Winds of Change Newsletter, March 2008 See sidebar for table of contents
Sen. Hunter Introduces Bill to End Mountaintop Removal
by Don Garvin, WV Environmental Council
(On Feb. 6) I witnessed an amazing speech by an amazing man (when) Senator Jon Blair Hunter addressed his fellow Senators.
"Mr. President," he began, "I stand here today to offer my confession."
He continued in a calm, steady voice. "God created our mountains. God created our clear, clean mountain streams and rivers. God created our lush green forests and God created our hardy mountaineer ancestors who settled these hills because of our mountains, our clear, clean streams, and our lush green forests.
"And, yes, God also put the coal in those mountains. But I firmly believe He did not intend for us to destroy the mountains, the streams, the forests and His people to mine it.
"Coal can be mined without mountaintop removal, Mr. President."
Earlier that morning Senator Hunter introduced SB 588, as its sole sponsor. The bill would end the practice of burying hundreds of miles of streams with tons of rubble blasted off the tops of mountains.
While I have known for years that the Senator is a devout Catholic, this was the first speech I have heard him give where he spoke openly of his faith.
"To intentionally destroy Gods creations, be they human or a mountain, is a Sin of Commission. To stand by and do nothing is a Sin of Omission.
"On this holy day, Ash Wednesday, I wish to confess my sin of omission, and I promise to sin no more."
Im not sure how the Senator managed to keep his composure at that point I was about to lose mine listening to him from the gallery but he never faltered.
He continued to speak about the 1.4 million acres or 2,200 square miles of mountains that have been destroyed, and the 1,200 miles of streams that have been buried.
"And what about our people?" he asked, as he spoke of the loss of both jobs and population that this form of strip mining on steroids has brought to southern West Virginia.
The Senator spoke emotionally about the serious impacts caused by mountaintop removal mining to the lifestyle and health of the citizens of the coalfields.
Senator Hunter concluded his speech by saying that he knew that the Senate would not pass his bill, "but as one of my last confessions, I had to confess my sin of not doing this sooner during my 11 years in this body."
While my friend was giving this speech I was desperately trying to take it all in. The Senate Chamber was absolutely quiet you could hear a pin drop. And when he finished Senator Randy White rose and asked for unanimous consent that Senator Hunters remarks appear in the official Journal of the State Senate.
And then the moment had passed. The Senate went back to business as usual.
But that moment will be with me forever a rare moment when an extraordinary man did the right thing for all the right reasons.