Guest Essays, Opinion

Guest essay: A new economy means opportunity for W.Va. and coal country

by Evan Hansen

 Washington is currently in the home stretch of considering historic investments to help boost the long-term competitiveness of the American economy, which West Virginia has fueled for decades. If the new agreement between Sen. Joe Manchin and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer becomes law, West Virginia will play a leading role in manufacturing a cleaner, stronger American economy.

West Virginia coal powered America as it emerged as an industrial powerhouse. Coal jobs are fewer today, but the new legislation will ensure that the energy sector still provides honest work and family-sustaining jobs for West Virginians into the future.

The deal struck by Sen. Manchin will help create new manufacturing jobs and domestic supply chains, boosting our energy security and reducing our exposure to volatile global energy markets. The bill’s clean energy tax credits can help drive down inflation by reducing the cost of carbon capture and storage, along with power from sources like hydrogen, geothermal, renewables and even nuclear energy. This will boost reliability and help to lower electricity bills for West Virginians. Meanwhile, the tax incentives for clean- and electric-vehicle purchases, along with charging infrastructure investments, can help lower demand for gasoline, the cost of which is driving up inflation.

Despite West Virginia’s contribution to growing our country’s economy, its people have been struggling. U.S. coal jobs fell from 92,000 in 2011 to 42,000 in 2021 — with most of those losses coming in Appalachia. This deal is not just the right thing to do for the people in West Virginia, it’s also the smart thing to do. West Virginians are hard-working and have skills that translate well to new and emerging clean power and manufacturing opportunities.

The clean vehicle credits can also support the plug-in hybrid components produced by Toyota workers in Buffalo. Importantly, this deal invests $10 billion into clean energy manufacturing, including up to $6 billion in coal communities. This can help revitalize coal towns with manufacturing jobs that will thrive in a low-carbon economy.

The Inflation Reduction Act will generate jobs building new energy infrastructure and transportation systems, manufacturing batteries, mining critical minerals and producing hydrogen. It will accelerate the deployment of captured carbon from coal- and gas-fired power plants, the development of next-generation advanced nuclear reactors and the manufacture of low-carbon products. It would also extend credits for wind and solar power generation, which we’re just beginning to tap into here in West Virginia. Importantly, these investments play to our strengths.

A recent study of clean energy opportunities from the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, an independent clean energy and climate organization, concluded that West Virginia “provides crucial access to regional demand centers across the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and Southeast, making it well suited to serve as a hub for low-carbon manufacturing and low carbon fuels (e.g., hydrogen and renewable natural gas) …”

The package Senator Manchin has negotiated — which Congress will consider this week — is an investment in West Virginia — and in America as a nation. It’s a bet on American innovation and manufacturing. A bet that America can be the source — and envy — of the world in exporting the technology and low-carbon products that will define the 21st century. It’s the right bet to make for our future.

Evan Hansen is a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates representing Monongalia County.