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Who We Are

Backwoods. Redneck. Hillbilly. Poor. All of these are words I have heard when I bring up the fact that I am from West Virginia. People are often shocked to find out that I, with a light Appalachian accent that only on occasion gets heavy, am from West Virginia. They have an image in their head that does not match who West Virginians really are.

The West Virginia I know is full of hardworking people who wouldn’t hesitate to drop everything and help a friend. They are people who care about their families but also care about their community. Resilient. Respectful. Trusting. Passionate. Humble. We are much more than our stereotype.

Coal is tightly intertwined with our state’s history. From company towns to labor uprisings and the influence of advocacy groups like Friends of Coal, coal is in our blood. Historically, climate change has been used to incite fear in coal communities — rhetoric that enforced the fear that climate change legislation would kill coal jobs. Caricatures of green environmentalists were interwoven with stories about how coal was the backbone of America and anyone who accepted climate change as fact wanted to destroy the livelihood of thousands of West Virginians.

The aforementioned Friends of Coal group humanized the industry by sponsoring multiple events throughout the year. I grew up attending the Friends of Coal Bowl played between the two largest universities in the state and watching “Coal: It Keeps the Lights Oncommercials. President Obama’s “War on Coal” only solidified our defense of coal and our denial of climate change. As the rest of the world moves from coal to energy sources such as natural gas and renewables, West Virginia must find ways to keep coal competitive while also diversifying our economy.

Coal will be a part of our nation’s energy portfolio as long as it is competitive in the market; currently, it is essential for the security of our energy grid, accounting for almost a quarter of our country’s generated electricity in 2019. However, I firmly believe that coal can be burned cleaner and more efficiently while cutting carbon emissions. I support the American Climate Contract because I believe that innovation and modern infrastructure can create new jobs to replace the jobs lost by the decline in coal demand.

Innovation and modern infrastructure are the keys to West Virginia’s survival. Research and innovation, like that coming out of our National Energy Technology Laboratories, will allow us to extract and burn coal and natural gas cleaner than ever before. Allowing government owned and operated laboratories to work with private companies will allow these technologies to be deployed faster and make a difference earlier. Bills like the USE IT Act and the Carbon Capture Modernization Act would advance carbon capture and sequestration technology, which would dramatically decrease our emissions and allow for coal to remain competitive in the market. Investing in our infrastructure will attract companies to our state and allow for the easy transport of our raw materials.

Photo courtesy of Jillian Kinder.

I am proud to be a West Virginian. I come from coal miners. When lawmakers such as Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) cheer on the demise of oil jobs, they’re not just talking about our dependence upon fossil fuels – they’re playing games with our livelihoods. The investment potential in offering new energy opportunities to West Virginia is endless. I understand the apprehension to change, but West Virginia’s future depends on it. We must keep our state Wild and Wonderful for generations to come. That’s why I support the American Climate Contract.

This is the seventh installment of “My Contract Story,” an ongoing series on the ACC Blog to tell personal stories of ACC team members and allies about why they support the American Climate Contract. Read previous editions here.