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Energy: Justice appointments show lack of foresight

In reviving West Virginia’s Public Energy Authority, Gov. Jim Justice gave the appearance of doubling down on the fossil fuels industries in the Mountain State. His appointments included the senior vice president of a company that has been in the coal business since 1840, the executive director of the Gas and Oil Association of West Virginia, the president of the West Virginia Coal Association, and the former director of the state Division of Energy and former chairman of the Public Energy Authority under governors Joe Manchin and Earl Ray Tomblin.

In fact, state code says the PEA was created to promote “reliable and dependable markets for the state’s coal, natural gas and other natural resources.” It even has the power to finance, build and operate coal- and natural gas-fired power plants.

But realistic West Virginians know our state will someday need to transition away from perceived dependence on those industries. We will need to diversify our economy and our energy portfolio. To that end, the PEA is supposed to include “a person with significant experience in the advocacy of environmental protection.”

Justice said he was not sure whether there was already such a person on the authority. But his choice of words was telling.

“Fair representation is there,” he said, but then added, “From the standpoint of someone who is leaning more towards the environment-side, it’s always good to have the information and bounce off different folks.”

In what was perhaps simply a poor choice of words, Justice seemed to imply the rest of the board does not, in fact, lean toward “the environment-side.”

Later Justice said of coal miners and gas workers “we should try to perpetuate their industry.”

Without a doubt, those working in the fossil fuels industries in our state deserve our support, and every effort we can give toward making sure they are not sacrificed to the change that WILL one day come. Among the ways we can do that is to ensure extremist policy makers understand this transition must take much longer than they’d like.

But we are doing coal miners and gas workers no justice if we bury our heads in the sand and lean away from the “environment-side” and toward artificially perpetuating an industry that nearly everyone agrees will look dramatically different as we do what is right for both the planet and the people living on it.

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