With daily ammonium nitrate/fuel oil explosions from mountaintop removal operations rocking his home and dismantling the mountain above his community, Bo Webb, a Vietnam vet, recently penned an appeal to his West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd to co-sponsor the Appalachian Mountain Restoration Act to stop mountaintop removal and launch a green jobs initiative in Appalachia.
This appeared first in the Charleston Gazette, on Sunday, April 5, 2009:
Dear Sen. Byrd,
I write you today as a grandfather, and as a deep admirer of your inimitable contribution to our beloved state of West Virginia. As the son of a coal miner, I will always value your work to ensure economic investment and proper safety in our coalfields.
Soon, as you know, as the colorful peepers of red bush and wake robins pull from the clinch of winter, I will take my granddaughter’s hand and roam our Clay Branch hollows in search of ramps. This has been a 150-year tradition in my family in the Coal River mountain range, as I am sure it was for your family along Wolf Creek.
This year, though, instead of that pungent smell of wild ramps and the blossoms of spring, my granddaughter will be exposed to the sickening haze of ammonium nitrate and diesel oil, and the after shower of silica dust that blankets our hollow like a plague. Our ancestral mountain in the Peachtree community is being destroyed for a mountaintop removal operation.
In your wonderful book last year, Letter to a New President: Commonsense Lessons for Our Next Leader, you wrote that we should never turn our backs on the lessons of our coal-mining fathers. My father, like others in my family, first started working in the mines at age 11. But it is the grave of my Uncle Clyde Williams, who died in the mine at Leevale here on Coal River Mountain at age 17, that also hovers in my mind as I walk these hills, gather herbs and berries, and hunt and fish with my grandchildren.
I want my children and grandchildren to have the right to dream and flourish as great contributors to our state in West Virginia. I don’t want them to feel compelled to leave our state to look for employment or to realize their dreams. I want them to know that the rule of law protects them, their families and our mountains.
You, more than any other person in our state, understand this. When you went to Washington, D.C., for the first time to represent West Virginia, more than 130,000 union coal miners proudly toted their lunch pails and went to their jobs in the underground mines in our state. And you, as our voice in Washington, proudly made sure their safety and security were priorities to the rest of the country. Today, only 20,000 West Virginia coal miners make up those ranks. In many respects, strip mining and mountaintop removal operations have robbed my generation and my children of a chance to maintain our great Appalachian heritage, our beloved mountains and vibrant streams, and above all, any diverse economic development in our community.
In responding to the recent EPA decision to scrutinize mountaintop removal permits more closely last week, you wrote: “Every job in West Virginia matters. Everyone involved must act swiftly in concert and cooperation to remedy any problems that threaten coal jobs and the people who live in the local communities where coal is mined.”
Sen. Byrd, as a grandfather, I write to you: If our grandchildren are going to have any jobs and future at all in West Virginia, we must get beyond the stranglehold of mountaintop removal coal operations and find a way to bring new jobs and life to our mountain communities.
This could be your greatest legacy, among many, Sen. Byrd. Your public role in co-sponsoring the Appalachian Mountain Restoration Act (S.696) to defend the health and safety of our communities and putting an end to mountaintop removal and its destruction of our local economies, would place our state back on track for responsible mining, more coal mining employment, and a step toward a diversified economy that includes loans and investment in manufacturing of renewable energy products, such as wind turbine and solar panels, and high-technology operations.
In your powerful Letter to a New President, you wrote: “What determines the quality of American democracy is the use we make of our power. We have institutions in place to help this country avoid the misuse of our power. Those institutions are Congress, the courts and public opinion. The more we cut off true debate and the exchange of ideas, and let those in power use emotion, misdirection and the manipulation of truth to whip the nation into action, the more likely we are to make dangerous mistakes in how we use our power. A representative democracy only works when the people are involved. We need them.”
We need you now more than ever, Sen. Byrd, to bring new jobs, and restore a new sense of democracy to the coalfields of West Virginia.