FAIRMONT — Sandy Cress, of Fairmont, first became so involved in climate change activism two decades ago that she said she had to pull back.
Twenty years later, Cress remains concerned about how climate change is not slowing down and government is not acting quickly enough to correct the course. So, Monday, she headed to East Marion Park to hear what the organizers of the “Jammin’ for Jobs & Justice” event had to say about the newest push to support clean energy solutions in a county that has relied heavily on the coal economy for decades.
“I just want to see if there’s anything I can be a part of to help out with,” Cress said. “This is about being active in helping protect the planet and trying to do my part. This keeps it in the forefront of my head.”
Cress, who has family members who have worked the mines, believes miners have been mislead, if not completely lied to.
“I think they’ve been given the wrong information saying that if we’re not doing coal, we’re not going to be able to get a job that pays that well,” Cress said. “And when I try to tell them there are people trying to get you jobs — replace you with a safer job that can pay kind of close to that, they don’t believe it.”
The event — aptly held on the day West Virginia celebrated its 159th anniversary as a state — was spearheaded by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and other social justice organizations. Their main message Monday was to mobilize guests to call, email and write West Virginia’s members of Congress to urge them to vote on a reconciliation bill that contains provisions to fund climate change initiatives in West Virginia.
Organizers are fighting for legislation that will allow miners to safely transition out of the coal economy and be retrained to work in greener jobs that may include wind turbine installation, solar farms or making batteries for electric vehicles.
“We want to put these workers back to work and invest in the future of West Virginia and let them be a part of that future because they were such an important part of our past in West Virginia,” said Lucia Valentine, of Shepherdstown, West Virginia organizer for Moms Clean Air Force, which advocates for climate change caused by climate pollution relating to children’s health.
Valentine lauded the May 24 news that the United Mine Workers of America had signed a memorandum of understanding with energy startup SPARKZ to recruit and train laid off mine workers at its West Virginia battery plant when it is completed.
“So, yes, it is happening and we want to see more of it happening and I think that people are starting to see that that’s the way to move forward here,” Valentine said.
UMWA Local 8843 President William “Bolts” Willis, of Kanawha County, told attendees Monday that the unions have to team up with the environmental groups if any type of climate change goals are to be accomplished. He also said that miners do care about the environment, but coal operators don’t want to spend money to make coal clean.
“The only reason we haven’t mined it clean is because the operators haven’t put the money in to making it clean,” Willis said. “They want the government to do all that and the government’s put money into clean coal technology but it’s still not enough. Until we decide we decide, ‘Hey, enough’s enough!’ we’ll clean it up for real.”
West Virginia Citizen Action Executive Director Gary Zuckett, of Kanawha County, agrees with Willis said a lot of cleanup has to take place in tandem with creating green jobs.
“It looks like remediating abandoned mine lands, it looks like plugging abandoned gas wells here in Northern West Virginia that are leaking methane and making the climate situation worse. Those are shovel-ready jobs right now and we’re supporting the electric utilities in building solar farms — that’ll provide jobs and community solar and wind. There are a lot of avenues out there to change the economy for the better.”