Should WV SOAR Like KY?
Monday, November 25, 2013
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Kentucky political leaders across party lines are looking for ways to diversify their state's economy, after big job losses hit the coal industry. Some feel West Virginia leaders need to do the same. On Dec. 9, Kentucky will host a Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) symposium in Pikeville to discuss what eastern Kentucky needs to do, now that it has lost 6,000 coal jobs over a year and a half.
Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear and Republican Congressmen Hal Rogers are working together on the project. Rogers said he's a strong supporter of coal in its environmental battles.
"However, we are where we are. What I'm trying to do with the governor is to put together a solution to the problem, regardless of where the problem came from," Rogers said.
Many allies of the coal industry, including Rogers and Beshear, blame federal regulations for falling employment in the mines. But the governor said Kentucky needs to face reality about the eastern coalfields' economic prospects, given what is happening to the industry.
"It's never going to employ the number of people that it used to employ. I think it's time that we take a hard look at ourselves and at our future, to diversify," Beshear said.
Ted Boettner, executive director, West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy, said West Virginia should have an equivalent to SOAR for the southern part of the state. He suggested that $2.5 billion in federal abandoned mine lands reclamation funds could be used to spur tourism. And, he said, the state should start a future fund with severance taxes. Options such as these are not receiving the attention they deserve, he complained.
"What we don't want to happen is for southern West Virginia to lose 6,000 coal jobs and then plan. The prudent course of action is to do something today to help ensure that we have a soft landing instead of a hard landing," Boettner said.
Given projected declines in central Appalachian coal production, economists also expect southern West Virginia to see sharp job losses.
More information about SOAR is available at the Commonwealth of Kentucky website, http://kydlgweb.ky.gov.
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