Visions of a more prosperous West Virginia abounded during a virtual news conference Thursday that focused on new findings from an economic and job impact study that made the case for sweeping investments in Appalachian infrastructure.
It’ll take a lot of money and political willpower to make those visions a reality.
Huntington Mayor Steve Williams, state House Delegate Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, and West Virginia Rivers Coalition Executive Director Angie Rosser were among the speakers to join an author of the study, Robert Pollin of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, in advocating for clean energy infrastructure investments.
The analysis released Thursday by the ReImagine Appalachia Coalition and the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy suggests that investing an average $3.6 billion per year in clean energy projects in West Virginia from 2021 to 2030 will generate an average of about 25,000 jobs per year in the state, with total employment creation amounting to about 41,000, including new jobs in construction, sales, engineering and office support.
The study calls for a just transition program for fossil fuel industry-dependent workers and communities, acknowledging the average compensation for fossil fuel-based workers in West Virginia, $77,000, is more than the average compensation of $52,000 for work in the clean energy sector.
“This is why it’s so critical that the clean energy jobs be organized, union jobs, that we have job training as needed for the workers, and for some workers that may need it, relocation,” Pollin said. “But we’re thinking really that relocation is not going to be that critical because we are investing in the communities, investing in land reclamation and repurposing within these communities.”
Williams stressed the importance of collaboration and partnerships in reinventing Appalachian cities and towns.
“Why would we ever shoot so low just to only compete with each other?” Williams said. “We’re having to compete in a worldwide market right now.”
Hansen mentioned a bipartisan effort among state lawmakers on an as-yet unintroduced bill that would direct the state Department of Commerce to oversee a committee to write a plan outlining what funding and programs communities impacted by mine closures and related job losses want from the federal government to diversify their economies and create new jobs.
“We want to make sure we’re not just being told by people in D.C. what we need,” Hansen said, noting expectations for a new COVID-19 relief package, infrastructure investment legislation and climate change-focused efforts at the federal level.
The project was commissioned by the Heinz Endowments, the Community Foundation of the Alleghenies, and left-leaning think tanks Policy Matters Ohio, the Keystone Research Center and the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.
“This study is meant as a gift, a tool for communities to help chart a path forward that works for us,” Rosser said.