Can You Effectively Fight for Coal AND Diversify Our Economy?

Sep 30, 2016

GOP Gubernatorial Candidate Bill Cole and Donald Trump at a Charleston, W.Va. rally
Credit West Virginia Press Association

Does our focus on revitalizing the coal industry hinder the state from diversifying its economy?

A majority of West Virginians want the focus to be on diversification over protecting the coal industry, according to a new survey.

Meanwhile, GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Cole says he would do both, in an interview for Viewpoint, a political podcast from West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

“I’m always going to be out in front of supporting our fossil fuel industries," Cole said. "Those are God-given resources that he chose to put under the ground of the state of West Virginia, and it would be crazy to turn my back on that.

"But diversification is critically important,” he told WVPB’s Ashton Marra. “I want a broad economy, but the fossil fuels, the natural gas and coal industries, are what can move West Virginia from good to great."

The new survey purports to show a willingness to shift the focus away from protecting the coal industry and toward trying to diversify our economy.

The survey was sponsored by the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy and the Sierra Club, two left-leaning groups. The survey was done by Public Opinion Strategies, a firm that’s worked for a lot of Republicans, including Sen. Shelley Capito.

The survey of residents of several eastern coal-producing states, including West Virginia, asked what “elected officials and decision-makers in your state should prioritize?”

1. Assisting rural, coal-mining areas to attract new employers, diversify the economy, and ensure workers get new jobs in growing industries?

2. Fighting government regulations that have made it harder to produce coal, to ensure the good-paying jobs in mining come back?

Overall, 62 percent said diversification over 32 percent fighting coal regulations.

In West Virginia, the split was 54 to 44 percent.

The survey also asked about the Reclaim Act, using this language:

“A proposal in Congress would release one billion dollars in existing money from the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund which was collected from coal producers over the last forty years. The proposal, known as the RECLAIM Act, would release this money to affected states to help revitalize coal communities hit hardest by the downturn in the coal industry.

“Communities could apply for grants to restore abandoned mine lands, invest in economic development projects to put people to work, and tackle infrastructure needs such as ensuring clean drinking water.”

Support was strong across all states, with 87 percent supporting in West Virginia.

Listen to The Front Porch podcast for a debate on:

1. How valid are these survey results – are the questions designed to elicit the “right” answer?

2. Can West Virginia’s politicians can walk and chew gum at the same time, i.e. work equally hard on diversification and saving coal jobs?

3. Why are the RECLAIM Act, MINER Act and other attempts to help coal country stuck in Congress?

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