February 2, 2024 - A committee of lawmakers pushed forward a measure that would create a program to revitalize West Virginia’s coalfields communities through economic development efforts. But this isn’t the first time that similar ideas have been tried.
This story first appeared in Statehouse Spotlight, a newsletter about what's happening at the West Virginia Legislature.
Del. Adam Vance, R-Wyoming, during a meeting of the House Energy and Manufacturing Committee last month.
Photo by Perry Bennett/WV Legislative Photography
HB 5223 would establish the Southern Coalfield Resiliency and Revitalization Program, which would also create a council tasked with facilitating economic investment and growth in five southern West Virginia counties. The council would also be charged with organizing and providing state resources and additional assistance to those counties.
Two years ago, state lawmakers created a similar commission to tackle some of the critical needs of struggling coalfield communities and facilitate grants.
For months, Gov. Jim Justice didn’t appoint members and the commission’s grant fund still sits empty. Its work hasn’t really materialized.
“This one should,” said Del. Adam Vance, R-Wyoming, lead sponsor of the bill advanced by the House Energy and Manufacturing Committee on Thursday. “They’re gonna give us a report and if it’s not materializing we’re gonna come back say ‘you better get going.’”
Unlike the 2022 commission, the governor would not be tasked with appointing members to the council. The bill outlines 13 specific members required for the council, including a representative from each of the five counties’ commissions and the executive director of the Development Office, who would serve as the council chair.
“What this does is it gives us a seat at the table to try and reach out to companies to come in and try to get us some help through economic development,” Vance said.
The committee amended the bill to include language identifying the “excessive and economically biased federal regulations on the domestic coal-fired electricity market” as a reason for the economic downturn southern coalfield communities have faced. In reality, coal production has declined due to increased competition from cheap natural gas and renewables, as well as the mining out of the highest-quality easy-to-mine coal.
Lawmakers added text that would require the program to prioritize the use of West Virginia’s coal and natural gas.
While lawmakers initially wanted to prevent the program from working with companies that receive federal grants and subsidies, the committee decided to remove that provision so that the council would be able to consider all economic development options.
Next, the bill will be considered by the House Committee on Government Organization.