West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice was a Republican, then became a Democrat, only to reverse course again last week to become a Republican again – though the timing of his decision seemed odd. At face value, he didn’t appear to have a reason to switch to the GOP so soon after winning statewide office as a Dem.
This week, however, the motivation seems a little clearer. The Washington Post reported:
Jim Justice, the born-again Republican governor of West Virginia, is floating a federal proposal to bail out the struggling Appalachian coal industry at a cost to taxpayers of up to $4.5 billion a year.
As Justice described it to the Wall Street Journal, under the proposal, the federal government would pay out $15 to eastern power companies for each ton of Appalachian coal they purchase.
The coal industry has been struggling for quite a while, but it’s been especially difficult for companies and their employees in Appalachia: companies in recent years have found it easier and cheaper to produce coal in Western states, which has left coal mining in Appalachia with a shrinking percentage of the market.
Faced with these circumstances, which aren’t likely to improve, West Virginia’s governor – who stood alongside Donald Trump last week, at an event in which Justice became a Republican again, who also happens to have made his fortunes as a coal magnate – believes the White House should give coal companies in Eastern states several billion dollars.
This is not a good idea.
First, isn’t this deeply at odds with conservative free-market principles? Justice is asking for the government to give struggling private companies taxpayer money because the marketplace has moved in a direction the governor doesn’t like. I’m pretty sure this is the exact opposite of what Republicans are supposed to believe about public-sector intervention in the economy.
Second, as The New Republic’s Sarah Jones explained, Justice should be looking for long-term solutions, not short-term bailouts.
The state needs money, but not in the form of investment in coal. These bailouts will only prolong the industry’s undignified demise, and at the expense of West Virginians, who have sacrificed land and health to coal’s grasping tentacles for centuries. If Justice really wanted to help his state, he’d ask for more money to help it transition away from a coal-dependent economy.
But he is a coal baron, and he will never put that question to his very good friend Donald Trump.
At least we have a better idea now as to why the governor changed parties last week.