Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), now the senior senator from the Appalachian state after Sen. Robert Byrd’s death this year, rebuked his state’s climate deniers at a forum about the future of coal on Wednesday. West Virginia’s politics are dominated by coal interests, including the mountaintop removal giant Massey Energy run by right-wing climate denier Don Blankenship. Many of the state’s top politicians are in denial about the costs of coal pollution, even as mountains are destroyed, children poisoned, and towns washed away. Rockefeller told coal supporters should stop “pretending climate change doesn’t exist”:
People think they are protecting coal by pretending climate change doesn’t exist or that (by saying) carbon capture and storage is not needed. But burying one’s head in the sand is not a solution and can only backfire. Denying the problem of climate change may feel good in the short term, but in the long term, it only locks in an existing infrastructure for other fuels like natural gas and will cost coal miners’ jobs.
Rockefeller “said such thinking will put the state behind the rest of the world in embracing new energy technology, and could lead to coal losing out to natural gas as the major energy supplier of the future,” WVNS TV’s Walt Williams reported. Rockefeller said “it is a natural instinct for people to ignore a problem hoping it would go away, but it won’t in this case.”
Responding to the propaganda campaigns by Massey Energy, the West Virginia Coal Association, FreedomWorks, Americans for Prosperity, American Solutions for Winning the Future, and other coal-powered front groups, Rockefeller said he’s not on the “bandwagon” that “climate change is a myth”:
I’m concerned that powerful voices in West Virginia continue to argue that climate change is a myth. I’m not on the same bandwagon that some of you are. I am really concerned that these voices are so loud, dominant (and) shaping public opinion.
“The question is not should we try to address climate change,” he said. “The question is what tools should we develop to tackle it,” supporting the Obama administration’s efforts to jumpstart American carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology.
Unfortunately, Rockefeller is still attempting to delay action on global warming pollution, with his proposal to suspend Environmental Protection Agency rules and his support for Lisa Murkowski’s (R-AK) amendment to deny that greenhouse gases are a pollutant. Ironically, as the Charleston Gazette’s Ken Ward Jr. notes, establishing limits on coal pollution are critical for creating a domestic market for CCS technology, allowing the United States to compete with the current market leaders in Europe and Asia.
Before his death, Byrd demanded that the coal industry get real about the costs of mountaintop removal, telling it to end the “fear mongering, grandstanding and outrage.” Opposing the Murkowski amendment, Byrd said that to “deny the mounting science of climate change is to stick our heads in the sand,” and “the regulation of greenhouse gasses is approaching, whether done by Congress or by regulation, despite naysayers who rail about the non-existence of climate change.”
One hopes that Rockefeller will continue to honor the legacy of Sen. Byrd by standing up for the real interests of West Virginians, instead of the short-term interests of its handful of coal millionaires.