The Parthenon

Fighting Clean Power Act does not help W.Va.

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The White House released its plan to curb carbon emissions and slow climate change. As expected, lawmakers in West Virginia took no time to dismiss the plan as “unreasonable, unrealistic and ultimately unattainable.”

On the surface, those statements on the reality of cutting carbon emissions in West Virginia may be true. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan proposes a 32 percent nationwide cut in emissions by 2030. Each state has seven years to formulate a plan to reach its assigned 20 percent reduction.

West Virginia, which has historically based its economy on the resources of its land, has seen that economy take some major hits. Just this summer, over 1,000 miners were notified that they may lose their jobs. A lot of this is because of the new standards and regulations being put on coal companies, as well as the growing natural gas market in the state.

For a state that depends on coal for over 95 percent of its electricity, employs thousands of workers in the coal industry and has already cut emissions by 19 percent in recent years, the EPA’s plan feels personal. And it is personal for those workers who will become unemployed.

When you put the statements from coal company presidents and state leaders aside, real lives and jobs are at stake. So when officials say that these proposed cuts are unreasonable and wholeheartedly oppose them, they’re not just participating in partisan politics, they truly are being the voice of their constituents.

But instead of spending the next seven years fight the Clean Power Plan, West Virginia lawmakers should work with the White House to develop a plan that works for everyone. While it’s reasonable to feel angry about what feels like another attack on the livelihoods of West Virginians, not participating in an attempt to make a better future does not benefit anyone.

What has made West Virginia and Appalachia unique for so many years is hurting it in a most important time – it’s stubborn and unaccepting approach to 21st century thinking. Since it’s statehood over 150 years ago, it has begun placing all of its eggs in the coal basket – never exploring alternative energy sources and preparing for a future without coal until it has been forced to in recent years.

What could have been a gradual process like the rest of the nation, has been expedited.

There will be growing pains, for sure. There is no way for a state that is so dependent on coal to wean itself off of it easily, but it can be done.

The first thing the state can do is become more efficient with energy. This goes for both power plants and consumers.

A rebate program that provides an incentive for consumers to buy more energy efficient appliances would help lessen the load on utilities while curbing the state’s wasteful use of energy. This alone could drastically help the state meets its reduction goal.

Embracing renewable energy would provide a boost for construction workers in the states as the build grids capable of leading West Virginia into the 21st century when it comes to energy. In a state that could use a lot more renewable energy, the installation of solar grids and wind turbines could become a booming market. Providing jobs and financial support to thousands.

Most importantly, the state is sitting on a land mine of natural gas. The Marcellus Shale, a natural gas reserve that sits under almost all of West Virginia, could be a beneficial tool in helping the state transition from its coal dependence.

Eight years after drilling began, the wells of Marcellus haven’t even begun to reach their full potential.

The state, for the first time in a long time, is in a good position to make a strong move into a new era of clean energy. We can only hope that state leaders recognize the opportunity that the Clean Power Plan is providing them. 

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