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A truly diverse energy mix, including emerging clean energy, is good for West Virginia businesses, farmers and landowners — as well as our entire economy.

By promoting clean energy, we can begin to offer a diverse suite of energy exports that leverage all the resources we have available to us — from renewable energy resources such as wind, solar, hydro power and geothermal, to clean-energy technologies involved in biomass, nuclear and, of course, natural gas development.

Across the country, Americans have committed to a cleaner energy future. It’s up to West Virginia to claim its place in this new economy and build a foundation on which the state can grow.

Fortunately, West Virginia has been blessed with an abundance of natural gas deposits below our feet. It is time for Congress to reignite investment in building a clean-energy economy and getting clean-energy workers back to work, including in West Virginia’s natural gas industry.

The National Association of Royalty Owners and West Virginia Royalty Owners Association represent royalty owners across the Appalachian region — including West Virginia farmers, agricultural producers, business owners and residential property owners. Nationwide, there are roughly 12.5 million private owners of oil and natural gas mineral rights.

These royalty owners play a critical role in developing our energy resources through leases that permit operators to drill and produce natural gas on their land. Our members understand the vital role natural gas development plays in our state and are eager for this type of development to continue moving forward after the COVID-19 pandemic hit the pause button on progress toward that end.

According to the West Virginia Office of Energy, our state is the eighth-largest natural gas producer in the country, thanks in no small part to the gas production taking place in the Marcellus Shale region. However, in 2020 — because of the economic slowdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic — natural gas development in the Appalachian region has declined by the largest amount of any natural gas-producing area in the United States. In fact, a new report indicates that the decline in natural gas development in Appalachia “represents a quarter of the decline in natural gas production so far this year” nationwide.

This drastic decline reflects a larger pattern happening across the spectrum of America’s clean-energy economy. Nationwide, before the pandemic, there were about 3.3 million workers comprising the clean-energy workforce in our country. Since the economic downturn, more than half a million of those workers have lost their jobs.

To reignite local economies and put Americans — and West Virginians — back to work, Congress must make a real investment in clean-energy production. For West Virginia in particular, natural gas production will be at the heart of our economic recovery.

We know Congress has the ability to do this, as it has helped boost affected workers, small businesses and industries across the spectrum of the American economy. However, the clean-energy workforce — including natural gas producers — has largely been left out of these economic relief efforts.

With recovery underway, yet still just beginning, a promising economic opportunity for West Virginia should not be allowed to go dim. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., should remember clean-energy workers in post-pandemic recovery talks and offer support that jump-starts natural gas development and returns energy workers to their jobs here in West Virginia and throughout the country. The sooner the better, for our workers and West Virginia’s economic recovery.

Tom Huber is president of the

West Virginia Royalty Owners Association.

The WVROA advocates for property and mineral rights for landowners and for public policy to ensure their rights are protected.