MORGANTOWN – A West Virginia University law professor hopes members of a U.S. Senate subcommittee who heard his testimony earlier this month will stop talking about the so-called "War on Coal" and concentrate instead on West Virginia's economic good.
"It is time to move beyond the tiresome complaints about the 'war on coal' and focus on the real drivers of the decline in the coal industry in West Virginia," James Van Nostrand, a WVU College of Law professor and director of its Center for Energy and Sustainable Development, said during an email interview with The West Virginia Record. "We are not going to be successful in addressing the problem if we are not correctly identifying the causes of it."
Earlier this month, Van Nostrand testified before a U.S. Senate subcommittee about stimulating West Virginia's coal industry in reference to the Clean Power Plan, an Environmental Protection Agency and Obama administration initiative to reduce carbon pollution from power plants in response to global climate change. "Our efforts would be far better served by one, creating an environment that is going to stimulate innovation, and two, positioning the state for participating in the new energy economy by adopting public policies that encourage the development of renewable energy resources and energy efficiency within the state," Van Nostrand told the The West Virginia Record. "The 'currency' of the new energy economy are carbon credits [i.e., emissions allowances that are generated by zero- or low-carbon resources], and we currently have no policies in place that will position us to succeed in those markets."
Without those policies, Van Nostrand said, not only will the state's cost for complying with the Clean Power Plan go much higher but West Virginia will lose a huge opportunity to stimulate its economy and provide broad economic benefits for its residents. To do that, the era of laying blame must end, he said.
"Continuing to blame the EPA for the decline in the coal industry in West Virginia does nothing to improve our prospects and, in fact, raises false hopes that defeating the Clean Power Plan or dismantling the EPA will solve our problems," Van Nostrand said. "It is about economics, which is driven by technology and innovation. That's how we succeed in this game, not by misguidedly blaming the EPA."
Van Nostrand testified before the U.S. Senate panel Oct. 5, the same day three West Virginia lawmakers, U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R), U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D) and U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins (R), also testified about how the Clean Power Plan’s affects the nation's hard-hit, coal-producing region.
Capito is chairwoman of the clean air and nuclear safety subcommittee, which traveled to Logan for the hearings. It heard from an emotional unemployed coal miner, Jimmy Dale “Bo” Copley II, a coal union lawyer and a coalfields county commissioner who had been invited by the state's GOP majority.
Van Nostrand was among the speakers invited by the state's Democrat minority.
Despite the high-profile testimony, Van Nostrand said he is not hopeful that it will make any difference whatsoever.
"But I think it is worth pointing out what I believe to be a disservice to the citizens of West Virginia to continue to shake our collective fist at Washington, D.C., and to create the false impression that everything will be fine in the coal industry if the EPA would just leave us alone," he said. "EPA regulations have played a contributing, but not leading, role in the decline of the coal industry in West Virginia. It is all about economics [cheap natural gas displacing coal-fired generation], geology and the impact on demand for coal created by concerns about climate change."