West Virginia towns and communities have been hit hard by the decline of the coal industry.
The economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic has only made matters worse. All hope is not lost, however. We can still mount an impressive economic comeback—at the local, state, and national levels—by investing in a sector that has proven potential for immense growth and job creation: clean energy. In order to create jobs, I was a proud sponsor of major legislation last year that provided tax incentives to companies using energy produced by clean and renewable sources. I firmly believe that our national energy strategy should be one that includes “All-the-Above.” In other words, we should be developing clean coal technologies, carbon sequestration, natural gas, and renewable sources. If we do that, West Virginia will remain a global leader, and West Virginians will have more good paying jobs in the energy industry for decades to come.
Clean energy—from natural gas to renewables like wind and solar—is an important part of West Virginia’s diverse energy portfolio and can help us build a stronger, more robust economy. However, it will take the right mix of federal leadership and local ingenuity to overcome the challenges the coronavirus pandemic has created for our clean energy economy, both here in West Virginia and across the country.
Fortunately, Congress laid the groundwork for a renewed commitment to strengthening and modernizing America’s energy infrastructure by passing the Energy Act of 2020 as part of the spending bill that was signed into law late last year. This comprehensive energy innovation legislation—the first of its kind in 13 years—will help us create new jobs suited for the 21st century and grow our local, state, and national economies, all while preserving our precious natural resources.
The Energy Act of 2020 invests $35 billion in new clean energy technologies—from renewable energy to carbon capture to energy storage—and leverages private-sector innovation to spur innovation and growth. Just as importantly, the collaboration that went into passing this legislative package provides a successful model for lawmakers seeking to break though the partisan gridlock in Washington in order to advance pro-growth, pro-jobs infrastructure policies.
When America invests in new clean energy infrastructure projects—like one of the six wind energy developments or many natural gas projects across the state—we are saying yes to local jobs, yes to new opportunities and yes to stronger local, state, and national economies. That’s because clean energy jobs create employment opportunities well beyond the clean energy sector alone. Small businesses and workers are needed to support a growing workforce, and we can expect that putting clean energy workers back on the job will lead to growth in the supply chain, transportation, and hospitality sectors, as well as other community-based services.
Conversely, when we fail to develop our clean energy resources, we drive away economic investments that will improve the quality of life for all West Virginians. West Virginia Commerce Secretary Ed Gaunch when he told a House Committee in Charleston last year that the lack of clean energy options in our state is keeping some businesses from investing here.
With the fourth-largest natural gas reserves of any state and vast untapped potential in renewable energy like wind and solar, West Virginia holds much promise to remain a leader in U.S. energy production. However, for any of our efforts in this space to bear fruit, we need a commitment from our leaders in Washington to help support our entire nation’s clean energy industry.
I am grateful for Senator Shelley Moore Capito and Representative David McKinley’s efforts in helping shape and pass the Energy Act of 2020. Their continued leadership can help ensure West Virginia remains a leader in American-made energy. By investing in clean energy as well as our entire energy infrastructure, we can create millions of new jobs for Americans, spur economic growth, and preserve the natural beauty of our great state and the entire nation.
Jeff Pack is a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates