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Federal Jobs Funding Could Propel WV Shift Away from Coal

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Clean-energy experts say West Virginia needs help transforming its 91% coal-fired energy supply to renewables. (Adobe stock)
Clean-energy experts say West Virginia needs help transforming its 91% coal-fired energy supply to renewables. (Adobe stock)
 By Diane Bernard - Producer, Contact
April 29, 2021

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia clean-energy supporters say President Joe Biden's climate-action goals and jobs plan give the state a unique opportunity to move beyond its declining coal economy.

At last week's international climate summit, Biden pledged to cut U.S. carbon emissions in half by 2030.

James Van Nostrand, director of the Center for Energy and Sustainable Development at West Virginia University College of Law, pointed out the administration's American Jobs Plan offers the chance to make investments in the state and move it, and its workers, in a new direction.

"There are a lot of jobs for which the coal miners would be qualified," Van Nostrand explained. "One of the things that we need to seriously look at is dealing with abandoned mine lands and plugging wells. They're a huge source of methane emissions, a huge problem with environmental degradation. We could definitely employ a lot of miners."

He cites a report his center released, which shows West Virginia's transition to renewable energy could generate more than 70% of the state's electricity from wind and solar by 2035, holding promise for thousands of clean-energy jobs.

Van Nostrand added the American Jobs Plan offers a timely way to bolster those jobs. Opponents of the infrastructure plan, including West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, say it's too expensive and would take away gas and coal jobs in the state.

But Van Nostrand argued coal jobs already are winding down and the state needs help to transform its electricity supply for a future economy.

"We've got a lot of potential employers who want to locate to the state who need access to renewable energy," Van Nostrand asserted. "They have corporate-sustainability goals and say we need to have a certain percentage of our electricity supply from renewable sources. And we really can't meet those demands in West Virginia with an energy supply that's 91% coal-fired."

A new federal work group report found southern West Virginia has the most need in the nation for federal investment because of its reliance on coal jobs. Coinciding with the report, the U.S. Department of Energy announced more than $109 million in funding to generate jobs in coal and other energy communities.

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