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West Virginia

Don’t call it a Just Transition: United Mineworkers announce Principles for Preserving Coal Country

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, April 20, 2021

United Mine Workers of America president Cecil Roberts was accompanied by West Virginia’s senior Senator Joe Manchin on April 19 when he announced the UMWA’s new principles for addressing climate change and the energy transition. Preserving Coal Country: Keeping America’s coal miners, families and communities whole in an era of global energy transition is built on three goals: “preserve coal jobs, create new jobs, and preserve coalfield families and communities.” The UMWA statement calls for specific steps to achieve those goals, including enhanced incentives for carbon capture and storage research, with a goal of commercial demonstration of utility-scale coal-fired CCS by 2030; tax incentives for build-out of renewable supply-chain manufacturing in coalfield areas, with hiring preference for dislocated miners and families; and provision of wage replacement, family health care coverage, and pension credit/401(k) contribution, as well as tuition aid. For the community, the principles call for direct grants to coalfield counties/ communities/school districts to replace lost tax revenues for 20-year period, as well as targeted investment in infrastructure rehabilitation and development – roads, bridges, broadband, schools, health care facilities. 

The document concludes with a statement of willingness to work with Congress, President Biden, and other unions, and with this: “This cannot be the sort of “just transition” wishful thinking so common in the environmental community. There must be a set of specific, concrete actions that are fully-funded and long-term. The easiest and most efficient way to fund this would be through a “wires” charge on retail electric power sales, paid by utility customers, which would add about two-tenths of one cent per kilowatt hour to the average electric bill. This would amount to less than $3.00 per month for the average residential ratepayer.”

Summaries appeared in: “Miners’ union backs shift from coal in exchange for jobs” from Associated Press, published in the Toronto Star; “Surprise news from the miners union gives Democrats an opening against Trumpism” in the Washington Post; “A coal miners union indicates it will accept a switch to renewable energy in exchange for jobs” in the New York Times, and “America’s largest coal mining union supports clean energy (with conditions)” in Grist.

At the same press conference on April 19, West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin announced that he will co-sponsor the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act, as reported by Reuters here. Passage of the PRO Act is also one of the action items in the Mine Workers Preserving Coal Country statement, and a key goal for American unions.

Climate Movement Applauds Coal Miners' Demand for Just Transition, Green Jobs

By Kenny Stancil - Common Dreams, April 19, 2021

The largest union of coal miners in the U.S. announced Monday that it would accept a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy as long as the federal government takes care of coal workers through the provision of green jobs and income support for those who become unemployed.

"There needs to be a tremendous investment here," said Cecil E. Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International. "We always end up dealing with climate change, closing down coal mines. We never get to the second piece of it."

Ahead of a press conference outlining the UMWA's approach to addressing the climate emergency in a way that improves rather than diminishes the well-being of workers in the dirty energy sector, Roberts said in a statement that "energy transition and labor policies must be based on more than just promises down the road. We want to discuss how miners, their families, and their communities can come out of this transition period and be certain that they will be in as good or better shape than they are today."

"Much of the coal-producing areas of Appalachia and elsewhere are already in bad economic shape," said Roberts. "Washington has taken little action to address it over the past decade. That must change."

"As we confront a next wave of energy transition," he added, "we must take steps now to ensure that things do not get worse for coal miners, their families, and communities, but in fact get better."

Sunrise Responds to Decision by United Mine Workers Association, Commits to Fighting Alongside Them and Demands Manchin Supports 'Tremendous Investment'

By Ellen Sciales - Common Dreams, April 19, 2021

Today, in response to the news that the United Mine Workers Association, the main and essential union for coal miners, and Senator Joe Manchin are supporting the transition to renewable energy, Evan Weber, Political Director of Sunrise Movement, released the following statement:

“For generations, coal communities have sacrificed to keep the lights on for all of us, while they’ve been abandoned by executives and politicians in DC. Sunrise Movement stands with and celebrates the United Mine Workers Association announcement today as they lean in to the transition towards a renewable energy economy, and we renew our commitment to fight alongside them to ensure the government leads in ensuring coal communities are whole and not left behind. We fully support their calls for job training, investments and prioritization of coal communities to receive economic development, and guaranteeing wages and benefits for workers impacted by the urgent and necessary transition towards a carbon-free economy.

