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In Appalachia, a movement to turn subsistence-farming traditions into bigger business
An agricultural co-op has increased its commercial producer count by fivefold in two years and seen net revenue grow from $65,000 to $225,000. Expectations are that profits will top $500,000 this year.
West Virginia community wins long-sought federal recovery status
In a turnabout, the EPA has put Minden on a Superfund priority list that will help the community recover from the pollution left behind a generation ago by a coal-mining equipment manufacturer.
A fight for preservation of miner benefits in West Virginia
Mine workers and their union representatives are pushing back against state-level policy changes that have made it more difficult to get healthcare and other benefits.
Appalachian utility president: ‘A continued shift from coal’
Appalachian Power, which has about a million customers in Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia, is embracing renewable energy production. “That means a continued shift from coal,” says the company’s president.
As West Virginia seeks economic diversification, concern over fate of miners
"The laws have to be changed to first of all secure the working person," said a labor leader who fears bankruptcy machinations by companies and cuts in black-lung benefits.
West Virginia governor’s family-owned coal business in court for bilking suppliers
Justice Energy Co. has lost another round in court over its failure to pay $150,000 to James River Equipment; it is one of five such cases involving Justice Energy.
Bitterness lingers 50 years after West Virginia mine explosion that killed 78
Citing recently discovered evidence, survivors of miners killed in the 1968 Farmington Mine Disaster are suing Murray Energy after company attorneys argued it is too late to press for accountability.
West Virginia High Court rules in favor of gas-fired plants
The West Virginia Supreme Court has ruled against a campaign by coal interests to block construction of a fleet of natural-gas-fired power plants in the state. “It is apparent that the project will substantially and positively impact the state and local economies,” the court said in favor of the proposed Brook County power plant.
Commentary: Honesty is the preferable policy in coal-country transition
The economy of West Virginia, long dependent on coal production, is at risk so long as it lacks diversification and regardless of misleading rhetoric to the contrary. “The real story in West Virginia is that the state regularly experiences periods of great economic growth as measured by gross domestic product — but without any corresponding increase in jobs and incomes,” one analyst said. “In other words, coal and gas are worlds unto themselves, generating revenue and profits for shareholders and out-of-state interests while doing nothing for the West Virginia’s economy.”
Westmoreland Coal bankruptcy seen as symptom of broader industry malaise
News this week that Westmoreland Coal had declared bankruptcy sent shudders through the industry and was seen as a likely indicator of consolidations to come. “The companies themselves are not making much money, and so they're in financially precarious positions,” one analyst said. “Somebody at some point in time has to blink and mines will have to close.”
Report: Planned closures of FirstEnergy coal plants won’t affect grid reliability
PJM Interconnect, which operates the electricity grid in Pennsylvania and 13 other states, has concluded that when FirstEnergy retires its coal-fired power plants in the region the move will have no effect on service. The company has announced plans to close the Bruce Mansfield plant outside Pittsburgh, the W.H. Sammis plant in eastern Ohio and the Pleasants Power plant in northern West Virginia.
West Virginia coal lobby seeks a 60% state tax cut
The West Virginia Coal Association is pushing for a cut in in state taxes on coal extraction that would reduce the rate by more than half—to 2 percent from 5 percent. The tax pays for a host of state and county services, and the proposal follows a series of pronouncements from mining companies that coal production in the region is on the rebound. “That would take a lot of resources out of this state’s budget,” one state legislator said.
Op-ed: West Virginia risks being left behind
As neighboring states attract investment capital and build their tax bases and employment growth around diversified energy economies, West Virginia lags in part because of political resistance to change. “West Virginians will be left behind if our elected officials do not act quickly and assertively to create a policy environment that encourages growth, competition and diversification in this newly unfolding energy system,” the author writes.
West Virginia University study sees no regional coal production improvement
A study published by West Virginia University’s Bureau for Business and Economic Research sees falling domestic demand for regionally produced coal. It also raises questions about whether export markets will hold up. “Both of the state’s producing regions will be hurt by weakening domestic demand, but Northern West Virginia faces greater market risk since most of the region’s coal is consumed by U.S. power plants,” one of the report’s authors said. “Southern West Virginia’s production should be buoyed to some extent by export demand, but output is expected to trend lower during the outlook as a growing portion of the region’s reserves become too expensive to recover.”
Another blow to Appalachia: Expensive electricity
While the coal-based economies of eastern Kentucky and West Virginia continue to decline, the region’s electricity rates are soaring as utilities spread costs among fewer customers. Ratepayers are essentially subsidizing companies like Kentucky Power to keep outdated plants online and to clean up after those that have been retired. “They are charging us for shutting down our coal-fired plants that were keeping us all employed," said Angie Hatton, a Kentucky legislator.
