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Making West Virginia less dependant on coal

September 22, 2000

Making West Virginia less dependant on coal



The Eastern Panhandle is a long way from southern West Virginia, but what happens in the coal country has more to do with this region than local residents realize. According to the Huntington (W.Va.) Herald-Dispatch, coal severance taxes provided $180 million to the state's economy in 1999.

Most of that cash went to fund the operations of state government, but an additional $18 million was distributed to every county and municipality in the state, based in part on population. Berkeley County, for example, uses all of its cash for economic development. And in a state where the governor recently considered calling a special session of the Legislature to search for $6 million for new mining inspectors, every little bit helps.

But now the flow of coal cash is endangered, by last year's order from U.S. District Judge Charles Haden Jr., who ruled that the "valley fill" methods used by some coal companies to dispose of rock and other mining debris violates the federal Clean Water Act, because some of it fills streams and creeks that flow all year long.

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A study done by Michael Hicks, director for the Center for Business and Economic Research at Marshall University, found that strict implementation of the order - now stayed pending an appeal - could cost the state's southern region 3,000 to 10,000 jobs.

One remedy for that job loss is diversification of the economy. How that might be done is being explored by The Herald-Dispatch in the West Virginia After Coal project, funded in part by the Pew Charitable Trust. Part of that will include a program this coming Thursday at 8 p.m. on West Virginia Public Broadcasting TV and radio stations.

The program will include an interactive exchange at 10 sites around the state, including one at Shepherd College's Stutzman-Slonake Hall. Seating is limited and tickets can be obtained by calling 1-888-596-9729. Or you can access an Internet chat room during the broadcast at wvaftercoal.org/chat.

In an area far from the state's coal regions, citizens might tend to dismiss this as someone else's problem. But as long as coal provides the cash that makes state government run, every West Virginian needs to pay attention.

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