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Climate Agreement Brings Challenges for U.S., West Virginia

Sierra Club Executive Director Mike Brune says the Paris climate deal is a historic turning point, but one with built-in challenges for energy states like West Virginia. (Sierra Club)
Sierra Club Executive Director Mike Brune says the Paris climate deal is a historic turning point, but one with built-in challenges for energy states like West Virginia. (Sierra Club)
December 14, 2015

CHARLESTON, W. Va. - The executive director of the Sierra Club says the Paris climate agreement is a "historic turning point" – but one with a challenge for West Virginia.

Mike Brune says every country has now committed to the goal of keeping the global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius by slowing greenhouse gas pollution. And he says they've committed to accelerating a shift to wind, water and solar that's already under way. But Brune says the state and nation also must commit to seeing that this historic change works out for the folks in the coalfields.

"That honors the work of people in those industries, honors the contributions coal and oil and gas-dependent communities have made," says Brune. "How do we make sure those that workers in those communities are part of a clean energy economy?"

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., is co-sponsoring a resolution to give the Senate a vote on the deal. Others have suggested Congress should try to stall the agreement by eliminating funding for it. But Brune says technically, the deal doesn't need congressional approval, since the U.S. already signed on to the U.N. climate talks framework.

"The agreement does not need congressional approval," says Brune. "And the steps that the U.S. government has taken to reduce our carbon pollution are covered under the Clean Air Act."

Many in West Virginia have charged that reducing carbon emissions here won't make a difference when pollution is growing in China and other developing counties. But Brune says China has actually been moving away from coal power surprisingly quickly.

He says both China and the U.S. coming to Paris ready to replace fossil fuels with cleaner power made what he calls a "dramatic" turning point possible.

"China has committed to, at first, slow down the rate at which emissions would grow, to peak those emissions, and then to begin to cut them altogether," says Brune. "And that, the fact that every country is playing a role, is historic."

Two dozen states, including West Virginia, have sued to stop federal limits of carbon emissions from power plants. Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., has attacked the agreement as hurting U.S. industries while requiring payments to other countries.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV