By Mary Catherine Brooks
Eleven days after beginning his third walk to Washington, D.C., in support of coal, Wyoming County Circuit Clerk David “Bugs” Stover was sitting in the city’s Union Station. The skin on the bottom of his right foot had blistered and was beginning to peel. He also suffered from multiple “goose-egg size bruises” acquired during his trek.
“I have this general weariness,” Stover said as he sat in the station Tuesday night. “And I’m deeply troubled by what I see coming for coal.
“It’s not a storm cloud coming over the horizon; it’s the storm coming over the horizon,” Stover said of coal’s future.
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Stover, 57, began the 300-mile walk Nov. 16 in Maben, expecting to meet with President Barack Obama about the future of coal and, as a direct result, the future of Wyoming County. That didn’t happen, however.
He didn’t walk the last 30 or so miles, but needed to be in the city Wednesday morning in order to meet with U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, and U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin.
After meeting with Rahall, Stover’s outlook had changed drastically.
“(Rahall) assured me that he and his office are still fighting for coal,” Stover said Wednesday. “They say there is trouble in the EPA and they are continuing to fight the EPA.
“They are personally glad to see the EPA losing some of these court battles.
“Rahall assures me the future of coal isn’t doomed,” Stover emphasized.
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Stover believes Obama’s and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s policies on coal are devastating the coal industry, which is already impacting the area economy. It is costing Wyoming County jobs and millions in tax dollars, Stover said.
“America can’t let Obama’s regulations shut down the coal industry,” Stover emphasized. “I can’t imagine there is a good reason to do that.
“If anybody in the world can produce — and use — coal cleanly, it’s the United States of America,” Stover emphasized before beginning his walk.
He said other countries have few to no regulations regarding coal.
“Coal production for energy purposes is going to increase for the next 50 years — no matter what anybody does,” Stover believes.
“Wyoming County is still going to sell some met coal,” he said. “Some of our mines may sell some of our coal to China.”
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Stover had initially planned to give up Thanksgiving dinner with his family in order to execute this walk to Washington. However, Dave Harsh, a close friend, picked him up on his journey and took him back to Mullens. Stover had dinner with his entire extended family. His brother, Mike, then drove him back to the place Harsh had picked him up, where Stover continued his walk.
“My entire family was going to be there; I just couldn’t pass that up,” Stover explained.
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While Stover is much older now than during his first two walks, he said he held up better this time. There was no suffocating heat or continuing rain as in his previous walks.
“The heat makes it difficult to walk, and wet weather is really hard on your feet,” he noted.
This time, it was the frigid nights that caused him the most suffering.
“I would be so cold — I’d get up and walk around, trying to convince myself that a fat man couldn’t freeze to death overnight at 27 degrees,” he said. “But it’s hard to convince yourself of that when you’re that cold.
“This is my last journey, my last walk,” Stover said.
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Earlier this year, Stover rode his bike 90-plus miles, from Mullens to Charleston, for the West Virginia Association of Counties’ Healthy Counties session July 23-24. If only five percent of the population would exercise 30 minutes three times a week, then health care costs would drop $100 billion. Obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes could be controlled, he said.
In 2011, Stover walked to Charleston to bring attention to the West Virginia House of Delegates’ redistricting plan.
In 2006, Stover walked from Welch to Charleston to bring attention to the need for the Coalfields Expressway, especially in Wyoming and McDowell counties.
In 1998, he walked from Mullens to Washington, D.C., to protest the Kyoto Protocol, which he believed would impact the coal industry and cost the county jobs.
In 1980, he also walked to Washington to bring attention to the coal industry.
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Rahall, D-W.Va., met Stover Wednesday morning in his Capitol Hill office.
“I was privileged to welcome Bugs to Washington after his first walk in behalf of coal more than 30 years ago,” Rahall said.
“Those today who look at Bugs’ march to Washington as long and lonely are only half right. By any stretch, the years haven’t made the journey any shorter, but whether they know it or not, Bugs marched with millions who benefit from coal,” Rahall said.
“Bugs cares passionately about our coal miners and families, and he understands well the importance of coal to our state in providing miners with a means to earn an honest living and provide for their families.
“Bugs won’t ever give up on fighting for our coal miners, and neither will I,” the congressman emphasized.
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Rahall met with Stover on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in 1980, when Stover first walked to Washington carrying a bucket of coal to raise awareness about the nation’s energy independence.
In the Wednesday meeting, the two once again discussed the future of coal, with Rahall promising to continue his bipartisan push for legislation to turn back the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s anti-coal agenda.
“I met with Congressman Rahall, and he assured me that he will continue to work with Republicans and Democrats to bring change in the EPA’s position on coal and coal-fired electricity,” Stover said.
“Coal is not dead,” Stover noted.
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In the current Congress, Rahall has been successful in shepherding his bill — House Resolution 2018, the Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act — though the U.S. House of Representatives that would stop the EPA’s interference with coal mining permits in West Virginia and allow the state to issue legally permissible mining permits. Among the key parts of the “Stop the War on Coal Act” recently passed by the House were the provisions of the Rahall bill.
“At a time when so many families are struggling and our nation needs every job it can get, it is not only cruel and heartless but nonsensical for the EPA to be undermining those jobs that do exist,” Rahall said.
“I have stood up against the EPA and spoken out fervently against the agency’s abuse of the law. I have worked in Congress to prevent the agency from circumventing the law and the people. And as long as the EPA continues to attack our miners, I will keep on fighting by their side,” Rahall emphasized.
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U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., welcomed Stover after his walk to the nation’s capital to discuss the importance of promoting coal production in West Virginia and across America.
“There’s just no one else who fights for coal like Bugs, and it was truly a pleasure to talk with him about how I’m going to fight every day along with him,” Manchin said.
“As I’ve always said, you can live with coal or you can live without coal — but you can live a whole lot better with it than without it. There’s no getting around it: If we’re going to be energy-independent, coal will play a vital role in an all-of-the-above energy approach.
“I enjoyed sharing with Bugs this simple fact: If anyone thinks getting rid of coal in the United States will clean up the environment, they believe the world is flat. There’s eight billion tons of coal being burned in the world every year — half of it by China. What we really need to do is work together — not as Democrats and Republicans, but as Americans — to create an energy policy that uses all of our resources, including using our coal, natural gas, wind, nuclear, solar, biomass and other fuels of the future.
“I admire Bugs’ persistence in making every effort to keep the hope alive to rebuilding a thriving economy in Wyoming County and across our great state. I know Bugs is willing to walk to the ends of the Earth to get it done,” Manchin said.
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“Throughout my whole life, there have always been ups and downs in the coal industry, and we’ve always gotten through them,” Stover said. “But now, we are fighting to survive in an industry where we know we can diversify, but not as quickly as the government expects us to.
“In Wyoming County and across West Virginia, we are fighting for a common sense balance between the government and the economy to survive,” Stover said.