Morgantown City Council is injecting itself into the climate debate unnecessarily. The city council is considering a resolution “in support of the Paris Climate Agreement.”

If it passes, Morgantown will join a growing list of cities that have taken action on climate change on their own after President Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris deal.  More than 360 U.S. mayors have already pledged to “uphold the commitments to the goals enshrined in the Paris Agreement.”

These cities are directly contradicting U.S. policy, but hey, when it comes to saving the planet…

Morgantown City Councilman Ryan Wallace says the resolution is not about politics, but rather it’s about good energy policy.  “It’s the statement of intent to pursue the goal of energy efficiencies, cost savings and reductions of greenhouse gasses.”

He told me on Talkline Thursday the city is still working out details of a “climate action plan,” but it’s expected to include things like energy efficiency, the use of renewable energy sources and more.  Wallace makes clear the policies will be only for city property, although the city will encourage private property owners in Morgantown to be greener.

Okay, being energy efficient and potentially saving taxpayer dollars is a good thing. There is, however, a lingering cost benefit question over this new direction–there’s no budget yet for the climate action plan—and that needs to be fully vetted.

Morgantown residents and taxpayers should know the cost of the city’s compliance with the Paris Agreement’s goal for the U.S. of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

“Of course there will be some initial investment,” Wallace said, “but ultimately the measures we’re looking at are going to save taxpayer dollars and that’s one of the primary incentives from my perspective.”

Well, maybe.  A study by the National Economic Research Association found that the Paris accord would have cost America as many as 2.7 million jobs by 2025. Another part of the study said coal output would drop by another 20 percent during that same time.

Granted that’s a national study, but it raises the question of the costs associated with reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Additionally, the Paris Agreement was going to make it even tougher on the beleaguered coal industry since it would have forced the United States to shutter more coal-fired power plants even as India, China and other countries continued to build them.

Like it or not, West Virginia’s economy still depends on coal as a significant tax and revenue source.  The ongoing state budget problems are directly linked to the coal industry slowdown which is due, in part, to the regulatory environment of the last eight years.

The city council resolution says the decision to respond to climate change “will help maintain Morgantown’s reputation as a science-based university community.”  However, the WVU community has endured a series of state funding reductions because of coal’s decline.  The Paris Agreement would only have exacerbated the shortfall.

Morgantown does not have any coal mines in the city limits, but it still received over $75,000 in coal severance tax money in the last 12 months.  Also, WVU is a technology and training center for the industry.

The University is home to the Coal and Mineral Processing Laboratory and WVU has  graduated 30 students with mining degrees since last December.  Additionally, the University’s mining extension service provided training for 3,699 miners in the last fiscal year.

Morgantown City Council is a duly elected body, so it has the authority to pass any resolution it wants, but that doesn’t mean it necessarily should.  Before council issues pieties about Paris it should take a closer look in its own backyard.


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