Byrd Rips Into Mining Industry for Putting Coal Above People
Late last year, as Democrats were considering climate change bills and the Obama administration was mulling new regulations to rein in mountaintop removal coal mining, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) — a longtime defender of the coal industry and the jobs it creates in Appalachia — shocked observers in Washington and West Virginia alike when he called on the coal industry to embrace the changes happening around them.
“West Virginians can choose to anticipate change and adapt to it, or resist and be overrun by it,” he wrote at the time.
Today, the 92-year-old Byrd takes those sentiments a giant step further, ripping into the industry for a failure to consider the detrimental effects that mining has on the local environment and the folks who live there — the same sentiment that environmentalists and community activists have been voicing for decades, usually to deaf ears.
“The monolithic power of industry should never dominate our politics to the detriment of local communities,” he wrote in an op-ed featured in the local press. He was referring not only to the practice of mountaintop removal, but the absence of concern for miner safety that’s been the focus of great interest since 29 miners were killed in Montcoal, W.Va., exactly a month ago.
Byrd goes so far as to threaten irresponsible companies with extinction.
A single miner’s life is certainly worth the expense and effort required to enhance safety. West Virginia has some of the highest quality coal in the world, and mining it should be considered a privilege, not a right.
**Any company that establishes a pattern of negligence resulting in injuries and death should be replaced by a company that conducts business more responsibly. No doubt many energy companies are keen for a chance to produce West Virginia coal. **(Emphasis mine.)
The target here, of course, is Massey Energy — for reasons that become clearer each day. Not only does the Virginia-based coal giant own the mine where last month’s Montcoal blast occurred, but more and more Massey employees — both active and former — are coming forward with horror stories about the safety policies of the company.
But there’s more. Byrd then takes on the industry over mountaintop removal, a practice in which companies blast the tops off of mountains to reach the coal seams inside. In the process, the excess soil, rock and other debris are pushed into adjacent valleys, many of which contain the headwater streams for larger bodies of water below.
“The industry of coal must also respect the land that yields the coal, as well as the people who live on the land,” Byrd wrote. “If the process of mining destroys nearby wells and foundations, if blasting and digging and relocating streams unearths harmful elements and releases them into the environment causing illness and death, that process should be halted and the resulting hazards to the community abated.”
In short, Byrd ends, the old adage is wrong: Coal is not West Virginia’s most valuable asset. Its people are.