TIME

COAL’S LAST KICK

AS CLEAN ENERGY RISES, WEST VIRGINIA LOOKS PAST TRUMP’S EMBRACE OF COAL TO WHAT COMES NEXT
At work inside a Southern Coal Corp. mine owned by West Virginia Governor Jim Justice, in McDowell County

IT WAS A CLOUDY FEBRUARY AFTERNOON in Charleston, W.Va., but the mood inside the city’s civic center was downright celebratory. As bow-tied waiters mixed drinks and manned a buffet of shrimp cocktail and roasted meat, the hundreds of members and guests at the annual meeting of the West Virginia Coal Association mingled with a lightness that would have been unthinkable just a year before.

After years of steady decline, the price of a key type of coal used to make steel doubled in 2016, largely due to a spike in demand from China. This led some mines to hire more workers and prevented others from laying off workers. Meanwhile, the state elected Jim Justice, a billionaire coal baron, as governor, and the nation installed Donald Trump as President. Both men wooed West Virginia voters with the promise of more mining jobs and fewer regulations. For an industry in need of a boost, it might as well have been jet fuel. “For the first time in a long time, there’s hope and optimism,” West Virginia Representative Evan Jenkins told the civic center crowd. “Everyone knows it. Everyone can feel it.”

Here in the capital of the state that depends on coal more than any other, the hope of a rebound is understandable. In 2006, burning coal provided 49% of the country’s electricity, but by last year that figure had declined to just 30%, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA). Over that same period, annual production in West Virginia declined from

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from TIME

TIME11 min read
Hostages To The Pandemic
WHEN SHE WALKED INTO THE LARGE CELL DEEP INSIDE VENEZUELA’S MOST NOTORIOUS PRISON IN JULY 2018, DENNYSSE VADELL COULD NOT FIND HER HUSBAND. SHE FRANTICALLY SCANNED THE FACES OF THE ASSEMBLED MEN IN DARK green uniforms until finally one of them raised
TIME3 min read
Doris Kearns Goodwin
This moment feels unprecedented. As a historian, do you think it actually is? What makes it so hard to absorb is that the overwhelming majority have never seen a situation that so severely disrupts our daily routines. Maybe that’s where history can p
TIME1 min read
The Father Will See You Now
Matthew Fish of Holy Family Catholic Church in Hillcrest Heights, Md., waits for parishioners at his drive-through confessional on March 20. As the coronavirus disrupts lives around the world, Fish is among those who have sought ways to meet the need