Dave Mistich Published

Five Facts About West Virginia's Coal, Energy, and Carbon Emissions

With the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency unveiling proposed rules aimed to reduce carbon emissions by 2030, many questions remain about the impact on West Virginia’s economy. State officials, union and industry leaders, and environmentalists are all weighing in on the potential impacts of the proposed rules. 

Reducing carbon emissions in West Virginia to meet the EPA’s proposed rules will no doubt hinge on the future use of coal, as well as increasing energy use from other sources. 

But, where exactly does West Virginia stand nationally on coal, energy production and consumption, and carbon emissions?

With that question in mind, here are five facts:

1. West Virginia Is A Leading Energy Producer Nationally, Thanks To Coal 

We hear it all the time from national media and many here champion the labels themselves: “West Virginia is coal country” or “West Virginia coal powers the world.” In reality, West Virginia doesn’t outright lead the country in energy production nor coal. However, the state does rank high on both lists, according to the most recent data from the Energy Information Administration. 

  • West Virginia ranked fifth among the states in total energy production in 2011, producing 4.9% of the nation’s total.
  • In 2012, West Virginia was the largest coal producer east of the Mississippi River and the second largest in the nation after Wyoming; the state accounted for 12% of the U.S. total coal production that year. 

2. A Majority Of The State’s Coal Resources Are Shipped Elsewhere  

West Virginia typically generates more electricity than it consumes.

  • In 2010, 56% of West Virginia’s net electricity generation was consumed outside the state.
  • In 2012, 45% (54 million short tons) of the coal that was mined in West Virginia was shipped to other states, and 40% (47 million short tons) was exported to foreign countries.
  • Overall, West Virginia ranked 16th in 2011 for total energy consumption per capita. 

3. Coal Is The Main Source of Energy For West Virginia

There should be no surprise here, but, according to data from the U.S. Department of Energy’s  Energy Information Administration, over 95% of electricity generated in West Virginia comes from coal, the highest ranking in all of the United States. 

The interactive map below from The Washington Post shows how much coal-derived energy is consumed by each state in the U.S. 

4. Per Capita, West Virginia Ranks 16th in the Nation in Energy Consumption

In 2011, West Virginia consumed roughly 390 million Btu’s of energy, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Credit U.S. Energy Information Administration / U.S. Department of Energy
U.S. Department of Energy

5.  Total Carbon Emissions Have Fallen Slightly Between 1990 and 2011

Although West Virginia is at the top of the list for reliance on coal for energy, the state ranked 20th in 2011 in regards to total carbon dioxide emissions. 

However, based on EPA data, West Virginia ranks 4th in carbon emissions per capita, behind Wyoming, North Dakota, and Alaska. According to the same data, West Virginia’s total carbon emissions from fossil fuel consumption has dropped slightly between 1990 and 2011. (Click on the graph below to see it full size.)

Credit Dave Mistich / Data From U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Data From U.S. Environmental Protection Agency