Van Jones: Talk to Eric Mathis About Green Jobs in Appalachia
Dear Van Jones: You need to travel to Mingo County, West Virginia and meet Eric Mathis, a scrappy young economist in the Appalachian coalfields, who is putting together one of the most dynamic green jobs consortiums in the country. Their underfunded but clear-eyed, desperately needed and brilliant project–JOBS, or Just Open Businesses That Are Sustainable–is laying out a blueprint for a sustainable economy at ground zero in our nation’s energy crisis. The JOBS message: Let’s talk green jobs in the Appalachian coalfields of West Virginia, Kentucky and southern Ohio. Some of the JOBS proposals include a community wind initiative, and setting up manufacturing centers for renewable energy products. My favorite: a biomass facility. Mathis writes: “Here in Mingo Co. we are performing the preliminary feasibility studies for a 2.4 MW biomass facility. This facility would consist of 4 600KW rated biomass generators that will produce electricity at an 80% efficiency rate. Therefore, the peak energy production will be rated at 1.8 MW. For the proposed feed stock, we would use mill residues. In addition, the feedstock to energy ratio roughly 3 dry tons of feed stock to 1 MWh production. This facility would produce 12.6 GWh/yr. Therefore, we would need 37,800 dry tons of feed stock per year to develop this facility (I am in the middle of this analysis). The 1999 study done by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory said that there were roughly 727K dry tons of wood waste per year that were at a price tag under $30/ton. In case you were curious as to why we were just wanting a 1.8 MW capacity facility, this amount of electricity would be enough to power roughly 1200 households. According to the 2000 Census, there are only 11,303 households in the whole of Mingo County. With our current desire for distributed generation, as well as the desire of both FRIEnergy and The JOBS Project to develop a wind facility in Mingo County as well (i.e., CWI above), there will still be a need for electricity in the area so that we do not forsake our desire for distributed energy generation. We will need to secure roughly 2.5-3 million in funds in order to successfully complete this project. This is relatively low in comparison to wind energy development, with a price tag that is nearly 65% of the total cost. ” More so, a study released last week by the Appalachian Regional Commission demonstrates that more jobs can be gained through energy efficiency initiatives than mountaintop removal operations: “The end result of this policy analysis, then, suggests that an early program stimulus which drives a higher level of efficiency investments can actually increase economic impact, creating an average of 16,000 net new jobs each year in the first five years of the study, and rising to an estimated average of 60,000 net new jobs over the last decade of the analysis. This is roughly equivalent to the employment that would be directly and indirectly supported by the construction and operation of 480 small manufacturing plants within Appalachia.” For more details, see: http://www.arc.gov/images/energy/Energy_Efficiency_in_Appalachia.pdf In the meantime, the coal industry receives billions of dollars in federal and state subsidies. Read: Dirty Coal Welfare. A 2007 study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) estimated that the coal industry receives about $8 billion per year in federal subsidies. This is on top of the fact that taxpayers continue to foot the bill for billions of dollars in the cleanup of abandoned mines and black lung program subsidies. According to one study, the “taxpayer-funded shortage (for the Black Lung Program) is expected to increase to $68 billion by 2040.” When US Senator Robert Byrd was first elected to the US House of Representatives in 1952, over 130,000 West Virginians worked in the coal mines. Today, roughly 20,000 actual coal miners descend into the underground mines or saddle up on heavy equipment to strip mine the ridges, according to official energy statistics from the US government. In truth, jobs have not been lost to environmental regulations; they have been subjected to the whims of the volatile energy market, super mechanization, including the often overlooked bane of longwall mining in the northern panhandle, and mountaintop removal. In eastern Kentucky, for example, coal mining employment in many counties have dropped by over 60 percent since 1980. The Kentuckians for the Commonwealth has put together a very illuminating chart of the economic realities of strip mining’s wrath in stripping jobs and livelihoods from the community: http://www.kftc.org/our-work/canary-project/campaigns/mtr/county-profiles Even as Gov. Joe Manchin lobbies for more coal favors from the EPA today in Washington, DC, his constituents know why West Virginia was ranked 50th in a recent Forbes survey for best states to do business. Instead of traveling to Washington today, Manchin should have gone to Mingo County to meet Eric Mathis. Van Jones should beat Manchin to Eric’s door.