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Fewer coal barges will pass through the Tri-State in the next few years if plans to shut down two coal-burning power plants near Cincinnati before the end of 2027 come to pass.

Two coal-burning power plants in the Cincinnati area have been designated for closure by the end of 2027 — another blow to the coal industry in West Virginia.

Last week, Houston-based Vistra Corp. announced it will retire its entire coal fleet in Illinois and Ohio in favor of adding renewable sources. Among the plants to be retired are the Zimmer plant, along U.S. 52 east of Cincinnati at Moscow, Ohio, and the Miami Fort plant, along the Ohio River just west of Cincinnati near the Indiana border. Both are to be shut down by the end of 2027.

“Vistra’s commitment to our transformation to a low-to-no-carbon future is unequivocal and offers unique opportunities for growth and innovation,” Curt Morgan, Vistra’s president and CEO, said in a news release. “As evidenced by the actions we take and investments we make, Vistra is paving its way for a sustainable future — economically and environmentally — and we’ve been focused on transitioning our generation portfolio for the benefit of the environment, our customers, our communities, our people, and our shareholders.”

Further down, the news release gives another reason for the plants’ closure: “Today’s retirement announcements are also prompted by upcoming Environmental Protection Agency filing deadlines, which require either significant capital expenditures for compliance or retirement declarations.”

According to WCPO-TV in Cincinnati, “Vistra told the EPA in January that its Cincinnati-area plants could be forced into early retirement if the EPA didn’t alter rules requiring reduced mercury emissions at coal-burning plants. The EPA subsequently eliminated mercury restrictions imposed by the Obama administration, but the change was not enough to keep the plants alive.”

So how does this affect West Virginia? According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s database, last year the Miami Fort plant purchased 2,052,346 tons of coal mined in West Virginia, all of it from the Northern Panhandle. Zimmer purchased 921,719 tons. Combined that’s 2,974,065 tons. All of it was delivered by barge. At 1,500 tons per barge, that’s 1,983 barges or about 132 tows of 15 barges each — all or almost all of them passing Huntington.

West Virginia cannot control what happens with coal-fired power plants in other states, but that does not make it immune to what happens with them. The time is long past for West Virginia to face its economic future as the demand for its thermal coal continues to decline. Publicly, state officials appear to be looking the other way while one customer of West Virginia coal after another shuts down.

It would seem to be an important issue for candidates for governor, the Legislature and Congress to address, but based on their relative silence in the matter, apparently not.