Byrd says coal industry should ‘never dominate our politics to the detriment of local communities’

sen-byrd

From The Rural Blog

The coal industry is important to West Virginia, but that doesn’t mean it should not have to answer to several basic principles, the state’s senior senator writes in an editorial. Democrat Robert Byrd calls for the industry to respect the miner and miner’s family, the land that yields the coal, and the sovereign government of West Virginia. “Coal brings much needed jobs and revenue to our economy,” Byrd writes. “But the industry has a larger footprint, including inherent responsibilities that must be acknowledged by the industry.”

“West Virginia has some of the highest quality coal in the world, and mining it should be considered a privilege, not a right,” he continues. Byrd argues that “any company that establishes a pattern of negligence resulting in injuries and death should be replaced by a company that conducts business more responsibly.” Writing of the environmental impact of mining he adds, “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.”

Byrd acknowledges the vast lobbying power of the industry, but says it “should never dominate our politics to the detriment of local communities.” He explains, “For nearly a hundred years they have come to our presidents, our members of Congress, our legislators, our mayors, and our county commissioners to demand their priorities. It is only right that the people of West Virginia speak up and make the coal industry understand what is expected of it in return.”

“The old chestnut that ‘coal is West Virginia’s greatest natural resource’ deserves revision,” Byrd concludes. “I believe that our people are West Virginia’s most valuable resource. We must demand to be treated as such.” Byrd was apparently too weak to speak at the memorial service for the 29 miners killed last month at a West Virginia mine, but this editorial probably goes farther than any speech at such an event would have. (Read more)

Jon Hale is a Master’s student in the University of Kentucky’s Communication Graduate Program and is a 2009 graduate of UK’s School of Journalism and Telecommunications with a minor in Appalachian Studies and a contributor at The Rural Blog. Articles are reprinted with permission from The Rural Blog. 

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