Robert Byrd, the patriarch of the United States Senate, has been the champion and defender of the coal industry for decades, a staunch ally who could be depended on to look out for the interests of his constituents, many of whom work for or own coal operations.
But a massive sea change took place in early December with a statement issued by the senator, urging the coal industry to face the future, to stop blaming regulatory hurdles for its woes, to acknowledge the reality of climate change, and to get busy preparing for a lower-carbon future.
The senator, who has served nearly 57 years in the Congress, seemed particularly miffed that the coal industry had tried to persuade him and other coal-state legislators to block health-care reform unless coal got a free ride in any climate legislation, an idea the senator called "morally indefensible." He also suggested that support for mountaintop removal mining is evaporating in Washington, It’s quite a statement, well worth reading, maybe saving. It’s a turning point. You can read the statement, or listen to the senator reading it, here.