The coal industry in the United States is in a precarious position these days. Upcoming EPA regulations could force hundreds of small coal-fired power plants to shut down and would reduce demand for coal generation significantly over the next few years.
Appalachian communities have built a strong movement against the devastating practice of mountaintop removal mining in their backyards, and a larger national movement against coal is brewing. And certainly falling natural gas prices don’t help the coal industry either.
Of course, we are in an election year, and panic and fear-mongering trump rationality. Instead of viewing the coal industry as a behemoth slowly losing power and influence, politicians in coal states are clinging ever tighter to the coat tails of this struggling industry.
West Virginia’s senate race is the best example of this that I’ve seen this year. West Virginia’s Democrat Governor, Joe Manchin, is running for U.S. Senate against Republican John Raese. The campaign is fierce, and neither candidate is a shoe-in. What is fascinating about this race is that the loudest debates between Manchin and Raese have been about who is a better “friend of coal” in West Virginia. In an effort to prove loyalty to the dirty industry, Manchin has gone so far as to sue the EPA over their efforts to regulate mountaintop removal in central Appalachia.
West Virginia is a state with a mono-economy that relies almost entirely on jobs and revenue from coal. Unfortunately, the coal industry hasn’t paved West Virginia’s roads with gold, quite the opposite, the state has a high poverty rate and unemployment is an ongoing problem. Rather than taking an opportunity to show real leadership by helping West Virginia build a stronger economy that doesn’t rely solely on coal, Both Manchin and Raese are stubbornly tying the economic future of West Virginia’s communities to the future of the coal industry.
For the future of the planet, I hope that Manchin and Raese are wrong. I would love to see the coal industry bite the dust and be replaced by a renewable industry (hopefully one that doesn’t hold politicians in a strangle-hold of power and influence, but that’s another post.) For the future of West Virginia’s people, however, I hope that Manchin, Raese, and other coal-state politicians see the error of their ways before it’s too late.