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‘Energy and the Economic Future of WV’: State senate candidate speaks at Shepherd

By Staff | Mar 13, 2020

West Virginia 2nd Congressional District Democratic candidate Cathy Kunkel talks about energy policy in Shepherd University Student Center's Rumsey Room on March 5. Tabitha Johnston

SHEPHERDSTOWN — West Virginia 2nd Congressional District Democratic candidate Cathy Kunkel visited Shepherdstown on March 5, to talk with Shepherd University students and community members about the energy concerns she would focus on as a state senator.

West Virginia transplant Kunkel is an energy analyst and graduate of Princeton University, with her work has been cited by the The Washington Post, NBC News, The Hill and members of Congress. Hosted by the Shepherd University Young Democrats, the event in the Student Center Rumsey Gallery gave Kunkel the opportunity to answer questions on the issues she discussed in her speech on “Energy and the Economic Future of West Virginia.”

“This is obviously a very important topic here,” Kunkel said. “We think of West Virginia as a coal state, and its is still the second largest coal producer in the country. There are a couple of questions we must answer: can West Virginia move forward in a clean energy economy, and what can West Virginia do to not fall behind in a clean energy economy?

“We must understand the implications to West Virginia of one specific proposal idea, the Green New Deal. The Green New Deal offers a historic opportunity for West Virginia to bring in federal infrastructure to ensure a safe economy, while being able to keep making money from renewable energy,” Kunkel said, mentioning the “just transition” of the GND would help fund the retraining of fossil fuel industry employees, who would then be transferred to work in clean energy industry jobs.

According to Kunkel, the GND would protect our state from financial disaster. The state’s economy relies on the success of the fossil fuel industry, which has not been strong for many years.

“Coal production has fallen to a low we haven’t seen since the 1970s. Coal mining peaked in the 1950s, and it never really grew back,” Kunkel said. “Over the last 70 years, coal mining has decreased dramatically.

“Energy plants have begun increasing using cheaper renewable energy instead of coal. This has led to many bankruptcies in the coal industry over the last few years. In fact, the four largest coal producers since 2012, which produced 50 percent of the nation’s coal, have all filed for bankruptcy,” Kunkel said. “The decline in coal production has led to a $100 million decrease in funding to our state government.”

For Kunkel, one answer to this crisis, is to make West Virginia more solar power-friendly by passing legislation, making it possible for solar companies to install solar units on top of private homes, the energy from which the home owners would then pay the solar companies to use. A number of states allow this kind of business arrangement, but Kunkel said one of West Virginia’s current laws prohibits it.

Another concern Kunkel expressed, is the financial benefit West Virginia is getting from the traditional energy industries.

“Natural resource extraction has always been a big part of our economic production. Most of the money from the lumber, coal and natural gas industries has mostly gone to companies outside of the state, we are mostly let with the negative results of the industry: black lung, polluted water, mountaintop removal, particulate matter,” Kunkel said. “Because we in West Virginia have focused so long on these kinds of industries, we haven’t devoted much energy or thought to developing renewable energy.”

According to Kunkel, the lack of diversification from these industries could be doubly harmful to West Virginia, with the increase in global warming. Kunkel said politicians and fossil fuel companies have worked together over the past decades to hide global warming and its connection with the fossil fuel industry. The funding made to many state and federal politicians compromised their integrity and service to their constituents, which, Kunkel said, was the reason she decided not to accept corporate funding for her campaign.

To learn more about Kunkel, visit her campaign website, kunkelforcongress.com.