Speeches by John F. Kennedy

From the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy at Mullens, West Virginia, April 26, 1960

This is a transcription of this speech made for the convenience of readers and researchers. A reading copy and a press release of the speech exist in the John F. Kennedy Pre-Presidential Papers at the John F. Kennedy Library. The texts are essentially identical.

The past eight years of Republican indifference and neglect have witnessed the steady and disastrous decline of America's great and abundant natural resources. And one of the most flagrant and tragic examples of this neglect is to be found here in Wyoming County: the failure to preserve and develop and protect the Guyandotte River - a stream which is vitally important to your economy - to your land - and to the health of your people.

Thirty years ago the Guyandotte was a clear and beautiful stream - a place where men could fish - an attraction for tourists - an invaluable source of water for homes and factories - and a stream which did not threaten your health or your land.

Today that same Guyandotte has been virtually destroyed by filth and contamination - the fish are gone - the tourists no longer come - and the water is almost useless. The new industry - with new jobs for your people - which might be attracted by a clean and abundant water supply has been driven away from Wyoming County. Moreover, since the tragic floods of 1957, it has become clear that the homes, the property and even the lives of those who live along the banks of the Guyandotte are constantly threatened by new, and even more devastating destruction.

But this problem is not peculiar to your county or even your state. For, what is true of the Guyandotte is true throughout the nation. Almost every major river in the country is a victim of pollution. And uncontrolled, rampaging flood waters all over the country cause a billion dollars worth of damage each year, and take an incalculable toll in human life and human welfare. No - the problem is not yours alone - it is a national problem.

And the failure to act has been a national failure. Every Democratic effort to encourage the development of our country's lakes and rivers - our vital water resources - has been met with Republican indifference, Republican opposition and with Republican vetoes. Every Democratic effort to make a sound investment in our resources - an investment in America's future - has been halted by policies of little faith and less action.

Of course the people of Wyoming County, like all the people of West Virginia - are not looking for charity or for giveaways. You do not expect or want the federal government to solve all your problems. But you do want - and deserve - help and understanding from your government. Help and understanding which will allow you to restore and develop your own rivers - which will help you to bring new industry and new jobs to your county - which will let men go back to work - and which will permit you and your children to enjoy the great natural beauty which was your heritage and which man's blindness has taken away.

First, we must have an immediate, effective program of pollution control. This year a Democratic Congress passed a bill which would have given you a limited supply of federal funds - to be matched with your own money and your own determination - to help to build pollution control projects. Such a bill would have helped you to restore the purity of the Guyandotte - providing abundant water supplies for your future economy - and repaying its small cost many times over in terms of increased prosperity and improved health. But it was vetoed by a Republican President. I can promise you that the next President - a Democratic President - will put such a program right at the top of his agenda.

Secondly, we must immediately embark on an extensive program of flood control. In 1957 President Eisenhower declared your county an official disaster area. But an even worse disaster has occurred since that time - the disastrous failure to do anything to keep those floods from coming again. We cannot have a policy which wants to save a few dollars today at the expense of a costly future destruction of life and prosperity. In 1961 - under a Democratic President - you will have the help you need - the help that is necessary to safeguard your homes and your families from new and more devastating floods.

With these programs - the programs of a forward-looking, dynamic Democratic Administration - an Administration in the great conservation tradition of Franklin Roosevelt - the Guyandotte, and all the many productive rivers of this great land, can flow pure and uncontaminated to the sea. And the people along the banks of those rivers will live free from the fear of floods and hopeful of the prosperity which our abundant resources can bring.

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