The face of coal: Joe Craft to speak on culture, importance of resource in Kentucky

By Laura Clark

A coal-less Kentucky is an image Joseph W. Craft III cannot picture, especially since he believes coal is the largest-growing fuel in the world.

“I’m basically just a business man, but I see the tremendous value of coal not only for the state of Kentucky, but for the world,” Craft said.

“I can’t imagine what the state of Kentucky would be without it.”

Wildcat Coal

Craft, the president, CEO and director of Alliance Resource Partners, L.P., based in Tulsa, Okla., recently headed a $7 million donation to support the “Replace Wildcat Lodge Student Housing” project, which included renaming the current Joe B. Hall Wildcat Lodge to include “coal” in its name.

Craft, who provided the new name, formed a group of donors called the Difference Makers to assist in contributing to the gift for UK Athletics.

On Oct. 27, the UK Board of Trustees approved the new name and accepted the $7 million gift for the construction of the new residence hall.

Students and community members protested immediately after the vote was made, which caused the board to call a recess and security to escort the audience out of the board room.

Danny Cotton, an English senior and chair of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, attended the meeting and disagreed with the vote.

“The fact that they named it after an industry unnecessarily politicizes the basketball team,” Cotton said.

Top: Protesters participate in the Capitol Climate Action rally on March 2. Bottom: Miners work at a coal mine near Red Fox, Ky., in Knott County on Sept. 16.

Top: Protesters participate in the Capitol Climate Action rally on March 2. Bottom: Miners work at a coal mine near Red Fox, Ky., in Knott County on Sept. 16.

Early years

Craft was born in 1950 in Hazard, Ky. Growing up, Craft said the coal industry was in a “down period.” However, when former President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a “War on Poverty,” he began noticing changes.

“To see the transformation of an area where there was no potential for jobs — then there was all of the sudden opportunity for jobs,” Craft said. “It was quite a contrast to see the benefits of the coal industry coming back to life.”

After graduating high school in 1968, Craft attended UK and majored in accounting. Craft spent a year at a Certified Public Accounting firm after graduation, then returned to UK to attend law school. Little did he know he would soon be making a decision that would change his career.

In the 1970s, the U.S. became victim to an energy crisis, going from a “low energy economy to a high energy economy,” Craft said. He said the energy policy was refocused on coal, which led to employment opportunities for Kentuckians, especially in the eastern part of the state.

“I was faced to decide whether I wanted to proceed in business or as a tax attorney,” Craft said. “But I was persuaded — I figured I’d be better off selling my ideas instead of selling my time. I took the risk and learned the coal business.”

Almost immediately, since there were more jobs than there were employees, Craft took on a large amount of responsibility at the first mining company that hired him, which he said gave him experience to take on more as coal continued to grow.

Craft moved to Tulsa, and in 1986 became president of MAPCO Coal Inc., which held mining complexes in Kentucky, Illinois and Maryland. Craft had previously been that company’s general counsel and chief financial officer, making him the youngest to hold those positions of a Fortune 500 company at the time.

In 1996, in response to MAPCO’s decision to go out of business, Craft led a buyout which changed the company’s name to Alliance Coal Company. After three years of being private, Craft sold half of the company to be publicly-traded and Alliance Resource Partners, L.P., the fifth largest eastern U.S. coal producer, was formed.

Donations

Not including the $7 million pledged for the new Wildcat Coal Lodge, Craft has donated $880,000 in 2009 alone. The recent gift for the lodge is the largest private gift in UK Athletics history, and is still pending approval from the state organizations Capital Oversight and the Council of Postsecondary Education.

“Joe Craft loves his Kentucky roots and his university,” said UK President Lee Todd in a statement to the Kernel. “He is a loyal UK alumnus, and we greatly appreciate his support and generous contributions to university student scholarships, academic programs and campus facilities.”

Craft said the largest benefit of athletics is education, not only in youth but in “all walks of life.” Craft said the UK basketball program should set high standards to enthuse and help youth reach their goals.

“I’m a strong believer in athletics,” Craft said. “Some people took the very narrow view of, ‘Why would you give such a large gift to only nine or 10 people?’ But I personally believe that gift touches millions of people.

“Look at the culture of the (UK basketball) program. (It is) more than just a sport for nine guys, it’s a culture.”

