$70 million annually in property taxes. $418 million per year in coal severance taxes. $2 billion per year in payroll. More than $3.5 billion annually in the gross state product.

On average, that’s what West Virginia sees as a result of the coal industry.

In essence, it’s also what the state stands to lose if lawmakers in Washington get their way and members of the Senate approve proposed cap-and-trade legislation.

The EPA describes cap-and-trade as an environmental policy tool that delivers results with a mandatory cap on emissions while providing sources flexibility in how they comply. In fact, administrators hope to control pollution by providing economic incentives to those groups that reduce the emissions of pollutants.

Although West Virginia’s three representatives — Allan Mollohan, Shelley Moore Capito and Nick Rahall — voted against the bill last month, the U.S. House collectively passed the legislation that is designed to cut carbon dioxide emissions, particularly from coal-fired power plants. As The Associated Press has reported, the plan allows industrial sources to buy and sell pollution permits, and it requires power plants, factories, refineries and electricity and natural gas distributors to reduce the emissions linked to global warming. It also calls for more power production from renewable sources such as wind and solar energy and raises energy-efficiency standards.

With 13 coal-fired power plants currently operating, perhaps few states have as much at stake as West Virginia. And as one of the top coal-producing states in the nation — West Virginia trails only Wyoming in its production of coal each year and provides nearly 15 percent of the coal used in the United States — cap-and-trade legislation could ruin the very livelihood of many families in the Mountain State. In Marion County alone, which ranked third in the state’s production of coal in 2007, more than 1,000 employees work in one of 16 operating mines.

An article in Clean Coal Today numbers the combined direct and indirect contributions of the coal industry to West Virginia’s economy in excess of $13 billion. The state’s coal industry employs more than 15,000 miners and approximately 35,000 people overall. Just five years ago, coal produced within the state accounted for 50 percent of U.S. coal exports.

How can lawmakers from a nation that relies so heavily on the industry justifiably cast their approving votes for a bill that could destroy the nation they represent?

Following last month’s narrow margin of victory in the House, the issue is gaining momentum in the Mountain State. Later this month, the West Virginia Coal Association will sponsor a briefing on the proposed legislation. But some residents are restless when it comes to voicing their opinion of the issue, and just last weekend approximately 400 people gathered in Charleston to protest cap-and-trade.

We hope their voices will be heard in Washington.

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