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Energy innovation critical to our economic future

Resilience. Tenacity. Realism.

These are things that we here in West Virginia know a thing or three about. We make our homes in a place that can be both stunningly beautiful and obstinately difficult to live in, and we’re rightfully proud of our ability to make it work for our families. We know what it takes, we do what’s necessary and we plan ahead where we can.

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin is again leading the way with these values when it comes to the energy transition that is underway in the American economy. With his new American Jobs and Energy Manufacturing Act, introduced this week with co-sponsor Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Senator Manchin revived the 48C tax credit, which would provide $8 billion to manufacturers and other industrial users to retool, expand or build new facilities that make or recycle energy-related products. The bill sets aside roughly half of the money to assist communities where coal mines have closed or coal power plants have been retired.

I grew up here. I’m raising my family here. I’ve personally spent the last five years having conversations across the state with stakeholders of every kind talking about West Virginia’s economic and energy future. People in the coal and natural gas industry. People in state governments and in non-profits.

West Virginians are realistic. We know that while coal has provided for generations of our families, it will not continue to hold as the central pillar of our economy as energy markets change. We are seeing firsthand the vulnerability of a non-diversified economy. The economic devastation wrought by COVID-19 has only accelerated the process, highlighting the need to have resilient domestic supply chains. West Virginians are already showing their tenacity in actively looking for what’s next for our economy.

The reinstatement of the 48C tax credit, which was such a successful part of the recovery from the 2008 recession, will promote the kind of investment that brings jobs to communities that have skilled workers looking for employment and who are looking for their part in standing up the industries that supply and power the nation.

The tax credit will support investment in manufacturing and industrial facilities that will produce the next generation of innovative energy technologies. These technologies will help us get cheaper energy choices that do not pollute our air. And, if they are well-planned, these technologies can avoid adverse impacts on the communities and landscapes in which they are located.

Energy innovation is not an inevitability; it is an imperative. Our communities, our economy and the natural places we love are already being impacted by a changing climate. This will only get worse unless we can successfully sequester more carbon emissions than we are producing. Such a future is ambitious, but both achievable and advantageous. We applaud Sen. Manchin for his work to set the pieces in place to make that future a reality, using proven tools that will make sure that everyone can enjoy a prosperous economic future.

(Wheatley is director of external affairs & strategic initiatives for The Nature Conservancy in West Virginia)

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