Manchin, federal leaders hopeful programs can revitalize West Virginia, other communities

SOUTH CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Federal officials and others on Friday touted several actions aimed at spurring economic development in West Virginia and the Appalachian region, including a new workforce development program and plans for a battery manufacturing facility.

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., joined Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and representatives of the Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities to discuss related investments and West Virginia’s potential to confront changes in the energy market.

“I think all of you know that West Virginia has done the heavy lifting and we kept the lights on. We had the coal, we had the mining, and we did all the heavy lifting. We made the steel that built the guns, ships, factories and everything that we have today,” Manchin said during a press conference at Marshall University’s Robert C. Byrd Institute.

“I just want to make sure that no one forgets about West Virginia and what we’ve done, and that no one is going to get left behind.”

President Joe Biden created the Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities during his first days in office to research the effects of closing coal mines and power plants, as well as prioritize investments and grants for these communities. The coalition consists of various government agencies, including the Energy and Interior departments.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm (U.S. Department of Energy)

The Department of Energy, the Labor Department and the AFL-CIO launched Friday a $5 million workforce training initiative on developing lithium batteries. According to the Department of Energy, the effort funds up to five pilot training programs in areas previously reliant on automotive and energy facilities. The effort will have an additional focus on fostering partnerships between companies and labor organizations.

Granholm did not name any possible locations for the program but noted West Virginia is “well-positioned” for a spot.

“We want to make sure we have the skilled workforce training program to be able to ensure that no worker is left behind,” she said.

Lithium-ion batteries are used in multiple products, including electronics, electric cars and appliances. Demand for the batteries has increased, and the Biden administration has made use of these batteries part of its agenda on climate change. The Department of Energy aims to establish a national supply chain on battery materials and technology by 2030.

During her remarks to reporters, Granholm referenced last year’s infrastructure law and funds allocated in the statute. The department in February announced $2.9 billion for battery production, refining and production plants, and recycling efforts directed at minimizing extraction. The funding will also support developing new uses for batteries and efficient ways to extract and reclaim minerals.

“We should not be relying upon countries like China or others for the supplies to make us, really, energy independent,” Granholm said. “We should be building the full supply chain here.”

Manchin, who voted for the $1.2 trillion measure, said the infrastructure law additionally includes funding to support various industries and efforts.

“The commitment’s made. The money will be going out,” he said.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., played an instrumental role in getting the related legislation through the Senate. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., was one of 13 Republicans in the House of Representatives to back the bill, triggering disapproval from former President Donald Trump and Republican colleagues.

West Virginia has multiple opportunities to secure federal funding from the law. The state is eligible to receive up to $141.9 million from the Department of the Interior to plug and reclaim orphaned oil and gas wells. West Virginia will get $140.8 million to reclaim abandoned mine lands and address environmental concerns associated with past mining activities.

During the press conference, Sparkz Inc., a Livermore, California-based company, announced plans to build a battery manufacturing facility in West Virginia. The company will manufacture cobalt-free batteries; the United States does not have large cobalt reserves, and other manufacturers are considering and researching alternatives because of the mineral’s cost.

The company will initially hire 350 workers, but CEO Sanjiv Malhotra stated there are plans to expand the plant’s capabilities and workforce.

“When I started this company two years and three months ago, the focus was to reengineer the supply chain,” Malhotra said. “Essentially, not only are we manufacturing here, we are actually creating the supply chain for our lithium batteries here in the United States, here in West Virginia.”

Sparkz has entered a partnership with the United Mine Workers of America to help former coal miners get jobs with the company. UMWA Secretary-Treasurer Brian Sanson said the agreement is mutually beneficial as energy companies continue shifting away from utilizing coal and groups with other technologies need workers.

“We don’t know what the future holds,” he said. “We know that we care about the tens of thousands of dislocated coal miners that are out there.”

“We need to look at what’s in our house, not our neighboring house,” Malhotra added. “What we have in our house is a very well-trained workforce if we can train them and put them to work. This is a very disciplined workforce, and that’s what we need.”

Construction on the plant will begin this year. Malhotra noted the company will announce the plant’s location in the coming weeks.

The Department of Energy on Friday also announced $2.2 million for X-MAT Carbon Core Composites in Bluefield for manufacturing prototypes of building materials from coal waste.

Friday’s announcements followed the Appalachian Regional Commission’s awarding of nearly $21 million in grants for economic revitalization projects in West Virginia and other states. Gayle Manchin, the senator’s wife, serves as the Appalachian Regional Commission’s federal co-chair. She participated in Friday’s events.





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