UK Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart said Craft provides the resources for UK to set appropriately high standards.

“Our coaches and student-athletes strive to achieve high levels of success and bring pride to the Commonwealth,” Barnhart said in a statement to the Kernel. “It is only through the generosity of those who love the Kentucky Wildcats that the resources needed to attain those goals are possible.

“Joe Craft has been a vital part of the continued growth of UK Athletics, and we are extremely grateful for his support and financial contributions.”

A key contributor

Craft decided to include “coal” in the new lodge’s name so UK and visitors to campus could “pay tribute as well as have that display to provide education on the many advances of coal, technology and education opportunities.” Craft said the display of “coal” will attract and teach visitors its positive contributions in the state and on campus.

Cotton, however, said “coal” will do the opposite.

“Particularly right now, when we’re moving away from coal, when coal is destroying the environment in Eastern Kentucky … It’s just not good policy for UK to be doing that,” Cotton said.

Craft will be speaking at Thursday’s “Forum on Coal in Kentucky” to provide knowledge of coal to the discussion. He said more publicity is needed to communicate “an education for people to see the positive things” of coal, and to improve the quality of life.

“(Coal is) a key contributor to the wealth of a nation,” Craft said. “Electricity is an outlet to improve life.”

Those opposed to coal and those for coal should have the same goals for the country, Craft said. The “animosity” that followed the “Wildcat Coal Lodge” decision was unnecessary, he said.

“All Kentuckians and Americans should respect the coal miners for what they do,” Craft said. “They’ve been a pillar in providing for this country … they’ve driven the wealth this country has today.”

The Wildcat Coal Lodge will begin construction in the summer of 2010 and is scheduled for completion in the summer of 2011, according to a UK Athletics release. Craft and his Difference Makers, however, have already brought “coal” to the center of attention on campus, representing the face of the highly debated, heavily scrutinized black rock.

“I’m proud of that,” Craft said of being considered the face of coal. “Coal is part of Kentucky’s heritage. It’s still a significant part of the economical engine for our country.”

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Joe Craft’s UK donations:

- $12, 500 — Sigma Alpha Epsilon House Construction Fund between Dec. 29, 1995 and Aug. 6, 1997

- $1,000 — Hazard C C Endowment Challenge on March 27, 1991

- $500 — Mineral Law Center Quasi Endowment on Dec. 31, 1990

- $3,150 — College of Law Restricted Fund between Nov. 14, 1985 and Oct. 28, 2008

- $23,045 — K-Fund between Nov. 26, 1984 and March 8, 2006

- $175,000 — Mining Engineering Development Fund on Dec. 12, 2006

- $45,000 — Men’s Basketball Boosters Fund between Aug. 7, 2008 and Sept. 17, 2009

- $2,500 — Wildcat Society Fund on May 1, 2008

- $3,248,786 — Capital Project Gifts Fund between Nov. 9, 2005 and Oct. 26, 2009

- $23,000 — Hoover Dawahare Fund for Rural Health on June 10, 2005

- $25,000 — Delta Delta Delta Gift Fund on Nov. 26, 2008

- $7,000 — DOUG-SAE Scholarship Fund between July 20, 2006 and May 7, 2009

- $600 — Ashland Oil Professorships of Law between Dec. 29, 1989 and Dec. 29, 1995

- $100 — College of Law Class of ’72 Scholarship Fund on Dec. 6, 1994

- $500 — Bill Keightley (Mr. Wildcat) Basketball Managers Scholarship Fund on April 17, 2008

I Agree says:

William Turner, I agree with you all the way. I am a miner with a BS degree. It is used everyday on my job because we mine with computers, PLC’s,computer generated operating systems, highly advanced guidance systems just to mine coal everyday. I am not the only one, there are many in everyday mining. Contray to many non-supporters belief that coal miners are dumb and un-educated, mines employee very smart people with a wonderful work ethic. I wonder how many non-supporters could do what we do everyday? I bet very few! Come try it!
I once heard that its not the words one uses, it is how you use the words you do say. I noticed some on these posts use the big words or words that are used infrequently to make them seem smart as if they know what they are talking about. I feel sorry for them. KISS–Keep It Simple Stupid. William, you have probably heard that statement before. Everyone should remember this when they speak.

