CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Our Sen. Jay Rockefeller, although a skilled politician, has never resorted to cajoling and catering to the populous for votes. To the contrary, he has earned his support by being honest and direct with the citizens of West Virginia.
Even though he is a strong supporter of the coal industry, he has made it clear that the problems of pollution in the burning of coal are not going to go away and must be addressed. Unlike the junior senator from West Virginia, who finds it politically advantageous to blame all coal problems on President Obama and the EPA, Rockefeller wants to find solutions. Sen. Joe Manchin has made millions as a coal broker and has spent most of his short tenure in Washington representing those interests. He goes along with mountaintop removal and willingly sacrifices his constituents' health, clean water and air for the benefit of his industry.
Sen. Rockefeller stood tall when he bucked the GOP effort to undermine President Obama's EPA rule to diminish mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants.
Reminiscent of Sen. Robert Byrd's position on coal vs. the environment in his final days, Sen. Rockefeller called Sen. James Inhofe's effort "foolish" and described the long-term health effects of the rule "enormous".
Since the 1990s the Senate has heard testimony from scores of independent medical practitioners about the dire effect of mercury on human health, the cancer-causing toxin which is emitted by coal-fired power plants.
The senator was obviously referring to Sen. Manchin when he spoke, his voice reverberating, "This is a critical and contentious time in the Mountain State. The dialog on coal, its impact and the federal government's role has reached a fevered pitch. But my fear is that concerns are also being fueled by the narrow view of others with divergent motivations, one that denies the inevitability of change in the energy industry, and unfairly leaves coal miners in the dust. The reality is that many who run the coal industry today would rather attack false enemies and deny real problems than find solutions."
Addressing the politics of the coal industry against the EPA, Sen. Rockefeller said, "Despite the barrage of ads, the EPA alone is not going to make or break coal". Rockefeller, whose family also has a long history with the coal industry, continued, "There are many forces exerting pressure and that agency is just one of them. We need real world solutions to protect the future of coal ... I oppose this resolution because I care so much about West Virginians."
Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, who has long fought for energy independence and a healthy environment by using all our sources of energy in a clean and safe way said, "I believe when the next historian writes a book about leadership, courage, and integrity in the United States Senate, that this speech today will be featured in that book".
Another Rockefeller classic occurred when he gamely ribbed his fellow West Virginia Democrats for not supporting the leader of their party by describing them as, "Tortured souls seeking a way out to the light."
Sparks, of Ronceverte, is a retired UAW legislative representative.