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West Virginia Looks to the Future

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What does a clean energy future look like in Coal Country, and what options exist for diversifying the economy? West Virginia leaders gathered back in September to discuss just these questions, and UCS has just released a new report summarizing their conversations.

On September 3-4, in partnership with the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy and the West Virginia Community Development Hub, UCS organized A Bright Economic Future for the Mountain State. The event brought together an engaging series of presentations and panels that laid out visions for West Virginia’s future, identified pathways for achieving those visions, and celebrated forward-looking community leaders already creating that future today.

Some 200 people — representing an unusually diverse mix of perspectives — attended the forum’s keynote addresses, three panel discussions, and documentary screening. Speakers and other attendees included business owners, energy industry executives, state and local officials, members of faith communities, labor representatives, academics, environmentalists, and individuals from nonprofits spearheading local economic development.

The future is bright

Four themes emerged from the discussions that took place at the event:

1)      West Virginia must have a vision to carry it through the challenge of fostering a future that will inevitably look different from the past.

2)      Regional and local leaders are beginning to spur and create new businesses and jobs, but they desperately need state leadership to ease the transition to a more diversified economy.

3)      West Virginia has tremendous assets that it can mobilize in building such an economy.

4)      The state also faces multiple challenges that it must address in a comprehensive way.

Read the summary report to learn more about the themes that emerged from the forum.

The time is right

Attendees to the Bright Economic Future forum gather for the opening keynote address.

Attendees at the Bright Economic Future forum gather for the opening keynote address.

Given the large number of attendees, it’s clear that many people in West Virginia want to talk about creating additional economic opportunities in the place we call home.

Our public survey results from this summer, showing that voters support taxes on natural resource extraction that invest in infrastructure and economic development, underscore this willingness to focus on and plan for the future. Media interest in the event was strong, and it was featured on the front page of the Charleston Gazette back in September. The Gazette ran several other articles surrounding the forum, including a discussion of the Future Fund and the documentary screening; editorials appeared in other print outlets as well.

What’s next

Similar discussions are sweeping the Appalachian region, notably including the recent Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) summit in eastern Kentucky. Governor Steve Beshear and U.S. Congressman Hal Rogers attended the SOAR summit and directly addressed the critical need for economic diversification in the eastern Kentucky coalfields, which have seen massive mine worker layoffs since 2011.

UCS hopes that the event in West Virginia is only the start of a deeper conversation in the state and a broader conversation in the region. Even in the heart of coal country, people recognize that things are changing. I believe that by concentrating on the opportunities as well as the challenges that lie ahead, our state and region can ensure a vibrant future for generations to come.

Posted in: Energy Tags: , ,

About the author: Jeremy Richardson is a senior energy analyst in the Climate and Energy program, conducting analytical work on the Environmental Protection Agency’s carbon regulations. Prior to this position, Dr. Richardson was a Kendall Science Fellow and researched the fundamental cultural and economic drivers of coal production in West Virginia. He has a Ph.D. and M.S. in physics from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Subscribe to Jeremy's posts

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4 Responses

  1. Tina Del Prete says:

    I really wish this were true,but I live in WV,the heart of the fracking frenzy,and change cannot happen soon enough to save this once beautiful state.The powers that be think the people here are only good for one thing and that is extraction of our natural resources.They do not care what happens to the people that live here.Our air,our water,our land is being poisoned as I write this and they want more of this to happen.We could really use someone to help us and stop this madness.But hey,we are just a bunch of hillbillies,so who cares what we think? Right?

    • Hi Tina,

      I feel your frustration. I grew up in a mining family in the northern part of the state. Much work remains to be done in convincing our state leaders to look toward the future, and to see it in a different light. And that’s an understatement.

      The September event was only one step in the conversation. A few in-state groups are planning a series of community dialogues next year to discuss these ideas. I’m interested in your thoughts; how can a national group like UCS be most helpful in advancing the discussion in a place like West Virginia?

  2. Shirley Hudson says:

    I would echo the encouragement of people across the country to develop the capacity to work together on the task of going forward from our reliance of resource extraction as the basis of our economy. Congratulations to the peoples of West Virginia.

  3. Richard Solomon says:

    It is heartening to see that industry, politicians, and local residents in Appalachia are discussing a future which can be different and at least as productive, if not more so, than its past. I hope these states help lead the way into the development of more alternative and renewable sources of energy production.