Soul for Coal
After the Sago Mine disaster in 2006 and now the Upper Big Branch mine disaster which left 25 dead, it is time for the State of West Virginia to begin to seriously consider a gradual transition to cleaner resources and energy. A transition away from coal will not be easy. According to a study released in February, the coal industry generated 63,000 jobs and $25.23 billion in 2008 alone. This is no chump change in a state with less than 2 million residents. Unemployment as of February of this year had reached 9.5. The importance of coal to the already fragile economy of West Virginia makes it very difficult to see any substantial transition from coal in the near future.
There is some hope, however. In December of 2009, Senator Robert Byrd, a long time coal supporter, issued an op-ed stating that the real threat to the coal industry is not from government regulation but rather through its own resistance to modernization or change:
The future of coal and indeed of our total energy picture lies in change and innovation. In fact, the future of American industrial power and our economic ability to compete globally depends on our ability to advance energy technology.
The greatest threats to the future of coal do not come from possible constraints on mountaintop removal mining or other environmental regulations, but rather from rigid mindsets, depleting coal reserves, and the declining demand for coal as more power plants begin shifting to biomass and natural gas as a way to reduce emissions.
Senator Byrd is correct in many respects. The government is not going to instantly do away with coal. Coal still satisfies too much of the nation’s energy needs to simply shut down the industry. However, to think that innovation in cleaner energies will not continue and that demand for coal will not decrease, is fallacy. West Virginia has an opportunity to be an industry leader for once. Put a stop to the devastating mountaintop removal practices and begin focusing on cleaner ways to produce existing resources which will ease the economy into the use of cleaner energy.
***A great overview of Massey Energy’s role in the most recent disaster can be found here. (h/t Emily H)