West Virginia Needs A New Energy Future.

Between 2009 and 2019, West Virginian politicians aligned themselves with the interests of the coal industry to the substantial detriment of the citizens and economy of the state.

In The Coal Trap, James Van Nostrand tells the story of why West Virginia now faces overwhelming obstacles to competing in the economic marketplace of the twenty-first century.

About the Author

James M. (Jamie) Van Nostrand is uniquely qualified to write about energy and environmental issues, given his nearly 40 years of experience in a variety of roles in the energy industry, including positions as a regulator, an energy lawyer, director of a New York-based environmental non-governmental organization, and law professor.

Book Preview

If you'd like a better idea of what The Coal Trap  is about, the chapter previews provide a general overview of the topics covered in the book.



The years between 2009 and 2019 represent a “lost decade” for West Virginia as its political leaders chose to ignore the fundamental transformation that was underway in the electric industry in the U.S. and instead doubled down on coal. The leadership necessary to manage the state’s transition for success in a new energy economy was missing; rather, the chosen path was to complain about a “war on coal” and largely blame the demise of the coal industry on “Obama’s job-killing EPA.”


Chapter 1

The “lost decade” was very active at the federal level in efforts to address climate change, including the adoption of the Clean Power Plan to regulate carbon emissions from coal plants. Although the regulation never took effect, it was claimed to deal a crushing blow to the coal industry by West Virginia political leaders.


Chapter 2

The leading cause of the demise of the coal industry was the widespread deployment of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling in the Marcellus Shale, the largest shale play in the U.S. The availability of cheap and plentiful natural gas in the region resulted in dramatic decreases in wholesale electricity prices, making coal plants uneconomic as a means of generating electricity.


Chapter 3

By the end of the “lost decade,” technological advances in wind and solar resulted insignificant cost reductions; most utilities across the country were finding that installing a new wind or solar facility would be cheaper that running existing coal plants. Analyses of West Virginia coal plants suggested similar results.

Read Full Preview

What Thought Leaders Say About the Book

“The Coal Trap is a sober and utterly damning indictment of what a decade of coal dependence and political corruption has cost West Virginians. Van Nostrand knows the law, he knows the politics, and he knows where all the bodies are buried. A must-read for anyone who cares about the future of West Virginia — or the future of the planet.”

Jeff Goodell
Rolling Stone Magazine

“James Van Nostrand brings stellar expertise and deep experience of West Virginia to a subject that could not be more timely or relevant. Everyone who cares about the trajectory of U.S. climate policy should own and read this book.”

Abigail Dillen
President, Earthjustice

“A lot of people obsess over West Virginia’s coal industry – its economic impact, its political power, its often-painful history and the continuing impact on workers and the environment. But James Van Nostrand has given us a fascinating new account of how, even as it shrinks, that industry continues to manipulate our system of utility regulation to its benefit, in ways that hold the state and its transition to a more modern economy back. The Coal Trap is a must-read book for West Virginians and for anyone who cares about the future or our state and our world.”

Ken Ward, Jr.
Co-Founder, Mountain State Spotlight

“With facts and rich understanding, Professor Van Nostrand leads the reader insightfully through perhapsthe most important decade in West Virginia’s energy history. The Coal Trap’s compelling analysis bringsthe politics, the policy, and the people of the Mountain State’s energy debate to life in a fascinating read.The book offers convincing and detailed evidence that it is not too late for West Virginia to play ameaningful role in our nation’s - and the world’s - energy future.”

Alexandra Dapolito Dunn
Partner, Baker Botts

“This book is essential reading for understanding US climate and clean energy progress, the outsized role West Virginia plays, and prospects for a brighter future for the Mountain State and the globe. Van Nostrand’s fresh insights and deep expertise combine to create a fascinating read that will captivate experts and newcomers alike, in West Virginia and far beyond.”

Mary Ann Hitt
Senior Director, Climate Imperative

Get your book copy today

Buy the Book