Guest Essays, Opinion

Guest essay: For Mountaineers to always be free, we must invest in energy security

by Angela Hawse

Growing up surrounded by the Allegheny Mountains, I am the sixth generation of my family to climb trees, explore hardwood forests and float down pristine rivers in beautiful Elkins. For our family, as with many West Virginians, the outdoors are a way of life, the reason we live here and what brings us together with friends and family. For many of us, the outdoors are also integral to our livelihoods. As we look forward, we must act swiftly to reduce emissions and drive the energy transition if we are going to save the outdoor way of life and outdoor jobs.

This summer, Sen. Joe Manchin is in the ideal position to lead the country’s energy transition. He can help to create new, good jobs in energy for those workers who know it best and save the growing number of jobs in outdoor recreation, all while protecting the outdoor way of life that brought so many of us here and keep us coming back.

For me, climbing trees led to rocks, which ultimately led to a career as a professional mountain guide or mountaineer, which has brought me to the farthest reaches of the world and the summits of the highest mountains. I’ve lived my life true to our state’s motto “Mountaineers are always free.”

But today, West Virginia’s outdoor way of life needs our help. In the last decade, the changes I see in weather and precipitation patterns in mountains around the world are also happening back home in West Virginia. Disastrous floods have ravaged valleys, impacting people, livestock, infrastructure and rivers in the lower elevations of our precipitous Mountain State. Higher temperatures have led to more extreme weather and much less snowfall in the mountains than when I was growing up.

The clean water and air that are instrumental in drawing visitors who contribute to our state’s robust recreation economy hang in the balance. Scientists are telling us that if we are going to save all of that, we’ll need to reduce emissions. And fast.

In the Mountain State, fittingly, outdoor recreation funds more than 18,000 direct jobs in addition to the hotel, restaurant and retail jobs that surround the industry and directly funds $640 million in wages and salaries, contributing to West Virginia’s $1.3 billion outdoor recreation economy each year. If fostered, the potential increase in clean energy jobs paired with growing outdoor recreation jobs hold tremendous promise for future generations of West Virginians.

Mountaintop removal and the fossil fuels extraction industries will become extinct worldwide, and we must offer training and opportunities for people who work in mining fields to transition to new, safer and well-paying career paths now. Along with clean energy, investing in electric vehicles — especially electric trucks and SUVs that people who live in the country often drive and for longer distances — will take another big bite out of emissions, create jobs in West Virginia and be a more affordable solution in the long term.

Transitioning to clean energy, clean transportation and safer jobs is crucial to ensure that future generations are promised our mountain heritage.

As an elected steward of West Virginia, Sen. Manchin has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity this summer to protect our heritage by enacting a transition to clean energy and reducing emissions by roughly 40% in the next eight years. The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022’s focused

$369 billion investment in clean energy and transportation will not only bring good health and future prosperity to our people and state, but also increased pride in showcasing wild, wonderful West Virginia for generations to come. With this action, we can look forward to many more days living out our state’s motto, “Mountaineers are always free,” under West Virginia’s blue skies.

Angela Hawse is a world-renowned mountaineer, IMFGA guide, member of the Protect Our Winters Athlete Alliance and climber originally from Elkins. Though her travels take her far and wide, she always looks forward to regular trips back to visit her mom and climb at Seneca Rocks and in the New River.