Brookings Institution workshop addresses coal industry

By Kerry Goff | Dec 18, 2015

MORGANTOWN – Experts from the West Virginia University College of Law recently attended a Brookings Institution workshop discussing current obstacles and the future of the state's coal industry.

The agenda for the workshop was to “discuss the state of where the coal industry is West Virginia and Wyoming. We focused on the situation of where coal stood on the U.S. energy mix,” James N. Van Nostrand, Director of the Center for Energy and Sustainable Development and Associate Professor of Law at West Virginia University, told The West Virginia Record. “The decline is staggering from the last five years. The demand for coal was in the 45% to 50% range in 2010. In 2015, it is down to the mid 30s.”

Van Nostrand explained that in West Virginia, most areas have already been mined, so West Virginia has a growingly more difficult terrain to conquer to continue to mine. Wyoming does not have quite the same challenges in this regards, given the way coal is mined there.

Another concern is that “there is more natural gas in competition, which has created a dramatic decrease in the demands for coal,” Van Nostrand said. “EPA standards are large factor in the decline of the coal industry in the last five years as well.”

Now that those in the industry know the state of the industry, the focus turned to “how to create viable assistance to coal miners who are now out of work. There is a need for worker retraining and possible relocation for jobs.” Van Nostrand said.

Van Nostrand further explained that there is a needed discussion of political realities to create county, state and national programs for former miners now that there are no more jobs in the industry, in which some have been entrenched for generations.

“It is not just an economical issue, it is a culture one. ‘Transition’ is a loaded word many miners don’t want to hear.” Van Nostrand said.

The annual energy conference that meets in April 2016 is hoping to address many of these future concerns. Van Nostrand said, “The big question is ‘what does a successful transitional program look like’?”

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