Switching Sides in the War on Coal

Considering how short-term job concerns undermine efforts to address global warming, it comes as no surprise that in West Virginia—where coal mines employ more than 20,000 people—talk of reducing carbon emissions is met with skepticism. In a recent debate between candidates for U.S. House of Representatives, for instance, Republican Spike Maynard disparagingly accused his opponent of being "a member of the team that is waging a war on coal." Is there any way that supporters of climate legislation in Congress can bring a state as economically tethered to carbon-emitting industry as West Virginia to support their cause?

Bill Clinton recently suggested directing federal funding for clean energy projects to parts of the country that are “distressed and full of potential for energy independence.” He says that we should take a few places like that and go straight out and make them energy independent and document how many jobs have been created, and then everybody will want to do that.”

Can we modify his proposal to garner support among people who’d otherwise fear a “war on coal,” perhaps by including current state reliance on traditional energy jobs among the criteria determining allocation of federal funding? I’m thinking something along the lines of a climate bill that includes, in addition to a carbon cap and other measures addressing global warming, a provision guaranteeing factories and other alternative energy projects for states like West Virginia. Is such an idea viable? Could the economic inefficiencies that might result from mandating the locations of energy projects be offset by the benefits of finally passing a climate bill? Can you think of any other ways in which a state like West Virginia could be made less reticent to a cap on carbon emissions?

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