How Coal Maintains Its Political Hold on West Virginia

West Virginia’s coal industry has out-sized influence in the state’s politics, and in Washington. But the industry’s power has come at a cost to West Virginians.


The state of West Virginia has made headlines over the past year on the high profile of its senior senator, Joe Manchin, who has been the swing vote in the Senate on major energy legislation. Most dramatically, Manchin’s last-minute deal with Senate Democratic leadership in July allowed for the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act that provides billions of dollars in tax incentives for wind and solar power. Yet in negotiations Manchin blocked provisions that are central President Biden’s clean energy and climate agenda, while gaining concessions to the fossil fuel industry that holds so much political sway in his home state.  

James van Nostrand, author of Coal Trap: How West Virginia Was Left Behind in the Clean Energy Revolution, examines how the coal industry succeeded in shaping West Virginia politics and, by extension, came to influence national energy policy.  Van Nostrand, a professor of law at West Virginia University, also examines how coal’s political influence has left West Virginia ill prepared to benefit economically from clean energy as the market for coal declines.

James van Nostrand is Director of the Center for Energy and Sustainable Development at West Virginia University College of Law.

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