While there are no obvious speakers from the state's major environmental advocacy groups, the agenda also doesn't include any of the typical advocates for the coal industry. And the topics don't really include a rundown of the challenges facing the coal industry, mining's impacts on coalfield communities, or the potential economic effects of coal's ongoing decline.
Richardson said he didn't find a lot of appetite for an event that would talk directly about coal's role in climate change and what the state should do about that.
"No one would touch that," he said. "Everyone was a little afraid to get involved in that. We felt like that topic would just be too divisive to have a civil and reasonable discussion about."
Still, a public opinion survey Richardson commissioned earlier this year showed a substantial majority of West Virginians favor increasing taxes on the coal industry to create a long-term fund for economic diversification and community development.
The survey also found broad support for the coal industry, but also a desire among state residents for strong environmental protections such as those mandated by the federal Clean Water Act.
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.
"People are really hungry to have this discussion," Richardson said.
So far, more than 165 people have registered for the event, being held in the 200-seat Walker Theater at the Clay Center in Charleston. Information about attending is available online at http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/what_you_can_do/a-bright-economic-future-for-mountain-state.html.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.