By Kyleigh Nevis
Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, the longest-serving Democratic senator and a long-time advocate of coal mining, commented on the coal industry’s responsibilities to the environment and to the community in an op-ed piece published on May 5.
In the wake of the tragic explosion that killed 29 miners last month, Senator Byrd responded to many of the public’s concerns, including the need to protect miners and their families and the sovereignty of West Virginia.
“The monolithic power of industry should never dominate our politics to the detriment of local communities.”
As environmental health has also moved to the forefront of discussion, Senator Byrd has questioned the use of methods that endanger the lives of those living amid mining operations.
“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.”
Senator Byrd’s skepticism of the very industry on which his state depends reinforces the need for transparency and regulation. At the conclusion of his article, he calls for change, saying “The old chestnut that ‘coal is West Virginia’s greatest natural resource’ deserves revision. I believe that our people are West Virginia’s most valuable resource. We must demand to be treated as such.”
As politicians, scientists, journalists and advocates follow suit and continue to expose the environmental and health hazards related to coal mining and mountaintop removal, opportunities to make large-scale shifts from coal to more sustainable sources of energy will surely surface. Reform is a good first step.
To read Byrd’s article titled “Our Greatest Resource”: http://www.dailymail.com/News/201005050461?page=1&build=cache