“The radical truth is that at the end of the day, most of us want the same thing — a good, reliable job with a stable wage and a sense of comfort and security. And the brutal reality of the climate crisis is that it has threatened our jobs, our homes and the lifestyles that some of us have known for centuries. We agree wholeheartedly with Cecil E. Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America’s warning that there must be ‘tremendous investment’ as this transformation takes place. From the climate crisis, to technological shifts, to global pandemics, the 21st century promises more disruption — but our government can and must take care of its people along the way. In addition to what the mineworkers have outlined, we support a federal job guarantee to ensure every American has the right to a good job as our society faces more disruption, and see a fully funded Civilian Climate Corps employing millions of Americans in jobs tackling the crisis and revitalizing our communities as a step in that direction.

“Whether or not America has noticed, there has been a movement in West Virginia and across the United States growing around these basic ideas — and towards our vision for a Green New Deal. And today, the labor movement and young activists have proven they can be more powerful than the executives who have delayed action for years. While we may not agree on all of the specifics of how we get there, we are more aligned on the destination than those who seek to divide us would like you to think.

“At Sunrise, we say we have no permanent friends and no permanent enemies, and when we see stances that reflect our values, we’ll celebrate those. With Senator Manchin’s support on the PRO Act and for a just transition for coal workers, it is our hope that today marks a turning point for Senator Manchin. If he is truly committed to protecting this community and West Virginians, he will support the ‘tremendous investment’ the Mineworkers call for, starting with $10 trillion over the next decade, or $1 trillion per year, in order to ensure we can truly transition in a way that leaves no one behind. He’ll also stop pretending that this is an agenda that the Republican Party, which has long abandoned its desire to productively deliver for the American people, will come along with, and urge passage of this important agenda for Mineworkers and West Virginians through a simple majority by abolishing the filibuster.” 

An Energy State No More: As coal vanishes from the grid, so might West Virginia’s status as an energy state

By Sean O'Leary - Ohio River Valley Institute, April 9, 2021

In 10 years, unless West Virginia leapfrogs from its coal-dominated energy system to one driven by clean renewable resources, it will cease to be an energy state:

West Virginia’s status as an energy state — one that produces more energy than it consumes – will almost certainly come to an abrupt end within the next ten years and possibly sooner. That’s because market forces, even more than political ones, are inexorably eradicating coal from the nation’s electricity system.

West Virginia, which generates nearly twice as much electricity as it consumes, relies on coal for 91% of its output. So, as coal goes, so does West Virginia’s status as an energy state, which for many West Virginians is as much an issue of identity as it is of economics. But the economics are the driving force and they are irresistible.

In February, the investment house, Morgan Stanley, concluded that coal will disappear from the nation’s energy grid by the year 2033. Market trends bear that out. As recently as 2008, nearly half of America’s electricity came from coal. But, by 2019, only 12 states continued to generate even 40% of their electricity from coal. And, in those states, average residential monthly bills rose at twice the rate of the nation as a whole.

To Save America, Help West Virginia

By Liza Featherstone - Jacobin, March 30, 2021

A Democratic swing vote in an evenly divided Senate, West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin has already proved to be a significant obstacle to progressive policy. His opposition was a significant reason for Biden’s failure to raise the minimum wage to $15; Manchin also played a key role in shrinking the household stimulus checks, as well as the weekly unemployment checks. He will be a necessary and highly undependable vote as Democrats attempt to address the climate crisis, advance union organizing rights, and counter racist Republican efforts to legislate voter suppression.

However, the infrastructure bill that Biden and the Democrats are preparing to unveil, which is expected to call for $3 trillion in investment in public goods and services, presents an opportunity for West Virginians — and for all of us. Manchin has been championing this legislation, even calling for it to be funded with an increase in taxes on corporations and the wealthy. On this issue, Eric Levitz of New York magazine has convincingly argued, Manchin is actually pulling Biden to the left.

Manchin’s salience puts West Virginia in a powerful position. The state has urgent needs, given the long decline of the coal industry and the double impact of the opioid and coronavirus public health crises. Almost a third of West Virginians filed for unemployment between mid-March 2020 and the end of January 2021.

A report by University of Massachusetts economists with the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI), released in late February, proposed a recovery plan for West Virginia, with good jobs and environmental sustainability at its center. The study showed how compatible these priorities really are. The state’s coal industry has spent years successfully demonizing Democrats and environmentalists as job killers. Under recent regimes of neoliberal austerity, there might been some truth to that, but with more generous investment from the federal government, West Virginia can redevelop its economy and lead the nation in fighting climate change at the same time.

