Clear Picture: Listening session shows need for diverse economy

For generations, the narrative has been that West Virginia is a coal state. In the development of that narrative, communities have taken great pride in, truly, keeping the lights on for much of the country. The men and women who spent their lives providing for their families and the rest of us by working in and around our coal mines have good reason to be proud of that work.

But voices heard during the state House of Delegates Coal Community Working Group’s first coal community listening session wiped a little of the coal dust off the picture of who we are as Mountain State residents — particularly in communities struggling to reconcile their economic past with what comes next.

“They knew that if the people of West Virginia had an alternative, they wouldn’t go in those dark, dank, dangerous holes, but those were the only jobs available,” said Manuel Ojeda, who told the group he is a former coal miner who worked for 40 years in the industry. He was speaking at a session in Logan, W.Va., which was covered by WOWK out of Huntington.

Another speaker at the session wondered about a different kind of mining in the region.

“Rare earth elements are critical for national defense and technology, for instance, computer chips, the aerospace industry — China has 90 percent of that market,” said geologist Joe Lycan, according to WOWK.

Should other listening sessions yield the same acknowledgment of the need for diversification and new job opportunities, lawmakers will need to be honest in incorporating that into their policy strategies for the state.

Ojeda is right. West Virginians living in former coal communities want to be productive parts of a vibrant economy and they want to put food on their tables. For generations, coal gave them that opportunity — and for some, it still does.

It is time we take an honest look at what it will take to do right by the rest.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *


Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today