West Virginians who were surveyed were concerned about the impact of environmental rules on industry, but also expressed strong support for increased focus on renewable energy. More than half said that the state should begin to transition to an economy that relies less on coal jobs.
"These numbers underscore a significant attitudinal shift among constituencies that have traditionally been coal's strongest supporters, and undercut the traditional narrative that West Virginians are not ready to embrace a 21st century economy that prioritizes growth and diversification over rigid allegiance to coal companies," Lake Research said in a memo summarizing the poll results. "Voters want to re-examine the role of coal, renewables, and economic diversification in West Virginia, and overwhelmingly believe the coal industry should pay its fair share in order to invest in new economic development, infrastructure repair, education and job training programs."
Ted Boettner, executive director of the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy, said he hopes the survey results help persuade lawmakers to create a "future fund" of the sort his group has been pushing for several years.
Such a program would put money from coal and gas taxes aside, with interest on the balance being spent every year to help improve infrastructure, economic development and educational programs that would diversify the state's economy.
"This survey underscores the state's support for creating a future fund," Boettner said. "This fund would ensure that West Virginia always benefits from our vast natural resource wealth."
Boettner's group is working with Richardson on a Sept. 4 forum in Charleston to discuss ways to improve economic development efforts in the state. Information about the forum is available online at http://www.eventzilla.net/web/event?eventid=2138985727.
Richardson said that his group decided to release the survey results this week in the wake of President Obama's proposed climate change action plan, which was harshly criticized by most West Virginia political leaders.
"My hope is that this survey that we did will help change the conversation," Richardson said. "There is space for political leaders to argue that we're not trying to kill the coal industry, we're trying to create more opportunities for our kids."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.