West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has asked President Donald Trump to provide some $4.5 billion in federal funds to keep Appalachian coal mines open in the face of increasing competition from Western coal mines and natural gas.
Justice, who switched parties from Democratic to Republican Thursday, cast his funding proposal as a “homeland security incentive” rather than a government handout. He told The Wall Street Journal that the federal government has an interest in keeping eastern coal afloat so that it will be available as an emergency fuel source in the event the eastern electric grid goes down due to terrorism or a natural disaster.
The newly-christened Republican said Trump’s commitment to slashing regulations has relieved some pressure on the Appalachian coal industry, but it remains under threat due to competition from less labor intensive Western coal mines.
“The survivability of the Eastern coalfields is very, very iffy,” he told TheWSJ. “And if you lose the Eastern coalfields, you are putting the country at risk beyond belief.”
The funding proposal calls for the federal government to pay Eastern power plants $15 per ton of thermal coal they buy from the Central or Northern Appalachian region, which includes West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Justice’s projects the funding package would cost the federal government $4.5 billion annually based on an estimated 300 million tons of coal purchased per year.
“In the scope of things, that would be a drop in the bucket to protect ourselves,” Justice told TheWSJ. “And looking at the other side, you would put thousands and thousands and thousands of people to work, and the net-net of that is that the $4.5 billion would get eroded tremendously, so that it may end up costing almost nothing.”
Travis Deti, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association said “we certainly understand” Justice’s desire to keep his state’s coal miners employed but argued against government intervention.
“We very much think it’s best when the government’s not involved, and feel the free market instead should be allowed to work,” Deti told the Wall Street Journal.
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