Gerald Lucas, 69, is a former coal miner and federal mine inspector who now gives public tours underground at the Beckley, W.Va., Exhibition Coal Mine, a working mine that ceased operations in 1953. He describes it as a fun job that allows him to share his decades of experience with visitors.
Lucas’s career change is becoming more common among West Virginians as the rural state of 1.8 million moves toward a new economy in which coal is no longer king. The state, which had a poverty rate of 16% in 2019, has long felt the effects of coal’s decline.
West Virginia lawmakers occupy key perches on Capitol Hill as President Joe Biden introduces a sweeping infrastructure and climate package—the $2.25 trillion American Jobs Plan—and pledges to revitalize coal country.
Senator Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat, is a crucial swing vote in the 50-50 Senate and chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Senator Shelley Moore Capito is the top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee and an architect of the GOP’s own infrastructure proposal, a $568 billion counteroffer to Biden’s. In the House, West Virginia members sit on the infrastructure-adjacent Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce committees.
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