever a group of businessmen sat down together it could be assumed that they were talking about prices. That may have been true in his day. But I assure you when the group of businessmen making up the National Coal Policy Conference get together they are talking betterment for the whole coal industry — and talking it hard and fast.
We’re doing the same kind of talking to the public these days, and I might add it is certainly time we did so. In the past I have had the unenviable experience of being something of a lone voice lashing out against the farcical waste of taxpayers’ money involved in our government’s efforts to develop civilian atomic energy, even though it wasn’t needed and was certain to be non-competitive with coal and other natural fuels for many years.
I was gratified to read in the Washington Post of January 30 that Mr. David E. Lilienthal, one of the great promoters of the atomic age, had now declared that the United States had been misled by promises that were absolutely impossible of fulfillment and that the whole program of nuclear power, to use his own words, has fallen flat on its face despite appropriations of close to one-half billion dollars in the last few years.
It makes my heart ache to realize that a few million dollars of that half billion, invested in research for coal, might well have given us tremendous advances in the production of power under our private utility system.
That passage provides direct, incontrovertible evidence showing that the roots of the antinuclear movement in the United States, and, by extension, the rest of the world, can be traced to efforts from competitors in the “natural fuels” industry to slow or stop development of the new source of heat for industrial purposes. Those special interests were not concerned about radiation or about safety; they were angry at their government for sponsoring the development of a fuel source that would take some of their markets and reduce their profitability.
The railroads were worried about losing coal shipment consignments. The unions were worried about job losses. The mining equipment companies were worried that there would be less appetite for their innovations if coal consumption kept falling. The mine owners were worried that their capital investments were going to be worth less.
The diverse groups that formed the National Coal Policy Conference decided to band together because were especially worried about their survival. The number of coal tons sold fell by 30% during the period from 1945-1960 as diesel fuel replaced coal in locomotives and as heating oil and natural gas replaced coal in the home and commercial building heating market. The only segment of the coal market that grew during that trying period of steady decline was the electricity production market. That was exactly the market that the new atomic energy plants were aiming to service.
However, the folder in the JFK library is not strictly limited to coal. It also contains some hints that the NCPC was working feverishly to develop an alliance with other parts of the “natural fuels” industry, especially the independent, domestic oil and gas producers who shared a mutual dislike of imported oil and atomic energy.
WASHINGTON, D. C., MAR. 8 — (SPL) — Joseph E. Moody, president of the National Coal Policy Conference, Inc., today in a telegram welcomed the support of the Texas Independent Producers and Royalty Owners Association in discussions leading to a Congressional Study of a National Fuels Policy.
Mr. Harry C. Jones, TIPRO president, said in a recent statement that “to be simply against a national fuels policy is little short of absurd,” and that “our most realistic and productive course might well be to participate in such studies and discussions.”
Resolutions calling for a joint congressional study of the need for a National Fuels Policy are now before both houses, and have been strongly supported by the coal and allied industries. Some segments of the oil and gas industries, however, have been in active opposition, and have denied that there is any necessity for Congress to even consider whether such a policy is desirable or needed.
“We have been disappointed and surprised at the determined efforts on the part of some in the oil industry to block even Congressional study of the need for a national fuels policy. We have taken a firm position that we are anxious to have Congress consider this whole question, and are confident that the conclusions reached by such a joint study will be sound and fair to all energy fuel producers. We were interested to read your comment that ‘there is a distinct possibility that this obvious fact (natural competition between fuels) may lead, or have led to an “anti-coal campaign” which does harm to everybody concerned.'”
“We welcome your support of studies leading to establishment of a national fuels policy, and sincerely hope that other responsible spokesmen for independent oil and gas producers, who likewise have many mutual interests with coal, will be encouraged to take a similar position.”
Emphasis added. (NCPC Press release 3-8-60)
An appropriate way to end this post is to quote from the letter from Senator Kennedy acknowledging Mr. Moody’s letter and the speech it included as an enclosure.
Dear Mr. Moody:
I fully agree with you on the importance of coal and other fuels to our economy. I believe that the proper use and exploitation of these natural resources will be one of the real important issues of the 1960 campaign.
Therefore, I am most grateful to you for sending me your very fine speech calling for a national policy. I am sure that it will be most helpful to me in formulating my own views on this vital issue.
With every good wish,
John F. Kennedy
Update: A commenter who goes by “FermiAged” asked a great question about the 1960 West Virginia primary. I was not aware just how important that state was to Kennedy’s nomination as the Democratic candidate.
Here is a video of his visit to a coal mine and a discussion about his policies with a representative of the miners.
West Virginia Gazette (November 21, 2013) He never forgot West Virginia
Bluefield Daily Telegraph (November 22, 2013) John F. Kennedy wins the hearts of southern West Virginia coalfield voters
USA Today (October 29, 2013) When W.Va. lost its voice: JFK’s death still resonates
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