West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd published an op-ed today aimed directly at the coal industry, and, although he doesn't use its name, Massey Energy, owner and operator of the Upper Big Branch coal mine, which recently killed 29 West Virginians and injured 2 others. Byrd, whose word carries great weight in Congress on coal matters, says that coal mining in West Virginia is a privilege that should not abused and that those that do abuse it should suffer the consequences. Writes Byrd:
First and foremost, the coal industry must respect the miner and his family. 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.
Byrd also commented on mountaintop removal, which the Obama Administration is taking steps to stop.
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.
Time will tell just how far Byrd is willing to go. If he really wants to hold coal's feet to the fire, he can support the comprehensive climate soon to be introduced in the Senate, a body he has called home for decades.