On Thursday, President Trump arrived in Huntington for his third rally as president. At the rally, he spoke of the importance of continuing to bring back coal jobs to West Virginia.
Senator Shelley Moor Capito said over the past couple of decades, West Virginia has seen a decrease in the need for coal jobs, and it’s had an effect on the state.
“I’d say tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs – not just in the coal industry but in the associated industries, whether it’s rail or equipment suppliers, distributers and those kinds of things,” she said.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Association, coal production had a steep decline since 2011, and dropped 17-percent from 2015 to 2016.
Senator Joe Manchin said restrictions put in place under the Obama administration contributed to the decline in coal jobs, but the United States continues to rely on coal as a power source.
“If you want 24-7 dependable reliable power, then you have to have something that will make power 24-7 rain or shine,” he said.
Barry Worthington, executive director of the United States Energy Association said coal production could have a comeback, and countries like Germany and even some in the Middle East are turning to the United States for their coal.
“U.S. coal conceivably could be competitive in all of those countries,” he said. “And if we can help them facilitate building additional coal-fired power plants, then that would open up and create additional markets for U.S. coal.”
But even if coal were to make this comeback, experts say West Virginia shouldn’t limit their energy options.
“Natural gas will be advancing also and perhaps becoming more efficient, less expensive, so it’s going to give even more competition to coal in the very near future,” said Rachael Jonassen, a professor at The George Washington University.
Worthington said West Virginia should explore an “all of the above” approach when it comes to where it obtains energy.
“If there’s oil resources develop them, if there’s natural gas resources develop them,” he said. “Wind should be prime in West Virginia because of the mountains. Solar is going to be limited but why not develop it to the extent that it’s economic.”
Capito also said she advocates for an all of the above approach.
“Whether it’s renewable or in coal, I think we can’t put all of our eggs in the coal basket, we’ve done that before,” she said. “It’s time to sort of broaden out. I think renewable energy jobs are just as welcome as coal jobs.”
The next step, she said, is for Congress to continue to find ways to harvest and use clean coal.