PERI found that the struggling Appalachian state could reduce carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2030 and reach zero emissions by 2050 — the targets the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) determined in 2018 were needed in order to avoid irreversible damage to our planet and to human civilizations — while creating jobs and promoting prosperity. The UMass researchers found that $3.6 billion per year in (both public and private) investments in a clean energy program — averaged over the 2021–2030 time period — would generate about 25,000 West Virginian jobs per year. The PERI researchers also analyzed the effect of $1.6 billion a year — also over 2021–2030 — in investments in public infrastructure, manufacturing, land restoration, and agriculture, finding that these efforts would generate about 16,000 jobs per year.

In fighting for such priorities, progressives need resist the pull of what we might call “woke neoliberalism.” Woke neoliberalism functions by using charges of racism and sexism — very real problems! — against initiatives that could help the entire working class. (Remember Hillary Clinton’s, “If we broke up the big banks tomorrow, would that end racism?”) In the debate over the Biden infrastructure bill, some well-meaning people are falling into that trap, already pitting investment in care work and infrastructure against each other.

The Washington Post reported on Monday, “Some people close to the White House say they feel that the emphasis on major physical infrastructure investments reflects a dated nostalgia for a kind of White working-class male worker,” citing SEIU president Mary Kay Henry’s private admonitions to the White House not to overlook the care economy. Henry said, “We’re up against a gender and racial bias that this work is not worth as much as the rubber, steel and auto work of the last century.” Economists Heidi Shierholz, Darrick Hamilton, and Larry Katz reportedly argued to the White House that investing in care work would create more jobs than investing in infrastructure.

Let’s not do this.

Phasing Out Fossil Fuels Is Possible. These State-Level Plans Show How

By C.J. Polychroniou - Truthout, March 15, 2021

When it comes to climate change, state governments across the United States have been way ahead of the federal government in providing leadership toward reducing carbon pollution and building a clean energy economy. For example, when Trump announced in 2017 his intention to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, the governors of California, Washington and New York pledged to support the international agreement, and by 2019, more than 20 other states ended up joining this alliance to combat global warming.

Robert Pollin, distinguished professor of Economics and co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, has been a driving force behind several U.S. states’ efforts to curb carbon emissions and make a transition to a green economy. In this exclusive Truthout interview, Pollin talks about how states can take crucial, proactive steps to build a clean energy future.

C.J. Polychroniou: Bob, you are the lead author of commissioned studies, produced with some of your colleagues at the Political Economy Research Institute of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, to fight climate change for scores of U.S. states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Maine, Colorado, Washington, New York and California. The purpose of those studies is to show the way for states to attain critical reductions in carbon emissions while also embarking on a path of economy recovery and a just transition toward an environmentally sustainable environment. In general terms, how is this to be done, and is there a common strategy that all states can follow?

Robert Pollin: The basic framework that we have developed is the same for all states. For all states, we develop a path through which the state can reduce its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by roughly half as of 2030 and to transform into a zero emissions economy by 2050. These are the emissions reduction targets set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the IPCC) that are meant to apply to the entire global economy. The IPCC — which is a UN agency that serves as a clearinghouse for climate change research — has concluded that these CO2 emissions reduction targets have to be met in order for we, the human race, to have a reasonable chance to stabilize the global average temperature at no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above the preindustrial level, [the level of] about the year 1800.

The IPCC has concluded that stabilizing the global average temperature at no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels provides the only realistic chance for avoiding the most severe destructive impacts of climate change in terms of heat extremes, heavy precipitation, droughts, floods, sea level rise, biodiversity losses, and the corresponding impacts on health, livelihoods, food security, water supply and human security. Given that these emissions reduction targets must be met on a global scale, it follows that they also must be met in every state of the United States, with no exceptions, just like they must be met in every other country or region of the world with no exceptions.

By far the most important source of CO2 emissions entering the atmosphere is fossil fuel consumption — i.e., burning oil, coal and natural gas to produce energy. As such, the program we develop in all of the U.S. states centers on the state’s economy phasing out its entire fossil fuel industry — i.e., anything to do with producing or consuming oil, coal or natural gas — at a rate that will enable the state to hit the two IPCC emissions reduction targets: the 50 percent reduction by 2030 and zero emissions within the state by 2050.

Of course, meeting these emissions reduction targets raises a massive question right away: How can you phase out fossil fuels and still enable people to heat, light and cool their homes and workplaces; for cars, buses, trains and planes to keep running; and for industrial machinery of all types to keep operating?

