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Governor blasts anti- fossil fuel campaign

Justice: Plan would plunge W.Va. into ‘dark ages’ if it’s carried out

CHARLESTON — An effort by the former mayor of New York City to pour half a billion dollars into ending coal and natural gas-fired power generation in the U.S. is not sitting well with West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice and leaders of the state’s fossil fuel industries.

Justice, who owns numerous coal mines in several states, held a press conference Monday criticizing Michael Bloomberg’s Beyond Carbon campaign.

“If (Bloomberg) is successful … we’re back in the dark ages,” Justice said. “To think that this can be accomplished with alternative sources of energy, whether it be windmills or solar or whatever … to think that that can be accomplished is ridiculous.”

Justice was joined Monday by representatives of the West Virginia Coal Association, AEP, Dominion Power, the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, the West Virginia Independent Oil and Gas Association and the West Virginia Business and Industry Council.

Bloomberg announced the Beyond Carbon campaign. Pledging $500 million over a three-year period, Bloomberg wants to fund advocacy efforts, legal challenges and political campaigns with the goal of shutting down the nation’s remaining coal-fired power plants.

“We cannot afford this level of attack on us,” Justice said. “This single-handedly destroys West Virginia, our great coal mining families, our great pipeline people, our great oil and gas people, everything.”

Goals for Beyond Carbon, according to the initiative’s website, include transition to 100 percent zero-carbon energy sources by 2030, transitioning to electric vehicles, eliminating gas and oil furnaces in homes and businesses, eliminating methane flaring and leakage, and creating new jobs in regions dependent on the coal and natural gas industry.

Bloomberg unveiled the Beyond Carbon initiative during his commencement address Friday at MIT in Boston.

“…Our goal is to move the U.S. toward a 100 percent clean energy economy as expeditiously as possible,” Bloomberg said. “…Most of our battles will take place outside of Washington. We are going to take the fight to the cities and states – and directly to the people. And the fight will take place on four main fronts.”

While being competitors for electrical generation, representatives of the coal and natural gas industries were united Monday in their disdain for the Beyond Carbon initiative. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, natural gas was the source for 35.1 percent on the nation’s electricity generation in 2018, followed by coal with 27.4 percent. Natural gas’ share is expected to increase to 37 percent by the end of 2019 with coal decreasing to 24 percent.

“It’s very sinful to see this, quite frankly. I think it’s un-American that someone would use their wealth to try to destroy a major fabric of our nation and state’s industrial base and try to put people out of work,” said Chris Hamilton, vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association and chairman of the West Virginia Business and Industry Council.

“I think we have an opportunity to stand should-to-shoulder and develop coalitions across this country to basically advocate the importance of fossil fuel energy sources,” Hamilton continued.

“We stand together with coal on this, we’re just very disappointed to hear about this attack on fossil fuels here in West Virginia,” said Anne Blankenship, executive director of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association. “The Beyond Carbon campaign is scary for the hundreds and thousands of jobs that the coal industry and the natural gas industry have created over the entire country. This would put all of those in great jeopardy.”

Charlie Burd, executive director of the Independent Oil and Natural Gas Association, pointed out renewables, according to the EIA, only make up 17.1 percent of electricity generation in the U.S. in 2018. These sources include wind (6.6 percent) and solar (1.7 percent).

“This is an attack on affordable energy in my opinion,” Burd said. “It’s unfathomable that we would take the extractive industries we rely on here and shut them down…we need natural gas, we need coal, and we need renewables.”

Bloomberg partnered with the Sierra Club in 2011 for Beyond Coal, a previous effort to force the closure of coal-fired power plants in the U.S. Bill Price, a field organizing manager for the Sierra Club in West Virginia, said the costs outweigh the benefits when it comes to fossil fuels.

“There is no question that the coal industry brought jobs and economic benefits to West Virginia, but there is also no question that it has damaged countless lives and destroyed our environment in ways that will have long lasting impact,” Price said. “Because of this, our communities demand an energy future that doesn’t dirty our water, pollute our air, and foster dangerous work environments.”

Wrapping up the press conference Monday, Justice said he supported renewable energy. In May, Justice announced plans for a new wind power development along the border of Mineral and Grant counties in the Eastern Panhandle. But Justice called Bloomberg’s plan a “maybe-land.”

“Here you’ve got a New York super-liberal who lives in an absolute bubble,” Justice said. “I can’t see in any way, shape, form, or fashion that we need to let some bubble boy that’s in New York giving a fraction of his money destroy us.”

(Adams can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com)

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