McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

December 4, 2012

Man walks 300 miles to D.C. - a third time - for coal

Hiker says industry under attack from Obama, EPA


CNHI News Service

BECKLEY, W.Va. — David "Bugs" Stover trekked from the coalfields of southern West Virginia to Washington, D.C. - on foot - to protest what he calls attacks on the coal industry by President Barak Obama and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“America can’t let Obama’s regulations shut down the coal industry,” said Stover, who has walked to Washington two other times to support coal interests.

Stover, 57, began his most recent journey in the tiny unincorporated community of Maben on Nov. 16. He walked nearly 300 miles in hopes of personally talking to the president, though an invitation to the White House never came.

Stover did get time with three supportive members of West Virginia's congressional delegation: Rep. Nick Rahall, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito and Sen. Joe Manachin. In fact, he cut short his walk and caught a ride for the last 30 or so miles to be on time for meetings with the three last week.

He also took a break from walking to eat Thanksgiving dinner with his family, but returned to his route post-turkey.

In all, he spent about a week and a half on the road.

Sitting in Washington's Union Station - the same place where Jimmy Stewart arrives in the capital in his role in Frank Capra's iconic movie, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" - Stover described himself as generally weary.

Stover, who is Wyoming County's circuit clerk, said he was tired from "goose egg-sized bruises" and blisters on his feet, as well as a challenging political future for the coal industry. Even as coal production is expected to keep growing, he said, coal companies are fighting for "a common-sense balance between the government and the economy to survive."

During the fall campaign, Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney also criticized Obama for attacking the coal industry. However, energy analysts have said government restrictions on coal plant emissions are only part of the industry's worry; much of its condition is also the result of cheap supplies of natural gas.

Stover had plenty of time to think about those issues during his one-man march to Washington. He held up better this time than on previous trips, he said, because he he didn't experience searing heat or steady rain.

Cold nights, however, were a problem.

“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.

Stover has more than once weathered the elements to call attention to various causes.

He first walked to Washington in support of coal in 1980, then repeated the journey 18 years later to protest a treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions adopted in Kyoto, Japan.

In 2006, he walked 100 miles from McDowell County to Charleston to lobby for an expressway. Five years after that, he hiked to Charleston to raise awareness of redistricting in the state House of Delegates. Earlier this year he biked 90 miles to a meeting of county officials in Charleston to encourage people to exercise more.

Rahall, a Democrat who's served in Congress since 1977, met Stover after his first walk to Washington. Then they met on the steps of the Capitol.

This time Rahall invited Stover to his office.

"Bugs won’t ever give up on fighting for our coal miners, and neither will I," said Rahall, who backed a bill that passed the U.S. House in July 2011 to block the EPA's influence on coal mining permits. The bill, which was vigorously opposed by environmentalists, has since stymied in the Senate.

Stover suggested last week that he may be looking for other ways to show his support for the industry.

“This is my last journey," he said, "my last walk."

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Details for this story were reported by the Register-Herald of Beckley, W.Va.