Solutions exist outside of fear mongering

By Eric Engle

May 1, 2021

The Charleston Gazette-Mail.

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The scare tactics being deployed by the fossil fuels and derivative industries, their lapdog politicians and their loyal pundits are laser-focused on West Virginia right now because of the newfound prominence of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. We can’t let these false narratives and propagandistic handwringing continue unabated.

There is hope for our Mountain State. There are answers being found to our disheartened questions about our economic future and what can lift us up and stem the exodus from our state, the worst population loss in the country, according to the latest census data.

The Political Economy Research Institute of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst released a recent report finding that the Reimagine Appalachia blueprint would create 41,100 good jobs in West Virginia every year for the next 10 years. This initiative requires federal investments and leveraged private investments to build a 21st century economy with renewable energy, maximized energy efficiency and sustainable agriculture and development.

Legislation being proposed to achieve such initiatives at the federal level includes, most notably, the Transform, Heal and Renew by Investing in a Vibrant Economy (THRIVE) Act. Also included is legislation like The BUILD Green Act; National Climate Emergency Act; Emergency Water is a Human Right Act; Environmental Justice Mapping and Data Collection Act; Green New Deal for Cities; Climate Smart Ports Act; Energy Resilient Communities Act; End Polluter Welfare Act; Green New Deal for Public Housing; EV Freedom Act; the Agriculture Resilience Act; and the Civilian Climate Corps for Jobs and Justice Act.

We have got to address the global climate crisis by immediately reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body that summarizes the research of over 2,000 global scientists in applicable fields, stated in its 2018 report–detailing what it will take to keep global temperature rise below 1.5 centigrade above pre-industrial levels — that we need to reduce carbon dioxide and equivalent greenhouse gas emissions by 45% by 2030, and eliminate these emissions entirely by 2050. If we want to give posterity a stable climate and fully habitable planet, we must do all we can to reach these goals.

This does not mean, however, that it’s game over for West Virginia and the rest of Appalachia simply because we have built our economies up until now on the extraction and use of our natural resources. We have needed labor unions to protect our labor forces from extractive industry abuses, and we will need them going forward into this new economy. Those with capital will exploit labor if laborers cannot organize and collectively bargain — this is true whether you’re talking mountaintop mining and fracking or making solar panels and electric vehicles. It’s crucial that we pass the Protect the Right to Organize (PRO) Act. I’m glad to see that Manchin is now a cosponsor for this legislation.

Maybe the most important aspect of the Reimagine Appalachia blueprint is that it doesn’t leave fossil fuel workers and their families and communities behind. The study estimates that about 1,400 workers per year will be displaced in fossil fuel-based industries from now until 2030, while another roughly 650 such workers will voluntarily retire each year in West Virginia. The Economic Research Institute and Reimagine Appalachia call for pension guarantees, re-employment guarantees, wage insurance and retraining support, as needed. They estimate that this will cost about $140 million per year — money very well spent.

All of this can start with the passage of the American Jobs Plan infrastructure package. This doesn’t have to be about partisan politics. West Virginia is suffering from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and a drug crisis and we’re hemorrhaging population. I understand that culture is built around customs and what we do for a living and that we have an extractive industry culture in West Virginia, but the only constant in life is change. It’s time to move on. It’s time to reimagine who we are and plan for and invest in a better future.