WEST VIRGINIA — Unique Opportunity for State’s Long-Term Future

by Duane Nichols on September 23, 2021

American Jobs Plan offers many opportunities

Once-in-a-generation opportunity for West Virginia

Opinion – Editorial by Evan Hansen, Charleston Gazette – Mail, September 21, 2021

If it seems like it’s flooding more frequently these days, that’s because it is. In the past decade, West Virginia has experienced flooding emergencies almost every year. Many of these floods — such as the recent ones in Morgantown and Huntington — were caused by intense downbursts that climate scientists have warned about for decades.

The new U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report confirms that the effects of climate change are already upon us and that they are rapidly intensifying. But there’s still time to limit the worst effects.

West Virginia’s economic climate is changing alongside the global one. Several coal-fired power plants have been shut down in recent years, and more closures are coming in the next decades. Coal production has fallen, companies have gone bankrupt and miners have lost their jobs. Too many Mountaineers are uprooting and moving elsewhere. In the past decade, we lost more people than any other state.

Despite the flood of changes headed our way, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to chart a new course for West Virginia.

We find ourselves at an unusual moment in history: President Joe Biden has committed a huge amount of resources to coal communities, we have arguably the most powerful senator in recent memory, and we have little time left to act on climate. West Virginia might never have Washington, D.C.’s ear in the same way again.

We need federal action on climate, to cut down on the frequent flooding in West Virginia, but the solutions need to work for our people and our communities.

The bipartisan infrastructure bill and the Democrat spending plan are the first serious federal efforts to limit the damage from climate change while helping West Virginia’s coal communities thrive in the new economy. In fact, a West Virginia University analysis projected that the American Jobs Plan would create thousands of local jobs, lower energy costs and put approximately $172 million in West Virginians’ pocketbooks annually.

Even with these federal investments, we need to step up at the state level and help the communities hardest hit by the changing economy. In the West Virginia House of Delegates, the Coal Community Workgroup was formed this spring to do everything it can to support the most-affected towns and counties. We’ll be holding listening sessions in coal communities across the state this fall, and we need you to tell us how we can best support coal and power plant workers and diversify local economies.

Some communities might prioritize investments in broadband, while others might focus on water and sewer systems. One community might invest in its local hospital, while another might help its Main Street shops. Some might envision a future that capitalizes on the state’s natural beauty by creating recreational trails, perhaps with the help of a new Civilian Climate Corps. Others might focus on private-sector investments to turn coal into advanced carbon products.

Each community knows its assets and each is the best judge of what it needs to attract new investments that will keep West Virginians from moving away.

The infrastructure bill and the spending plan include significant funding that can begin to make these plans real: billions of dollars to reclaim abandoned coal mines and orphan oil and gas wells; incentives to entice new energy companies to locate in coal country; and long-overdue investments in traditional infrastructure. A significant portion of these funds will be directed to distressed communities right here in West Virginia.

Now that federal and state efforts are moving forward with similar goals, I’m optimistic that we can make progress in ways that seemed impossible just a few years ago. But each community needs a plan to make the best use of available federal money. If local, state and federal leaders work together, we can capitalize on this moment to build economically diverse and climate resilient communities that will weather the coming storms.

>> Delegate Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, is a member of the Coal Community Workgroup and the Energy and Manufacturing Committee in the WV House of Delegates.


See also: Op-ed: We don’t have time for another fossil fuel bridge, Seth Mullendore, Environmental Heath News, September 21, 2021

Those holding up carbon capture and hydrogen as new climate solutions are leading us down the wrong path.

Many of the voices holding up carbon capture and hydrogen as new climate solutions are the same voices that fought for the natural gas bridge a decade ago. And, once again, they’re leading us down the wrong path, building a bridge to decades of additional emissions when we’re rapidly running out of time to avoid the most dire impacts of climate change.

As the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made abundantly clear, we don’t have time for another fossil fuel bridge.

>> Seth Mullendore is vice president and project director for Clean Energy Group where he leads projects ranging from advancing customer-sited solar and battery storage in underserved communities to the replacement of power plants with clean technologies.

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