We may not yet fully understand the effects of mountaintop removal mining on the health of our citizens. West Virginians may demonstrate anger toward the Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA, over mountaintop removal mining, but we risk the very probable consequence of shouting ourselves out of any productive dialogue with the EPA and our adversaries here in the Congress.
Now, there are some who 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 just being foolish; it is morally indefensible. It is a non-starter, and it puts the entire state of West Virginia and the coal industry in a terrible, a terrible, a terrible light.
As your United States Senator, I must represent the opinions and the best interests of the entire Mountain State, not just those interests of coal operators and southern coalfield residents who may be strident supporters of mountaintop removal mining.
Now listen to this. 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 not to say that but to stay at the table. The truth is that some form of climate legislation will likely become public policy because most American voters want a healthier environment.
I spent the past six months working with a group of coal state Democrats in the Senate drafting provisions to assist the coal industry in more easily transitioning, or changing, to a lower-carbon economy. We can have a part in shaping energy policy, but we have to be honest brokers. We have to be honest brokers if we have any prayer, even a prayer, of influencing coal policy and looming issues important to the future of coal, like hazardous air pollutants, climate change and federal dollars for investments in clean coal technology.
The greatest threats to the future of coal do not come from possible constraints on mountaintop removal mining or other environmental regulations, but rather they come from rigid mindsets, depleting coal reserves and the declining demand for coal as more power plants shift to biomass and natural gas as a way to reduce emissions.
Fortunately, West Virginia has a running head-start as an innovator. Low-carbon and renewable energy projects are already under development in West Virginia.
We have our work cut out for us in finding a prudent and profitable middle ground, but we will not reach that middle ground by using fear mongering, grandstanding and outrage as a strategy. Change has been a constant throughout the history of our country and throughout the history of our coal industry. West Virginians can choose to anticipate change and adapt to it, or they can choose to resist and be overrun by it.
One thing is clear: The time is now.
The time has arrived for the people of West Virginia to think long and to think hard about which course they want to choose.
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