Pushback in West Virginia against Trump’s coal-subsidy plan
One clear result of a White House plan to subsidize failing coal plants: Bigger utility bills for households, businesses, and industry in West Virginia. Skeptics of the proposed bailout include officials with the Public Service Commission’s Consumer Advocate Division, the Center for Energy and Sustainable Development at the West Virginia University College of Law, and the Natural Gas Supply Association. The plan “would definitely drive rates up,” one analyst said.
Opinion: Washington-based Appalachian Regional Commission Should Relocate to West Virginia
A Charleston newspaper columnist advocates for moving the 50-year-old Appalachian Regional Commission to West Virginia, the only state whose borders are entirely within Appalachia. While Kentucky appears favored in a push to relocate the commission to a city in the region, the author argues that West Virginia should not “roll over on this one” and that the state’s governor and congressional delegation “should openly compete for it, starting now.”
Déjà Vu in West Virginia as Natural Gas Industry Digs In
As communities across West Virginia struggle with the damaging legacy of coal, the natural gas industry is on the rise, shaping public policy that is not in most residents’ best interest. Lobbyists have captured regulatory bodies and elected officials have sided with gas companies on taxes. ‘“It’s déjà vu for the people who sat here 130 years ago and gave away our coal wealth to big out-of-state companies,” one state senator said. “That’s what we’re about to do again.”
Public School Teachers Across the U.S. Press for More Education Investment by Energy Companies
Grassroots movements by teachers in Kentucky, Oklahoma, and West Virginia are calling for coal, gas and oil companies to invest more in local education. The movement is rooted in the premise that tax policies favoring corporations and the wealthy have not been in communities’ best interests. “Shared prosperity and natural resource extraction tend not to go hand in hand,” noted one advocate for change.
Study: ‘The Easier Coal’ Has Already Been Mined in Central Appalachia
A new study that compiles data from the Mine Safety and Health Administration, the U.S. Energy Information Administration and the Securities and Exchange Commission finds that low natural gas prices, stagnant demand for electricity, and rising production costs have driven the decline of mining in Kentucky and West Virginia. “In central Appalachian coal is deeper in the ground and the seams are thinner,” one expert said. “Because we’ve been mining coal for so long and so aggressively, we’ve already taken out all the easier to get coal.”
In West Virginia, programs like Refresh Appalachia, Reclaim Appalachia, and the Appalachian Bee Collective are helping former coal workers, and communities, create a path forward. "...the idea is to create a new generation of small-holding Appalachian farmers who will contribute to a larger agricultural community—one that’s appropriately scaled, diversified, and vertically integrated. "
Clinging to Survival, West Virginia Town Presses for Priority Status
Working-class Minden, W.V., once a thriving coal-mining center and now an EPA Superfund site, is pushing to be added to a federal priority-cleanup status list that already includes 10 West Virginia communities. The town of 250 has a cancer rate four times the national average. “People are tired of being collateral damage and they’re tired of living in a toxic waste dump,” said Paula Jean Swearengin, who is running for U.S. Senate against Joe Manchin, the incumbent.
Congress, Over White House Objections, Succeeds in Leaving Coal Country Money in U.S. Budget Bill
Several coal country programs at risk of being scrapped in the latest budget bill out of Congress survived. The law maintains funding for black-lung clinics. The Appalachian Regional Commission will receive more money for its economic-development work, much of which goes into the POWER Initiative, which operates job retraining programs in areas hard hit by the collapse of the coal industry. West Virginia will continue to get $30 million in grants to support development in struggling coal counties. The bill was enacted largely through the insistence of Congress and over the objections of the president.
A Mine Closure in Pennsylvania Is Another Sign of the Times
The 4 West Mine in Mount Morris, Penn., is closing soon because its owners say it is no longer a going concern. Almost 400 workers will lose their jobs at 4 West, which produced 1.6 million tons of coal last year, down from 2.1 million tons in 2015, a drop indicative of the industry’s regional decline and of the failing business models coal-mining companies have followed. “It’s going to disappear,” said a local mining consultant. “Gas is going to replace it.”
Editorial: West Virginia Deserves Better
A newspaper editorial calls for wariness around selling natural-gas assets to outsiders, urging against falling into a wealth-export trap that defined much of the state’s economic past and has left it devastated. “What does West Virginia have to show for a century of tying its lifeline to coal? Abject poverty. Southern West Virginia is almost a ruin.”
More calls for a more diversified economy in West Virginia
As West Virginia struggles with coal-industry losses and its young people look elsewhere for careers, public policy groups that include Coalfield Development Corp. and Generation West Virginia are pushing for more economic diversification. “That path, necessarily, should involve a variety of new industries, powered by people with roots in the state,” says one advocate. Industries ripe for development include reforestation, the arts, agriculture, community development, construction, and renewable energy.
