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Coal is Expensive. West Virginia Wants More Of It.



March 7, 2023 - West Virginia is at a crossroads on coal.

The state’s upcoming decisions on its iconic fossil fuel could have major implications for reducing planet-warming pollution, the future of coal in the eastern United States, and how much people pay for electricity in the region, writes POLITICO’s E&E News reporter Miranda Willson.

The rub: As coal-fired power plants across the country retire at record rates, West Virginia is trying to ramp up operations at three of its major power plants.

The state’s utility regulator argues that the move could lower costs for customers by maximizing in-state energy and limiting power purchases from the regional electricity market, which tend to be more expensive.

But the company running these plants, American Electric Power, says it's already struggling to secure enough coal supplies. That’s in part because mining companies are increasingly shipping their product to lucrative markets overseas. Running plants more often would require a hefty increase to customers’ monthly bills, the company said.

The utility regulator denied the company’s request to increase power rates and convened a task force to find a solution.

Climate ripples: Environmental advocates and others argue that extending the life of West Virginia coal, which accounts for about 90 percent of the state’s electricity generation, will only drive up prices and hurt the planet.

The price of coal in the U.S. has nearly quadrupled in the last three years. And over the last 15 years, electricity rates in West Virginia have risen faster than the national average.

Boosting coal-plant production could also significantly increase the carbon pollution causing the climate crisis. According to federal data, one of the plants in question produced more than 11.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2021, making it one of the 10 dirtiest plants in the country.

Coal backers argue that the fuel is necessary until the state’s power system is updated to accommodate an influx of cheaper natural gas, wind and solar power.

Rock > coal < hard place: The fight in West Virginia mirrors those in other coal-reliant states, like Kentucky and Wyoming, that are grappling with the future of a fuel that has long dominated their economies and that some say is still needed to keep the lights on.

But the economic reality facing the dirtiest fossil fuel is only projected to worsen, putting states that cling to coal in a difficult position, said Joe Daniel, a manager focused on clean energy at the think tank RMI.

“You have to look at the bigger, longer-term trends and the bigger picture, and all of those arrows point in the same direction,” he said. 

It's Monday — thank you for tuning in to POLITICO's Power Switch. I'm your host, Arianna Skibell. Power Switch is brought to you by the journalists behind E&E News and POLITICO Energy. Send your tips, comments, questions to





Today in POLITICO Energy’s podcast: Zack Colman breaks down the immigration policy challenges facing President Joe Biden, the high stakes for his green jobs agenda, and what it all means for his reelection.






Speaking of West Virginia ...
According to newly released documents, former President Donald Trump urged the owner of Fox News, Rupert Murdoch, to use his network's influence to sink the Senate candidacy of coal baron Don Blankenship in 2018, 
writes Scott Waldman.

Blankenship was surging in the polls in the final days of a bruising West Virginia GOP primary race, prompting Trump and other Republicans to worry that his potential victory could threaten efforts to unseat Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin in the general election.

Budget brawls
Capitol Hill spending fights are expected to ramp up later this week when Biden releases his budget request for fiscal 2024 and officially kicks off spending negotiations for the year, 
writes Jeremy Dillon.

While Congress routinely dismisses the president’s blueprint, this year’s version will come under even greater scrutiny as House Republicans look to square off against the White House.

Berlin ain't backing down
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz made clear that his country will continue pressing the European Commission to issue a loophole for so-called e-fuels as it seeks to ban new combustion-engine vehicles after 2035, 
write Joshua Posaner and Hans von der Burchard.

E-fuels are alternative fuels made from captured carbon dioxide — an expensive replacement for gasoline. Germany is joined by Italy, Poland and Bulgaria in its efforts to carve out exemptions for e-fuels from the 2035 target.








Concerns that meat production is worsening the climate crisis hit home in Dodge City, Kansas, where the historic prairie city's economic core is red meat.

Farmers like Marcella Warner Holman and the companies that deal in beef are experiencing a mix of defensiveness, anger and guarded optimism as they chart a course for survival in a world that’s often telling people to eat less meat or none at all, writes Marc Heller.

So far, they say, the messaging war hasn’t shaken Americans’ appetite for steak and burgers — but they are frustrated nonetheless.

A growing amount of research points to livestock's climate change-related impact. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, livestock produce 14.5 percent of the world's carbon pollution.