Mention the New River Gorge (in WV. see photo) or the Red River Gorge (in KY) to any rock climber friend of yours east of the Mississip’ and they will tell you that these are meccas for rock climbing. This is not only because they offer challenging climbing routes but because they offer beautiful vistas, rock overhangs and hollows to explore, and cool mountain streams to wade in and look for crayfish. You wouldn’t ask a New Yorker to just move to another city, because no city is like New York City. You wouldn’t ask someone living in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to just find another wooded coastline. My point is, the Appalachian culture runs deep and it is tied to the sleepy mountains and the cold mountain streams. You can hear it in their bluegrass, you can see it in their folk art, and you can taste it in their cornbread. In my opinion, we therefore owe it to this region to make investments in the clean energy economy in places like WV and eastern KY. Maybe it’s not the ideal spot for wind turbines or solar panels, but that doesn’t mean we can’t manufacture wind turbines or solar panels here. We can train Appalachians to lead the installation of our new smart grid. It appears that very smart, influential people have come to this same conclusion.
Former governor of Michigan, Jennifer Granholm (currently a professor of law and public policy at UC Berkeley) was a keynote speaker at the National Council for Science and the Environment conference this week. She is part of UC Berkeley’s “American JOBS project”, which has taken ten swing states, identified the two most plausible clean energy sectors to develop in each state, and then crafted policy recommendations for that state to implement these goals. There were volunteers taking questions from the audience written on slips of paper. I submitted the following question:
“I noticed KY and WV were not on your list of states in the American JOBS project—they are not swing states. But in this conversation of where will clean energy jobs be, are we morally compelled to bring clean energy jobs to places losing jobs from the end of fossil fuels, such as coal production in KY and WV? —Michigan State grad student”
Speaking of coal, a tax on carbon came up a few times at the conference as an obvious first step toward expanding clean energy. The purpose of a carbon tax would be to make fossil fuels more costly relative to other economic decisions — to correct this failure of the market to price environmental damages. I was at first surprised to learn (but then it made sense) that it is not necessary to use carbon tax revenue to fund renewables because the carbon tax itself will already incentivize renewable development regardless. We could use this revenue stream in a way that builds support across party lines, including relieving the carbon tax burden on low income families.
Next post from the front lines of the NCSE conference: The water-energy nexus (and no, that does not refer to quantum physics or science fiction).