It turns out that, in its basics, the answer is simple and achievable, in all the states we have studied (and everywhere else for that matter): to build a whole new clean energy infrastructure that will supplant the existing fossil fuel dominant infrastructure in each state. So the next major feature of our approach is to develop investment programs to dramatically raise energy efficiency standards in buildings, transportation systems and industrial equipment, and equally dramatically expand the supply of clean renewable energy sources, i.e. primarily solar and wind energy, but also geothermal, small-scale hydro, as well as low-emissions bioenergy.

The Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal

As coal dies, the US has no plan to help the communities left behind

By Emily Pontecorvo - Grist, March 3, 2021

Here are two tales of the energy transition unfolding in coal country, USA.

In late 2019, Pacificorp, an electric utility that operates in six Western states, told Wyoming regulators it wanted to shut down several of its coal-fired power plants early and replace them with wind and solar power and battery storage. It said this plan would save customers hundreds of millions of dollars on their electric bills and promised to work with local leaders on transition plans for workers and communities affected by the closures.

Wyoming, a state whose economy relies significantly on coal mining and coal power, went on the defensive. State lawmakers had already passed a law requiring coal plant owners to search for a buyer before being allowed to close a plant. Now, with support from the governor, regulators ordered an unprecedented investigation to scrutinize Pacificorp’s analysis and conclusions. Ultimately they determined the plan was deficient — that the company had not adequately considered allowing the coal plants to stay open or installing technology to capture the plants’ carbon emissions.

Fracking boom brings job and income loss to Appalachian communities

By Elizabeth Perry - Work and Climate Change Report, February 23, 2021

A February study examined the economic changes in 22 counties the authors call “Frackalachia” – home to the Utica and Marcellus shale gas industry. The report, Appalachia’s Natural Gas Counties: Contributing more to the U.S. economy and Getting less in return examines the period from 2008 to 2019, a time when the area went from producing a negligible portion of U.S. natural gas to producing 40%. The report summarizes the job forecasts provided by oil and gas industry economic impact studies, (over 450,000 new jobs for Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia), and shows the actual economic data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis – a 1.6% increase in jobs – at a time when the number of jobs across the U.S. grew by 9.9%. Detailed statistics demonstrate the differences amongst counties and states – with Ohio faring the worst and Pennsylvania faring the best. The report’s analysis shows that in the entire area represented by the 22 counties, the share of the national personal income fell by 6.3 percent, the share of jobs fell by 7.5 percent, and the share of the national population fell by 9.7 percent , while 90% of the wealth generated from fracking left the local communities.

The report was produced and published on February 10 by the Ohio River Valley Institute, a non-profit think tank based in Pennsylvania, founded in 2020 with the vision of “moving beyond an extractive economy toward shared prosperity, lasting job growth, clean energy, and civic engagement.” This report has been widely reported, including in “Appalachia’s fracking boom has done little for local economies: Study”(Environmental Health News , Feb. 12), which summarizes the report and adds context concerning the health effects of fracking, and the failed attempts to expand production to petrochemicals and plastics using ethane, a by-product of the fracked natural gas.

Appalachia's Natural Gas Counties: Contributing more to the U.S. economy and getting less in return

By Sean O'Leary - Ohio River Valley Institute, February 12, 2021

Economists debate whether there is such a thing as a “resource curse”.

Between 2008 and 2019, twenty-two old industrial and rural counties in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, which make up the Appalachian natural gas region, increased their contribution to US gross domestic product (GDP) by more than one-third. In 2008, the 22 counties were responsible for $2.46 of every $1,000 of national output. By 2019, the figure had climbed to $3.33. Their rate of GDP growth more than tripled that of the nation. However, during the same period, measures of local economic prosperity—the economic impacts of that growth—not only failed to keep pace with the increased share of output, they actually declined.

  • The 22 counties’ share of the nation’s personal income fell by 6.3%, from $2.62 for every $1,000 to just $2.46.
  • Their share of jobs fell by 7.6%, from 2.62 in every 1,000 to 2.46.
  • Their share of the nation’s population fell by 10.9%, from 3.26 for every 1,000 Americans to 2.9 for every thousand.

It is a case of economic growth without prosperity, the defining characteristic of the resource curse.

Most of the GDP increase in this group of counties was due to the Appalachian natural gas production boom, which was facilitated by the advent of a drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” for short.

Read the text (PDF).

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