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WVU: School has moral obligation to aid state in moving beyond coal

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WVU: School has moral obligation to aid state in moving beyond coal

WestVirginia University Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs JoyceMcConnell says the university has a moral obligation to investigate thepotential for an economic future in West Virginia that could include less coal.

McConnellspoke April 8 at the fifth annual National Energy Conference, hosted by theWest Virginia University College of Law, which examined the downward trends inthe state's beleaguered coal industry and looked to the future of what could bedone.

Inthe opening session of the event in Morgantown, W.Va., McConnell said thewriting that West Virginia's economy needs diversification have been on thewall for a while. "We are witness to a collapse of an economy,"McConnell said, adding that the state must work quickly to find short-, medium-and long-term solutions to a problem that won't be fixed "overnight."

"Ittakes time to diversify an economy," she added.

AdeleMorris, a senior fellow and policy director for the climate and energy andeconomics project for the Brookings Institution, said in her overview of thecoal sector that there is old bad news, new good news — and now, hopefully,opportunity. She also said that unfortunately for those trying to draw aroadmap, there is little precedent for the widespread and sudden that have occurred inthe state's coalfields.

JohnDeskins, director of WVU's Bureau of Business and Economic Research, said that whilesouthern West Virginia is losing the most jobs, northern West Virginia jobsremain flat. While southern West Virginia is bleeding the most jobs, it is alsobenefitting very little from the oil and gas boom that is occurring in thenorthern part of the state. "We have some counties that are in a Great Depression,"Deskins said, noting some counties have lost one-third of their jobs.

Hesaid pinning hopes on abolishingU.S. EPA rules is an ineffective solution to the problem of southern WestVirginia's coal demand due to a storm of factors including low natural gasprices, anemic international demand and geologic challenges in the region.

CharlesPatton, president and COO of AppalachianPower Co., a subsidiary of AmericanElectric Power Co. Inc., spoke on behalf of a major coal utility atthe conference. He said that while he is not sure what with the U.S. EPA's CleanPower Plan, currently threatenedby lawsuits, he thinks it is essentially a given there will be carbon dioxideregulations of some sort in the future.

Showinga slide that projects a rapid expansion into renewables, Patton said five or sixyears ago, he would not believe that was the sort of the company would move towardas quickly as it has.

"We'llcontinue to operate our coal fleet until about 2040," Patton said. "Theoutput from those plants is going to be significantly less."

Hesaid that the company's coal fleet already runs as low as about a 60% capacityfactor, but that will drop to between 50% and 55% if the Clean Power Plan goesthrough.

MichaelGerrard, director of Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, said the EPA hasnumerous other legal avenues beyond the Clean Power Plan even if it does fail.He said even if the rule is struck down, there are plenty of other regulatoryavenues to drive down carbon dioxide emissions without the help of the U.S.Congress. "The Clean Power Plan is the battle not the war,"he offered.

The2016 National Energy Conference is presented by WVU's John D. Rockefeller IVSchool of Policy and Politics and WVU Law's Center for Energy & SustainableDevelopment. The one-day conference brought speakers from industry, academicinstitutions, public policy organizations, and environmental groups, includingkeynote speaker former Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va.