It’s encouraging to see the West Virginia House of Delegates revive an idea that could have gone to waste, and in a bipartisan fashion, no less.
Establishing a work group to evaluate ways to revitalize struggling coal communities is one of the most substantive things House leadership has done on a problem the state has been grappling with for decades.
Most West Virginians agree that the state needs to diversify and modernize its economy, while not leaving behind miners and others still employed by or trained to work in the coal industry. But simply acknowledging the problem and hoping it gets better, as so many state politicians have done over the years, doesn’t move the state forward. West Virginia needs a plan.
This was the crux of a bill sponsored by Delegate Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, and an amendment to a bill offered up by Delegate Ed Evans, D-McDowell, during the legislative session. Both measures failed to gain traction in a chamber controlled by a Republican supermajority, but House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, and House Minority Leader Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, obviously realized this is an important issue and one that pertains to West Virginians of all political affiliations. (Skaff is the president of HD Media, parent company of the Gazette-Mail).
The pair announced Wednesday that they were creating the work group. That Hansen and Evans were appointed to serve is an acknowledgment that they were onto something. It also was somewhat serendipitous that the formation of the group was made public the same day Monongalia County Resources Inc. announced that it would be shutting down its Blacksville mine, meaning the elimination of 180 jobs.
The group, led by Delegate Mark Dean, R-Mingo, will tour six specific communities (Logan, Welch, Moundsville, Montgomery, Morgantown and Beckley), where they will break up into small groups, talk with local leaders and residents and examine ways to capitalize on economic development opportunities.
That’s the easy part. Where most task forces — on any topic you can name in West Virginia — fail is that their solutions usually require a good deal of money to enact. Many a work group or blue ribbon panel has never been heard from again after that point. This time, the state might have some capital to work with, should President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan come through.
In any event, real transitions require real planning, and it’s good to see legislative leadership circle back on a potentially great idea that was discarded during the session.