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[Episode #198] – The Coal Trap

Why have coal-mining communities continued to white-knuckle their interests in coal long after it was clear the industry was well into decline and would never come back? How were politicians able to misdirect blame toward a “War on Coal” narrative rather than economic factors?

In this episode, Jamie Van Nostrand, a longtime lawyer who has worked both for utility regulators and utility companies, sheds light on these questions. In addition to his current role as a regulator, Jamie has served as a professor of utility law and regulation in several states, including West Virginia, the poster child of coal-industry denial about the energy transition. In Jamie’s 2022 book, The Coal Trap: How West Virginia Was Left Behind in the Clean Energy Revolution, he explains how the politics of West Virginia, and the actions of coal industry proponents and lobbyists, contributed to a culture of denial about the need for a clean energy transition. This denial has come at a great cost to West Virginians, who have missed out on energy transition during a ‘lost decade’ and are now facing unnecessarily high grid power costs for many years ahead. Jamie shares his insights in this episode and explains how the situation in West Virginia can serve as a cautionary tale for other communities facing similar challenges. It’s a fascinating book, and Jamie’s explanations in this extra-long episode are illuminating.


James “Jamie” M. Van Nostrand is the Chair of the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities. At the time of this interview, Jamie was a Visiting Professor at University of Florida Levin College of Law. He also served as the Charles M. Love, Jr. Endowed Professor and Director of the Center for Energy and Sustainable Development at West Virginia University College of Law from July 2011 to May 2023. Prior to that, he was a member of the adjunct faculty at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University in White Plains, NY and Executive Director of the Pace Energy and Climate Center. Prior to his transition to the academy, Professor Van Nostrand had a private law practice as a partner in the Environmental and Natural Resources practice group of large law firms based in the Pacific Northwest (Perkins Coie LLP and Stoel Rives LLP). In his 22-year career in private practice, Professor Van Nostrand represented energy clients in state regulatory proceedings in eight western states, as well as proceedings before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Professor Van Nostrand was recognized by the Energy Bar Association as its 2007 State Regulatory Practitioner of the Year.

On Twitter: @jamievanWVU

On the Web:

Jamie’s faculty page at the West Virginia University College of Law

Jamie’s LinkedIn page

Recording date: March 31, 2023

Air date: May 17, 2023

Geek rating: 3