Clean Power Plan: All pain, no gain for West Virginia
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August 3 will mark one year since President Obama announced the Clean Power Plan (CPP), the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) strategy to decrease carbon emissions from power plants in order to combat the consequences of climate change.

While anniversaries are normally cause for celebration, the echoes of joyous celebration will not be heard in the hills and hollows of West Virginia.

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If implemented, the CPP will disproportionately impact states where coal is the majority generator of electricity. As the bête noire of the environmental movement, coal is often the main target of regulations and directives from regulatory agencies. In West Virginia, America’s second largest coal-producing state, the effects could be especially acute.

According to research performed by Energy Analysis Ventures, an energy consulting group headquartered in Arlington, VA, West Virginia will see wholesale electricity prices rise by 30 percent by 2030 – the second-largest increase over that time period in the nation.

For the nation’s second-poorest state, an increase of 30 percent in the price of a critical good through an EPA diktat is a tough pill to swallow, indeed. 

And what about the impact on jobs? For West Virginia, the repercussions would also be disastrous. Lest one should think this is merely some right-wing drivel, the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute has estimated that roughly 24,000 coal-mining jobs will be “displaced” by 2020 as a result of the CPP.

It is not a stretch to believe that a disproportionate amount of those “displaced” jobs will be in West Virginia — a state that has already seen 7,000 “displaced” coal-mining jobs since 2011.

A fair question to ask is: what benefit will result from all of this very immediate, very real human cost? According to the EPA’s own analysis, not much — if any. According to the EPA’s own climate model, the average global temperature will be lowered by .02C by the year 2100, if all aspects of the CPP are implemented.  

You’ll have to forgive West Virginians for feeling insulted. For those unaware, West Virginia isn’t doing terribly well, economically and otherwise: we’re the only state in the country where less than half of able-bodied adults have a job. West Virginia has “led” the nation in this category every year since 1976, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics began compiling the data.

West Virginia also has among the nation’s highest rates of drug overdose, obesity, diabetes, cancer, and working-age adults on disability benefits. In short, the state is an economic tragedy. It should not be hard to understand why people in this beautiful state are dismayed and bewildered that a group of faceless, unelected bureaucrats can — and do — wield such authority over the outcomes of their lives.

Progress and change brought about by natural market forces are a fact of life and few among us will deny that reality. However, there is a world of difference between natural, market-driven evolutions in an industry and artificial “progress” driven by a select group of ideologues in Washington, D.C. To many in West Virginia, “progress” looks like drug addiction driven by joblessness and hopelessness driven by a sense of helplessness in the face of a regulatory onslaught.

Some politicians have offered to give billions of dollars to coal communities affected by the nation’s ideologically-driven energy policy, but that is insulting to the proud men and women of West Virginia. To us, it seems like the government breaks our legs and then expects gratitude when it offers us crutches. Men and women all over West Virginia just want a fair chance to work and provide for their families — nothing more and nothing less.

As the anniversary of the CPP draws near, you’ll have to forgive the deafening silence in the Mountain State.

Garrett Ballengee is the executive director and Michael Reed is a research associate at the Cardinal Institute for WV Policy.


The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.