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Has Byrd Shifted Positions on Mountaintop Coal Mining?

Aaron just hit this from the angle of climate change. I found Sen. Robert Byrd’s (D-W.Va.) op-ed interesting because, as recently as March, he was attacking the administration’s moves to rein in mountaintop mining as a threat to jobs in West Virginia, where the coal industry is an economic juggernaut.

Today he reverses course, arguing that mountaintop removal itself is the threat to jobs — something that environmentalists and community activists in Appalachia have been screaming for decades. From Byrd’s piece:

The increased use of mountaintop removal mining means that fewer miners are needed to meet company production goals. Meanwhile the Central Appalachian coal seams that remain to be mined are becoming thinner and more costly to mine. Mountaintop removal mining, a declining national demand for energy, rising mining costs and erratic spot market prices all add up to fewer jobs in the coal fields.

He continues, raising the specter that mountaintop removal could be a health threat to local communities — yet another position that local health activists and scientists have been arguing for as long as the practice has been around.

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. West Virginians may demonstrate anger toward the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over mountaintop removal mining, but we risk the very probable consequence of shouting ourselves out of any productive dialogue with EPA and our adversaries in the Congress.

That’s not the strong language that environmentalists would use, but it certainly signifies a change of heart from the 92-year-old senator, who has spent a political career defending the coal industry from any outside threat.

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