July 1, 2021 - Coal may not be the “King” of West Virginia’s economy like it once was, but it is still vitally important.
That’s the message from Dr. John Deskins, director of the Bureau of Business & Economic Research in West Virginia University’s College of Business and Economics.
Deskins shared his views and supporting data at the joint spring meeting of the West Virginia Coal Mining Institute and the Wet Virginia Coal Association in Morgantown, where he presented findings from the bureau’s recently released report, “The Economic Impact of Coal and Coal-Fired Power Generation in West Virginia.”
While noting coal production is down in the Mountain State, he said it remains a huge contributor, not only to the state’s economy but to its power grid.
The report shows the state’s coal production has declined by more than 50% over the past decade. But even in decline, coal is still a significant contributor to the state’s employment base, economic output and tax revenue, according to the report.
“The fact is, it’s still an important force in our state,” Deskins said. “Even though the raw number of jobs associated with coal and coal-fired power generation are down, it still accounts for a lot of output. Those jobs are still very high-paying jobs, as far as jobs go that don’t require a college degree. They still have kind of a disproportionate impact on the economy.”
Data shows the coal mining industry employs more than 13,000 workers in West Virginia, with a total compensation of about $1.5 billion annually. Additionally, coal mines spend a total of about $6.5 billion in the state’s economy directly.
In 2019, the last full year data is available, coal mining generated about $9.1 billion in economic activity in the state and supported nearly 27,000 jobs with total employee compensation of $2.1 billion. Coal mining also is a huge contributor to state and local tax bases, generating about $514 million that year.
Coal is critical to the state’s power grid, which fuels the companies and residents who contribute to the state’s economic base. 90% of the state’s power is still generated by coal.
That power generation provided about $4.8 billion in economic activity in 2019, supporting about 7,000 jobs and $725 million in compensation.
Coal-fired power plants provided more than $97 million in state and local tax revenues.
Deskins’ report and discussion paint a very clear picture: Coal remains a driving force for West Virginia and the United States.
And it’s a story that plays out in the nation’s leading coal producer, Wyoming, as well as Kentucky and other coal-producing states.
The move toward renewable energy is happening, at least in the U.S. While there is evidence that such a move will improve the environment, there is also clear evidence that a rapid deployment of unproven and unreliable energy sources could be devastating.
Likewise, the impact on West Virginia and other coal-producing states — and subsequently on the nation’s economy — would prove devastating.
Thus far, President Joe Biden’s administration has moved judiciously, signaling its desire to move away from carbon-producing energy sources to cleaner alternatives.
Credit the president for reining in more progressive elements of the Democratic Party on the approach thus far, but it will be imperative that Biden continues to sound a cautious transition that protects the nation’s financial and security concerns, as well as the states which have long provided energy for the U.S. and the world.
Some day, progressives may be able to write off coal. But for now, thankfully, that day remains in the distant future.