Byrd legacy urges Americans to be colorblind about coal

Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia died today in a hospital in Fairfax, Va., at the age of 92.

What the Senate lost today, besides its longest-serving member, was one of the country’s boldest champions for clean energy.

The irony is that Byrd was from a poor, coal-laden state still tainted by the controversial practice of mountaintop mining and threatened by a potential cap-and-trade system that limits greenhouse-gas emissions.

Byrd, however, was an advocate for clean energy, and he was determined to make sure the world saw coal as “green” and not just black.

“I continue to believe that clean coal can be a ‘green’ energy,” the senator had said.

As the self-proclaimed Father of the Clean Coal Technology Program, Byrd was outspoken, challenging both parties in an attempt to overcome what he saw as hurdles to his clean-energy vision.

 Earlier this month, he spoke out against Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, who offered a resolution that challenged the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.

Byrd attempted to squelch the notion that the resolution would hurt U.S. industry.

He said, “The Murkowski resolution would only foster confusion. I believe that the best and most practical course of action is for the Senate to pass a bill that provides certainty and real answers for West Virginians and all Americans – a bill that will be passed by the Congress and signed by the President before new requirements that would broadly affect our economy are imposed by regulation.”

But Byrd also hated the idea of the Obama administration’s czars like Carol Browner, appointed by President Obama to run the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change.

The president has called Byrd a man who has changed with time…in a good way.

Most notably, the West Virginia senator began to change his mind about the controversial practice of mountaintop removal mining, a type of surface mining that blows off mountaintops to reveal coal beds.

Environmentalists argue that the practice is rogue, destroys coal-rich Appalachia and taints its resources.

At a lunch recently at the National Press Club, Ashley Judd said, “Senator Byrd, of all people– and if he can do it, anybody can do it—is having a change of heart about coal.”

Judd went on to say, “And, he has said that West Virginians need to take a serious and realistic look at the fact that coal is no longer the future of the state.”

Judd was partly right. Byrd may have changed his opinion of mountaintop mining, but there is no evidence he hated coal.

When the new administration came in, Byrd helped secure $3.4 billion in the President’s economic stimulus for clean-coal technologies.

In a June 10 speech, his last on energy, Byrd said, “I have recently secured commitments from my fellow Senators to provide on the order of $2 billion for each major power plant that installs clean coal technology during the coming decades (with additional funding available to larger projects).”

Last fall, Byrd called out to nations to sign the Copenhagen Accord because he thought all nations should be a part of global climate-change mitigation.

Byrd certainly tried to balance his ideals with economic realities. 

Long before Copenhagen, he resisted the climate agreement under the Kyoto Protocol because, he said it did not comport with American interests. He proposed Senate Resolution 98 in 1997, the year of the Kyoto talks, which said certain principles should be part of any future binding, international climate change agreement. He said the treaty should be cost effective and should include the participation of developing nations, especially the largest emitters. The Kyoto Protocol did not meet those conditions.

Byrd continued on with this clean energy vision.

As a member of the Energy and Water Appropriations committee in the Senate, Byrd introduced a bill in 2001 that called for a plan to build out a world market for clean energy technology that would help American companies export their inventions.

The means to that end? Get the departments of State, Energy, Commerce and the U.S. Agency for International Development to encourage public/private partnerships to help export U.S. clean-energy technologies into that new world market.

In one bill crafted under former President George Bush, Byrd helped pave the path that is now the goal of the Obama administration—to become a leader in the new world clean energy economy.

In 2005, Byrd proposed the International Clean Energy Deployment and Global Energy Markets Investment Act, another attempt to develop world markets and inspire an appetite for US clean energy.

It’s unclear what kind of environmental champion will replace Byrd, but the late senator has certainly already laid the groundwork for his legacy.

One Response to “Byrd legacy urges Americans to be colorblind about coal”
  1. thinksquad says:

    Well, everybody knows that the Byrd is the word!

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