Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently invested $500 million in the Beyond Carbon initiative — a program that aims to transform the U.S. energy industry into one of 100% clean energy. By definition, this initiative would cease any operations involving coal and natural gas, both of which West Virginians have long held near and dear to their hearts.
Gov. Jim Justice, who owns multiple coal companies himself, framed Bloomberg’s investment as an attack on West Virginians, and it is certainly true that if coal and natural gas companies closed their doors overnight, the state’s economy would be in turmoil. West Virginia owes much of its history to fossil fuels. Even the iconic pepperoni roll, which isn’t found even in neighboring states, comes from the need for coal miners to have a convenient, portable meal while working.
It is, however, time we have a difficult conversation as a state. The coal industry is in turmoil. We all know this. There are several reasons why — environmental regulations; natural gas becoming cheaper and easier to access because of fracking; and railroad deregulation, to name a few. The reasons are, at this point, irrelevant. What matters is that our state’s chief industry has been in decline for years, and there simply isn’t an end to that decline in sight.
Natural gas, which much of our energy producers have pivoted to, holds promise, and with the construction of several major pipelines down the coast, West Virginia has the potential to be a leading supplier of energy once again. And that sounds great — until it’s over.
In today’s political climate, the debate waging over where and how America should get its energy is one that is too volatile for us to risk the level of dependency we previously had on the coal industry.
West Virginia needs to diversify — the windfall from our rich natural gas reserves will be good for the state, but we need to spend that money on longer-term goals that aren’t at risk of being made obsolete in the future by environmental movements like Beyond Carbon.
Whether we like it or not, fossil fuels will always be a non-renewable resource, and when they’re gone, they’re gone. Even setting aside the environmental argument, we need to think about the future of our state. We can take measures, here and now, that could contribute to the prosperity of West Virginia for generations to come.
Instead of bristling at the very idea of a world run on renewable energy, why not step forward and embrace it?
We already have several windmill farms throughout the state. We have solar panels. We have an abundance of natural water sources that could help power hydroelectric plants. And, best of all, we have an entire workforce of ex-coal miners who could be retrained for one of the many clean energy jobs that would be created.
This isn’t a change that can happen overnight, and of course, it is prudent to take advantage of our natural gas reserves while we have the chance. But the longer we clutch yesterday, the harder it will be to embrace tomorrow.
West Virginia owes much of its history to fossil fuels. But it does not owe them its future.