The coal industry extracted a steep price from west virginia. now natural gas is leading the state down the same path later on harry mileaf electricity 1 7 pdf


West Virginia “benefited from the extraction of coal and we benefited from the extraction of timber, but we were still dead last in everything,” said Justice, whose family made its fortune in coal. “And now we have this gas situation and we’re on fire, and we have a real opportunity again.” If the state doesn’t pass a gas-tax hike, the governor said, “we’re going to be left holding the bag again.”

“Let’s use this equitable source of revenue, because whether we like it or not, West Virginia’s hills will be stripped, the bowels of the earth will be mined and the refuse strewn across our valleys and our mountains in the form of burning slate dumps,” Marland told a joint session of the Legislature in February 1953.

Elected officials have sided with natural gas companies on tax proposals and property rights legislation. Industry lobbyists have convinced regulators to soften new rules aimed at protecting residents and their communities from drilling damage.

In 2011, for example, then-Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat, and his party’s legislative leadership weakened a measure to regulate the growing industry, at the urging of gas company lobbyists. Among other changes, language was eliminated that would have given state regulators more authority to deny drilling permits that threatened water supplies and populated areas.

“We have a regulatory body and a legislative body and an industry that are all willing to work together,” said Al Schopp, chief administrative officer for Antero Resources, the state’s biggest natural gas producer. “That makes it a good environment.”

In 2014, after several years of trying, Kessler persuaded the Legislature to approve a plan to use gas industry taxes for educational and infrastructure projects, to help diversify the state’s economy. Six U.S. states have such programs, including North Dakota and Alaska.

Retired Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., also worries about what he’s seen in recent years. Rockefeller, who served for 30 years in the Senate and, before that, as the state’s governor, recalled “devastating” testimony about the gas industry during a 2012 public hearing in Fairmont. A local sheriff, Rockefeller remembered, described an “invasion” of heavy traffic and damage to local roads from thousands of trucks servicing all the new natural gas wells. Such complaints continue today.

For generations, coal has been the most economically significant, politically powerful and socially influential industry in the state. West Virginia coal provided high-wage jobs, paid a large portion of state and local budgets, and fueled a nation hungry for both electricity and steel. The state’s mining jobs peaked at more than 125,000 in the 1940s.

Along the way, the industry received huge tax breaks, often to offset the costs of machines that allowed much more coal to be mined with fewer workers. Lobbyists, lawmakers and regulators picked away at environmental and worker safety rules and enforcement.

In the past 10 years, the job losses in coal have picked up. The 14,000 miners working in West Virginia last year represented a drop of about 40 percent from 2008, according to U.S. Department of Labor data. Today, the parts of West Virginia that for generations produced the most coal are among the poorest communities in the region. . .