Coal Tattoo

The news Sunday that Sen. Robert C. Byrd was in the hospital in very serious condition prompted some of the standard political speculation about Gov. Joe Manchin’s possible designs on Sen. Byrd’s seat, including from and from FiveThirtyEight.

But also interesting, following the sad news this morning of Sen. Byrd’s passing, were these remarks in an Associated Press story in which Manchin said he had no plans to appoint himself to even temporarily replace The legendary senator:

Manchin says his decision will be an important one because of the effects climate change and mining debates in Congress and at the federal level will have on the state.

An important decision? Certainly. But Coal Tattoo readers know well that Gov. Manchin and Sen. Byrd didn’t exactly see eye to eye on climate change, mountaintop removal, or how our state should navigate the hurdles facing the future of our coal industry.

I asked Sara Payne, Manchin’s communications director, if the governor would have a litmus test for appointing a temporary successor to Byrd … would he pick only someone whose views on these matters mirror those of the governor?

The governor is not even thinking about an appointment right now … that is the furthest thing from his mind at this time. His focus is on honoring the senator and his contributions.

With that being said, it is my understanding that the governor was just speaking in general about how there are a lot of important things coming through Washington that directly relate to our state, and mining and climate are simply some examples.

I asked Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, about all of this. Bill emphasized:

The state has lost a great, great leader. He was just a real institution here in West Virginia. He was a great friend to the industry.

But Bill also acknowledged that industry “concern was mounting” over Sen. Byrd’s positions on mountaintop removal and greenhouse gas regulations, and that coal operators are hoping someone with “deep sensitivity” to the industry side of those issues ends up filling Sen. Byrd’s seat.

At the same time, environmental group leaders are both privately and publicly worried about the fact that Byrd’s strong voice is gone from debates over coal’s future.

Joe Lovett, director of the Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment, told me this morning:

To his credit, Sen. Byrd evolved on many issues, and he was a person who thought about things for himself and made decisions about what he thought was best for the people of the country and our state, and he came to see things differently regarding the coal industry and its relationship to the state.

It would be unfortunate for the state and the country if Gov. Manchin has a litmus test that anyone who replaces Sen. Byrd must side with the coal industry and against the people of the state and the country.