An excerpt from Damn Yankee Buttons, a book of essays and short stories I am working on.
Near the end of his life, after a political career of supporting the coal industry, Byrd expressed misgivings about mountain top removal strip mining.
Byrd had denounced Judge Charles Haden, for his 1999 ruling against mountain top removal valley fills. But in May of 2009 Byrd said that “…. The industry of coal must also respect the land that yields the coal, as well as the people who live on the land. 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 November, 2009, Byrd said 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.
“In recent years, West Virginia has seen record high coal production and record low coal employment …The increased use of mountaintop removal mining means that fewer miners are needed to meet company production goals.
“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.
“Some have even suggested that coal state representatives in Washington should block any advancement of national health care reform legislation until the coal industry’s demands are met by the EPA. 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.
“To be part of any solution, one must first acknowledge a problem. 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.”