More calls for a more diversified economy in West Virginia
As West Virginia struggles with coal-industry losses and its young people look elsewhere for careers, public policy groups that include Coalfield Development Corp. and Generation West Virginia are pushing for more economic diversification. “That path, necessarily, should involve a variety of new industries, powered by people with roots in the state,” says one advocate. Industries ripe for development include reforestation, the arts, agriculture, community development, construction, and renewable energy
Op-Ed: Three Trends That Suggest No Coal Comeback
Three distinct trends continue to work against the U.S. coal industry. One is a rapid rise of black lung among miners in Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia, where old coal seams that are increasingly difficult to tap are creating new health hazards, according to research by Stone Mountain Health Services. Two is national momentum toward retirement of the aging fleet of U.S. coal-fired electricity generation stations. Three is a Trump administration plan that is being crafted to bail out failing coal plants. “What seems clear from all three cases is that the coal industry isn’t coming back,” says the author.
Study: ‘Tough Task Ahead’ for Coal Country
The Appalachian Regional Commission has published a study by researchers at the University of Tennessee and West Virginia University that documents “a vicious cycle at work” in the decline of the coal industry and its wide-ranging impact on local and regional economies. “Talk of bringing back coal is a distraction from the real work that needs to be done,” said the president of the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development.
In coal country, a flood of money to build other businesses
Grants from the Appalachian Regional Commission support innovative job creation and training efforts in coal communities
Natural Capital Investment Fund Borrower Profile: Sport Outfitters, LLC
From coal miner to business owner: JTF grantee NCIF profiles Sport Outfitters, LLC
Brandon Dennison of Coalfield Development Coorporation discusses creating a new economy for West Virginia
Commentary: Plan to Subsidize Appalachian Coal Mines Won’t Work
A project by Coalfield Development to turn an old car-parts factory in McDowell County, W. Va., into an arts center embodies a shift occurring across Appalachia in spite of misguided plans by the U.S. Energy Department proposal to subsidize coal stockpiling: “These policies make sense only as a kind of political theatre, according to which both the administration and its many supporters agree to pretend that it is possible to return to some mythical glorious past, when brawny American men, rather than machines or foreigners, smelted steel, mined coal and built things on assembly lines. That world is gone—and even in coal country, some have come to grips with its absence.”
Fact Check: West Virginia’s China Coal Exports
Assertions by President Trump that more “clean coal” is being exported from West Virginia to China as a result of his policies are not supported by fact: “Trump's claim is based on some factual information, namely that coal exports to China have increased in 2017. But his claims of coal cleanliness, his taking of credit and his suggestion that things are changing in West Virginia just don't hold up.”
West Virginia’s Emerging Solar Market
The owner of a solar company in West Virginia sees the industry as a natural for the Mountain State: “The way I think about it as a West Virginian is that West Virginia has always been an energy state and this is just the next step.”
Doubts in West Virginia Over Coal’s Future
While a hearing this week on repeal of the federal Clean Power Plant drew vocal support in West Virginia, some residents used it as an opportunity to talk about a post-coal future. “People in Appalachia are starting to realize that we need to start thinking about additional ways to have economic development and economic activity,” says the director of Energy Efficient West Virginia. “While coal is going to continue to be part of the economy, I don’t think that anybody is under the illusion that it is going to be the main driver of the economy.”
Resistance in Coal Country to Repeal of EPA Clean Power Plan
While critics of the EPA’s Clean Power Plan turned out for a West Virginia public hearing on the plan, supporters showed up as well, including public-health advocates and a former coal miner.
Statewide Initiative in West Virginia Gives Former Miners Marketable Computer Skills
An organization called Mined Minds has certified 80 former coal miners in computer-coding skills and sparked an initiative to open coding “boot camps” statewide. "I think it gives us a chance to diversify ourselves and be something people think we are not," says the state’s senior U.S. senator.
Op-Ed: Wariness in West Virginia Over Chinese Investment in Natural Gas
A newspaper columnist in favor of economic diversification in West Virginia sounds a note of caution over a Chinese proposal to invest $83.7 billion in natural-gas production in the Mountain State. “We can build tourism, high-tech manufacturing or, perhaps health care innovation … we can refuse to become reliant on a single industry.”
Little Truth Seen in President’s Turnaround Boast for West Virginia
A fact-check on assertions by President Trump that he has “turned West Virginia around” with energy-policy rhetoric does not hold up to scrutiny.
Trumps Claims a ‘Turnaround’ in West Virginia, and Credits Himself
“I’ve turned West Virginia around,” the president says in a radio interview this week in which he asserts that the state is flourishing economically since he took office. Politico: “West Virginia’s senators have repeatedly acknowledged coal will never return to where it once was so it’s unclear what exactly Trump’s taking credit for here.”