CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – The push to move away from coal and reduce carbon emissions is an international topic of conversation, but the change toward cleaner energy in the U.S. could affect West Virginia more than any other state.
The United States has a goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and at the UN Climate Change Conference in November, the U.S. envoy John Kerry predicted that the U.S. will eliminate the use of coal by 2030.
West Virginia relies more on coal than any other state, according to Commodity. Almost 89% of electricity in West Virginia is coal-generated; that’s shockingly higher than the national average of 19.3%. Only 6.2% of electricity in West Virginia comes from renewable resources.
It’s not surprising then that West Virginia was also named the least green state by Consumer Affairs, with low levels of renewable energy, high emissions, high waste and low recycling. Commodity also reported that West Virginia has the second most carbon-intensive economy, topped only by Wyoming.
Some states like West Virginia that have traditionally relied on coal both as an economic driver and as an energy source have been slower to make the transition.
The majority of coal production in the U.S. is contained in a handful of states, including West Virginia and Wyoming. Because coal is cheap and plentiful, these heavy coal producers are also among the states that generate the greatest share of electricity from coal and a lower share from renewables. In contrast, the states that depend more heavily on renewables either have governments that have prioritized clean energy and emissions reductions or geographic features that make them well-suited to wind, solar or hydropower installations.
Mining and burning coal heavily emit greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane and also poses risks of air and water pollution. Many policymakers and environmental advocates are now pushing for a transition away from coal for that reason.
West Virginia’s government shows more resistance to removing coal as a major commodity. Attorney General Patrick Morrisey joined in a 19 state coalition on Tuesday that is working to appeal a case to Supreme Court that, if overturned, would prevent federal control over states’ energy.
“The lower court decision endorsed rules that would devastate coal mining, increase consumers’ energy costs and eliminate countless jobs,” said Morrisey’s Dec. 14 press release.
Some West Virginians are making a push for state government leaders to do more to reverse the negative impact that West Virginia is having on the environment. Last week, the AMP Media Project with support from West Virginia climate groups released nationally the climate action music video “Hey Joe”, featuring crowds of people across West Virginia and beyond in a sing-a-long directed at W.Va. Senator Joe Manchin, encouraging him to support the Build Back Better Act.
Despite the beliefs of his Democratic party, Manchin has opposed President Biden’s climate change legislature including Build Back Better in order to protect coal jobs in West Virginia. Some claim that personal ties to coal mining cloud his judgment.
Joe Manchin has recently funded the Appalachian Regional Commission‘s POWER program, which targets federal resources to help communities and regions that have been affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant operations, and coal-related supply chain industries due to the changing energy sector.