Appalachian-Area Candidates Are Campaigning To Create Clean Energy Jobs For Struggling Families

Despite Donald Trump’s promise to bring back coal, the Appalachian people are losing hope. But there’s a new promise — and it’s coming from some unexpected corners: coal country, which has office-seekers campaigning to create green energy jobs by attracting investment and retraining workers. 

The conventional wisdom is that the federal officeholders have to say coal’s comeback is just around the corner — to elect us for one more term. But it is less a regulatory issue than it is an economic one. That is, the cost of clean energies and new technologies is creating a new economic engine. And if it can happen in California, it can happen in the heart of Appalachia too. But will the entrenched incumbents ever get on board?

“The national economy is changing,” says Cathy Kunkel, who is seeking a congressional seat in West Virginia’s Second District. “From a West Virginia perspective, we can’t change that. That train has left the station. We need to manage the transition that is now underway. I certainly understand the frustrations — that livelihoods are vanishing. But if we refuse to change and keep saying no, no, no, we will get run over by this train.”

Kunkel, a Democrat and a former energy analyst for the Institute for Energy Economics and Analysis, is not bad-mouthing coal. She wants her state to acclimate to the 21st economy — to train the workforce to build broadband and clean drinking water facilities, for starters. Rep. David McKinley, a Republican congressman from West Virginia, has a similar message. He has teamed up with a West Coast Democrat to reduce CO2 emissions by 80% by mid-century, saying climate change is the nation’s biggest challenge.

It cost about $1 billion to build an 800-megawatt combined-cycle natural gas plant. That’s compared to $1.4 billion for an advanced coal plant — the kind for which Murray advocates. While they are cleaner than using today’s pulverized coal plants, they are still too expensive — and would be hard-pressed to meet West Virginia Rep. McKinley’s goal of getting to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Carbon capture and sequestration is the immediate challenge and where forward-thinking leaders have set their sights.

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