Here’s a dirty little secret: The worst thing to ever happen to the State of West Virginia may be its venerable Senator Robert. C. Byrd.
While surely there is no nicer, kinder, smarter, caring but misguided man on Capitol Hill than West Virginia’s senior senator, aka the pork barrel king, Robert C. Byrd, in large measure is responsible for the fact that West Virginia ranks 49th in per capita income, can boast that Huntington West Virginia has the poorest health ranking in the country, ranks 51st of 51 states and territories who have students completing a bachelor’s degree, ranks 48th of 50 states where people have achieved a high school diploma.
On the other hand, surprisingly, West Virginia is not in the top ten states with the highest unemployment. Through Sept. 12 of this year, the state had taken 86,752 initial claims for benefits, up about 64 percent from the same point last year. Surely, this is not something to be proud of, but West Virginia has always suffered from job shortage.
And that brings me to the reason why Robert Byrd isn’t necessarily the best thing that ever happened to West Virginia.
Think coal and you’ll understand where I’m going. West Virginia is coal country and King Coal has had no better friend than the esteemed Senator. Coal has barely kept West Virginia afloat or mountaineers employed at a rate equal to that of the rest of the country. It has kept the mountain state next to last in per capita income. Yes, West Virginians are dirt-y coal poor.
But coal has made Senator Byrd a very powerful man, while it has kept most of the state stuck in a time warp. (Coal hasn’t hurt Senator Rockefeller, either). Travel to southern West Virginia where the mines thrive and you’ll feel like you’re in the depression-ridden 1920’s. Men old at age 40 sit on dilapidated porch swings tied to their oxygen tubes, their lungs riddled with black lung disease. If they wanted to, they can’t get another job because there are no other jobs in their part of the state, really, in the state at large.
Thanks to Byrd and all the other politicians in West Virginia funded by King Coal, there has been very little effort to change the dynamics of the state’s commerce. Even as the mines are automated, and mining jobs become scarcer by the day, West Virginia’s piece of the Federal pie most often goes to mining, or other projects that please the mine companies. The state’s coffers are filled with the dirty money of the coal industry, as are the deep pockets of the politicians running the state.
Recently, West Virginia hit pay dirt when Senator Byrd managed to bury more than $4.6 billion in money for the coal industry into a Senate version of the economic stimulus package. Last year Senator Jay Rockefeller added $2.8 billion for the coal industry in the massive Wall Street bailout, a dirty shame.
Imagine if in his over fifty years in the Senate, Byrd had put his efforts to bringing real commerce to The Mountain State. Instead, he is mostly responsible for pork projects like fisheries throughout the state that employ only a few. Only recently he brought the FBI, Coast Guard and the National Wildlife Training Center to the Eastern Panhandle, which, by the way, the rest of West Virginia doesn’t even consider part of its state. Here it is 2009, and not much has changed in West Virginia in half a century.
You could probably say the same thing for the rest of the coal producing states. No fewer than 25 states produce coal, which not only generates income, jobs and tax revenue, but provides a disproportionately large share of their energy. Yet, what was once a gift horse is now an albatross around the coal-producing states. Coal is dirty in every way: for our air, for our heating, for our politicians.
If you live as long as Senator Byrd, 91 years, you’re bound to see changes. And whether Senator Byrd, the State of West Virginia or King Coal likes it or not, the change is now. Coal is under fire by the environmentalists, as well it should be.The United Nations Climate Change Treaty was adopted in 1992. It committed the world to “avoiding dangerous anthropogenic interference in the climate system.” Yet, since that time, greenhouse-gas emissions have continued to rise.
The United States has proved to be the biggest foot-dragger, snubbing the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and refusing to implement any effective domestic emissions controls.For these dirty truths, you can thank Senator Byrd and the leaders in the other coal producing states. Again, their power is fired by King Coal.
As we head into the global summit in Copenhagen in December to negotiate a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, the U.S. is once again the focus of unease. American politics remain strongly divided over climate change – though President Barack Obama has new opportunities to break the coal-jam…but for Senator Byrd and the other leaders of the coal-producing states who stand in his way.
Sadly, President Obama has announced he will not speak in Copenhagen, but will instead collect his Nobel Prize in Oslo, where he says he will address climate change, in deference to Senator Byrd and his coal-powered associates?Robert Byrd, of course, has done much good for his state. But he sold his soul to the company store a longtime ago. Nevertheless, he may be finally seeing through the dirty smoke hovering over the Blue Ridge Mountains and the land he claims to love.
In a recent coal-dust-up with the Massey Energy Company, the largest producer of Central Appalachian coal -- led by the unrelenting villainous character Don Blankenship -- over the refusal of the company to pay to move an elementary school in the contamination field of a Massey project, Byrd spit coal fire at Massey for what he called Massey’s "disregard for human life and safety."
"Let me be clear about one thing -- this is not about the coal industry or their hard-working miners," Byrd said. "This is about companies that blatantly disregard human life and safety because of greed. That is never acceptable."
Byrd, by the way, the son of a coal minor, added, "At a time when coal is under such close scrutiny, coal companies operating in West Virginia should be working together to put their best foot forward.”
Not completely un-self-serving, but proof that at, 91, Senator Robert C. Byrd is not too old to learn dirty new tricks.coal,