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Forum Addresses Future of WV Coal Industry

In West Virginia it is always a balancing act when it comes to coal.

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — In West Virginia it is always a balancing act when it comes to coal: embracing the states primary industry while also being environmentally responsible and adjusting to policy changes in Washington.

"It’s a very difficult time right now [with] the uncertainty that's created by the administration in Washington," said Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association.

Event organizers say although there are no coal mines in the Eastern Panhandle area, the event was held in Martinsburg because the West Virginia coal industry affects the whole state and the country.

"We do consume electricity that's actually produced by coal and also we benefit from the revenues from the rest of the state,” said West Virginia Senator John Unger, (D)-16th. “All 55 counties in West Virginia benefit from that."

West Virginia coal accounted for 49 percent of the nation's coal exports last year, pumping revenue into the state.

"Coal exports are way up. So I think...Are we going to disadvantage us economically at the expense of an environmental agenda that is unreachable?" said Rep. Shelley Moore Capito.

But many people in West Virginia say the EPA's tighter environmental policies present challenges and threaten their job market.

"We’ve lost a lot of jobs, we've closed a lot of...several coal-fired electrical generation plants, which will then cause our power rates to go up,” said Capito.

West Virginia lawmakers also say diversification of the state's economy should be an open option—but not the only option.

Speakers at the forum also stressed that they are willing to work with environmental regulators as long as their policies do not overpower the success of their coal industry.

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