Senate task force studying ways to aid struggling southern West Virginia coalfields

IndustriesAssociated Press

Senate President Jeff Kessler is setting up a task force as part of a push to help West Virginia's struggling southern coalfields.

At a news conference Thursday, the Marshall County Democrat announced the Southern Coalfields Organizing and Revitalizing the Economy initiative, or SCORE.

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Senators stressed that they need to map out plans to reinvigorate the southern coalfields and bring in new job opportunities. They also assured that they still need to fight for Appalachian coal mining, an industry that is shedding jobs amid market-based, geological and regulatory woes.

"We need to see what we can do as state legislators representing our communities to try to bring economic development, diversification and initiatives back to our region," Kessler said.

The announcement comes during an election cycle driven by opposition to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposal to limit carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.

The SCORE program is based off the Shaping our Appalachian Region program, which has similar goals for eastern Kentucky's hurting coalfields.

Kessler's 13-member Senate task force will look at a variety of ways to revitalize the coalfields.

Some include increasing tourism advertising, education and workforce development and retraining, redevelopment projects, agribusiness and rural development, better broadband Internet, expanded intermodal transportation, development of coal bed methane, and clean coal research and development.

The panel will hold regional listening sessions. It will present recommendations for consideration in the 60-day legislative session starting in January.

"Coal, I hope in my lifetime, remains the number one issue for southern West Virginia," said Sen. Mike Green, R-Raleigh. "But we have to look outside the box, look at diversification."