When you think “West Virginia,” you might think “coal.” That may have once been true, but not anymore. Many West Virginians are ready for new jobs in the clean energy economy, and that means passing President Joe Biden’s proposed American Jobs Plan.
It’s true that West Virginia has an energy legacy deeply entwined with coal — but so is our legacy with coal-related disasters. We’ve long suffered blowouts and explosions that have killed hundreds of West Virginians. There have already been 21 fatal mining accidents since the beginning of 2017, including two in June. We’ve faced leaks, spills and intentional toxic discharges that ruin our water. Even the coal mines that don’t immediately kill workers or poison our communities often end up doing so in the long term, with deadly black lung disease.
But the coal industry is no longer economically viable. Everywhere you look, coal companies are going bankrupt and closing down mines, leaving West Virginians to clean up their toxic mess.
West Virginians have begun to embrace the fact that coal is dying. Why embrace it? Because, for decades, fossil fuels have been killing us. When fossil energy booms, we suffer. When it declines, we suffer. No longer. We’ve been walloped, and we’re tired of suffering. We’re ready to rebuild a new economy.
Enter Biden’s American Jobs Plan. This multi-trillion dollar plan would help our coal communities with historic investments in the clean energy economy. Already, renewable-energy jobs are on the rise in West Virginia. This will only increase with investments in clean energy and a federal 100% clean electricity requirement.
We can tap into West Virginia’s massive manufacturing potential to create solar panels for our homes and steel for offshore wind farms. Experts at the Center for Energy and Sustainable Development at the West Virginia University College of Law found that switching to renewable energy is key for our economic future, creating thousands of jobs while saving money at the same time.
It’s more than our energy economy that needs a reboot. The American Jobs Plan will invest $300 billion in American manufacturing; $115 billion for repairing roads and bridges; $40 billion in public housing and additional funding to make current housing more efficient and affordable housing for low-income West Virginia residents; $111 billion in clean, safe drinking water; $18 billion to improve health care for veterans; and $100 billion to bring broadband coverage to every American.
West Virginia is at a crossroads. We’re at risk of becoming a dying state. People are losing their jobs and leaving the state. West Virginia has the highest rate of population decline in the country. Our roads, bridges and public health are crumbling. Our future prosperity rests on whether people want to live and stay here.
That’s why we’re counting on Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to listen to West Virginians and support a strong infrastructure package that will grow our clean energy economy and save our state. Manchin can champion West Virginia by passing the climate provisions Biden initially laid out in his American Jobs Plan through a bipartisan infrastructure deal or, more likely, through budget reconciliation. Will Manchin listen to those of us who want 100% clean electricity? Will he pass a bill that will clean up our water, fix our bridges and give us jobs that will last?
We hope so. Because we love our state. We love the long, peaceful drives through the mountains that haven’t been blown apart by coal mining, the clean rivers that give us life. We love the tight-knit communities we’ve built together and want to see them prosper with new jobs in a new economy. With the American Jobs Plan, we’ll be on our way to achieve that vision. Now, it’s up to Manchin to pass it.