William Turner says:

As a fellow 4th generation Coal miner and UK Mining Engineering student I have heard many stories from my grandfather and dad that have made me be grateful for the leaps and bounds the coal industry has grown in recent years. When you work in these conditions and with these people you gain a greater understanding for its importance in such rural areas. Without coal I would say my entire family would have to be supported by the government. I couldn’t afford to go to college and would never give back to my community in a way I might be able to later. There are known issues with how coal is put to use but give us a chance to create better cleaner ways to harvest its supper efficient and cost effective power. Every time someone from Eastern Kentucky tries to work hard and support their family there will always be people there to say they are less educated or they don’t see the bigger picture….

miner says:

SP, our long-standing beliefs change everyday ans every year. We build on those long-standing tried and true beliefs and find better ways to do what we do. True, in the old days mining was nasty and very destructive but is not so know. The mining community has found some very good ways to keep streams clean, good reforestation (with UK’s help) and found better ways to leace the land so when coal is gone there will be flat land that can support industry. This has already started to happen but has slowed down because of people that are going on the picture and stories from the old days. I ask everyone to get educated on the real ways of E KY., come take a closer look and live for a while here. If you live here, get out and see what good things have come from coal and how modern mining is conducted.

sp says:

Citizen of E KY: there is no doubt that the coal industry provides economic benefit to a good many individuals. I don’t believe those who seek issue with the industry seek issue (or are “un-educated”) in this fact…they are simply educated to see BEYOND what temporary economic gains will hold in a community. Furthermore, there is an entire (green) industry to be developed in the wake of the inevitably faltering environmentally “un”conscious ones.

The issue with your point is you are celebrating good things that come from an inherently negative source — I don’t think you can excuse or polish this into a favorable light. I’m going to focus a little more on the abstract here, with the assumption that everyone can fundamentally understand what the “negative” aspects are which I am inferring (this is a very generous assumption though, I understand).

It is one thing to celebrate culture…it is another to uphold negative traditions. The South is so deeply rooted in this obsession with tradition…how foolish does it look in a few decades (or a century — or even sooner) when the rest of society will look back at this cherished “culture” with utter distaste and probably disbelief. It has happened so many times before yet people still desperately cling to harmful “traditions”…I just don’t understand it.

So when people criticize the protesters or brush them off as liberal freaks and whatnot, I can only shrug. Their passion will always be seen in somewhat of a lighthearted manner (serious but with a question of credibility) like those in the past have…but I mean, at least they distinguish themselves from the fools who adhered to these precious long-standing beliefs. If you’re looking back at the voices of resistance or the silent masses, I’d rather rest assured that they at least will not be mistaken – through inactivity – with those who supported negative traditions. Looking a little dramatic seems fine in contrast.

A bit of a tangent, but that’s that.

Chris says:

I support Joe Craft and the Coal Industry 100%! Work it Joe!

Neil says:

I followed the gracious contributions by Joe Craft and the Alliance Resource Partners, L.P right up until the donation was tagged with the request to add “coal” to the name of the lodge. If you want to market and educate people on coal, then do so separately. If you want to donate, donate.

I followed and agreed with the story that the donation touches more then the players on the court. But, I agree with one of the responders here that request to add or change the Lodge name to add “coal” is propaganda with an agenda tied to a business entity.

Jerod says:

Joe Craft is a businessman an UK is a business. I do not see a problem with him donating money or the University accepting it. Where the problem lies is that the naming of lodge in favor of coal instead of him is pure propoganda. The coal industry is using its profits from raping the mountains of Appalachia to go on a PR binge to quieten the people whose lives they are destroying. Coal is bad. Mountain Top Removal is terrible. Coal is not going away, we need to realize that. Why not ditch the PR campaign about how great coal is and use that money to make coal more responsible to the environment and the people of Appalachia.

Citizen of E KY says:

Wonderful article! If everyone would dig into the coal industry and particulary the people in coal, they would find good people trying to do good things in communitys utilizing the coal industry. Plenty of non-coal supporters are so un-educated about how coal reaches into everyones life in a good way, that they think the U.S. can do without it. Coal not only provides us with electricity and steel, but provide us with many other items that no one really hears about. I would like to see an article that tells of the many different things made with coal being used by the everyday citizen of the U.S. and don’t realize it. Keep it up and Joe Craft may come to see the Kernal someday–if you know what I mean!