It’s time for West Virginians to have a frank discussion about the future of their economy. Mining and burning toxic coal hasn’t been all that great for the poverty-stricken state and the future doesn’t look much better.
Senator Byrd has called the question:
Change has been a constant throughout the history of our coal industry. West Virginians can choose to anticipate change and adapt to it, or resist and be overrun by it. One thing is clear. The time has arrived for the people of the Mountain State to think long and hard about which course they want to choose.
In his remarkable statement, Senator Byrd acknowledges that the practice of mountaintop removal cannot be defended:
It is also a reality that the practice of mountaintop removal mining has a diminishing constituency in Washington. It is not a widespread method of mining, with its use confined to only three states. Most members of Congress, like most Americans, oppose the practice, and we may not yet fully understand the effects of mountaintop removal mining on the health of our citizens.
He rightly questions the suicidal notion of blocking health care reform to protect mountaintop removal:
I believe that the notion of holding the health care of over 300 million Americans hostage in exchange for a handful of coal permits is beyond foolish; it is morally indefensible. It is a non-starter, and puts the entire state of West Virginia and the coal industry in a terrible light.
Senator Byrd wants his state to be part of the solution:
To deny the mounting science of climate change is to stick our heads in the sand and say “deal me out.” West Virginia would be much smarter to stay at the table.
Toxic coal represents the past, not the future.
In 1979, there were 62,500 coal miners in the Mountain State. Today there are about 22,000. In recent years, West Virginia has seen record high coal production and record low coal employment.
These words of West Virginia’s senior senator mark a turning point in the debate over how to get our country onto the low-carbon path.
The contrast with the mindless blather of his fellow senators like Inhofe (who pretends to believe that human-caused climate change is not happening) could not be greater.