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WVU law professor explores how West Virginia is missing the clean energy revolution

WVU law professor James Van Nostrand and his book's cover

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia is caught in a coal trap that’s causing it to miss the clean energy revolution. As a result, the state faces substantial economic obstacles and serious environmental and public health concerns.

That’s the case made in a new book by James Van Nostrand, a professor of law and the director of the Center for Energy and Sustainable Development at West Virginia University.

"The Coal Trap: How West Virginia Was Left Behind in the Clean Energy Revolution" (Cambridge University Press, 2022) focuses on the years between 2009 and 2019.

Van Nostrand argues that is when the state’s politicians placed the interests of the coal industry above the economic and environmental health of the state and the planet. 

"They chose not to manage the inevitable transition away from fossil fuels but focus instead on blaming the coal industry’s demise on the federal government and environmental regulations — the EPA in particular," he said.

Van Nostrand’s "coal trap" refers to the industry’s inescapable grip on West Virginia’s identity. He questions whether the state can continue to embrace the coal industry while also accepting the reality of a clean energy future.

"Despite the transformation to natural gas and renewables that was occurring in the energy industry across the U.S., West Virginia political leaders doubled down on coal," Van Nostrand said. "As a result, West Virginia ratepayers have been burdened with electricity prices that have increased faster than in any other state."

According to Van Nostrand, electricity prices in West Virginia increased at a pace that was five times the national average between 2008 and 2020.

"Currently, West Virginia depends on coal to supply 91% of its electricity, while that figure is 22% nationally and 36% globally," Van Nostrand said.

Rolling Stone Magazine hails "The Coal Trap" as "a must-read for anyone who cares about the future of West Virginia — or the future of the planet."

The book is available now on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and wherever fine books are sold. 



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