Federal group says Southwest Virginia is fourth most coal-dependent area in U.S.

Federal group says Southwest Virginia is fourth most coal-dependent area in U.S.
An A&G Coal mine in Southwest Virginia, July 2019. (Source: Sarah Vogelsong/Virginia Mercur)

A federal working group convened to examine how the economies of communities dependent on fossil fuels can be revitalized as the nation transitions to renewable energy has identified Southwest Virginia as the fourth most coal-dependent area in the U.S.

The finding, which is based on the percentage of total direct coal jobs relative to all employees within a region, designates Southwest Virginia as a priority community for “initial federal investments.” Thirteen counties, from Lee in the state’s westernmost tip to Patrick farther east, and three cities are included in the federal government’s definition of the area.

Roughly $38 billion in federal funding could be available for communities likely to be hard-hit by coal mine and power plant closures.

The findings appeared Friday in the first report issued by the Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities, which consists of 11 federal agencies and the Appalachian Regional Commission and was created by President Joe Biden by executive order in January.

Of the 25 most coal-dependent areas identified by the working group, the top four are all found in the Appalachian region.

Southwest Virginia’s coal dependency is outstripped only by that of the southern West Virginia non-metropolitan area, the East Kentucky non-metropolitan area and the Wheeling, West Virginia-Ohio area.