Could eliminating all coal-fired electricity plants by 2030 “single-handedly” destroy West Virginia, as Gov. Jim Justice stated in a news conference on Monday?
Justice was responding to former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s pledge of $500 million to the Beyond Carbon Initiative, which does, in fact, aim to create a 100 percent clean energy economy by 2030 to combat climate change.
Would such a policy help stop devastating global warming that some reports suggest will be a multi-billion dollar problem impacting every aspect of human existence by 2050? Yes. Would it, as Justice said, reduce West Virginia to nothing but a memory? Unlikely, though it would hurt. Will such a plan actually go into effect? Reply hazy. Ask again later.
Climate change is a real problem and a real threat, whether Justice believes it or not. West Virginia’s economy is also a real problem, and hard-working miners deserve financial stability.
So it goes back to the old argument of whether to wring every last burnable rock out of the dying coal industry, or try to embrace economic diversification that is so often talked about, though examples are lacking.
Of course, this isn’t the “either-or” scenario some make it out to be. There’s also a third element at play, natural gas, which has probably done more to hurt West Virginia’s coal industry than any other single factor over the past 15 years or so. That industry would also be threatened somewhat by a 100 percent clean energy plan.
It’s difficult to picture the coal industry being more prosperous than it is now 11 years down the road. Coal seams in the state certainly won’t be less depleted in 2030, and many energy companies have already shuttered or are planning to close more coal-fired plants as they turn to other sources for providing electricity. In other words, this is already happening, with or without Bloomberg’s $500 million and with or without President Donald Trump’s pledge three years ago to revive coal in West Virginia.
The instinct to protect the coal industry is understandable, especially as it pertains to the workers in that industry. It also certainly matters what other countries do when it comes to coal, but that can’t be America’s excuse for not taking the climate threat seriously. Does that mean shutting down every coal plant in the U.S. tomorrow or in five years? No.
Some realities are inescapable, though. To use a favorite phrase of politicians in this region: This can can’t be kicked down the road much longer.