“Some 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,” Byrd said. “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 foolish; it is morally indefensible. It is a non-starter, and puts the entire state of West Virginia and the coal industry in a terrible light.

“Scapegoating and stoking fear among workers over the permitting process is counterproductive,” Byrd said. “The greatest threat to the future of coal comes from a rigid mindset, depleting coal reserves, and declining demand for coal as more power plants shift to biomass and natural gas as a way to reduce emissions.

“Let’s speak the truth,” Byrd said. “The most important factor in maintaining coal-related jobs is demand for coal. No deliberate effort to do away with the coal industry could ever succeed because there is no available alternative energy supply that could immediately supplant the use of coal for power generation in America. Now this is a stubborn fact that vexes, I say—some in the environmental community, but I’ve got to say, it is utter reality.

“Change has been a constant throughout the history of our coal industry,” Byrd said. “West Virginians can choose to anticipate change and adapt to it, or resist and be overrun by it. One thing is clear. The time has arrived for the people of the Mountain State to think long and hard about which course they want to choose.” (Readers can view the entire Opinion Piece at http://byrd.senate.gov). In January, he followed-up with a press release praising the industry and the EPA for working together to approve the Hobet 45 permit.