He was born and raised near the Billion Dollar Coalfield in the southern part of the state. His father worked in the mines, just like his father had before him.
As a child, Hannah saw the economic prosperity that the industry brought to his town. But he was also there for the bad times, when jobs dried up and people were forced out of their homes, away from their families, and the only employment they had known. He watched in horror as vibrant towns turned into hollowed-out shells.
"Everything was built to serve this one industry," he told the Washington Examiner. "When the jobs went, everything else collapsed."
After his father was laid off, the family moved to the northern end of the state for work like so many others.
The decision to go wasn't an easy one.
"A lot of folks in Appalachia have family cemeteries on their property, and you're leaving behind more than land," he said. "You're leaving behind people that you loved. You're leaving behind traditions and music, culture, food, fellowship, and, really, identity. You're giving all that up because you're forced to."
These days, Hannah, the conservation coordinator for Coalfield Development, is back and working to diversify West Virginia so a new generation won't be forced to rely solely on the success of one industry.
The 2020 census found that West Virginia lost a greater percentage of its residents than any other state in the past decade and is now the only state that has fewer residents than it did in the 1950s. Much of the decline is the result of jobs in coal and steel being wiped out. West Virginia, the nation's second-largest coal producer, has lost 56% of its coal mining jobs since 2009 as power plants pivoted toward renewable energy sources. Now, only 13,000 coal-associated jobs remain in the state.
The swings in success and loss have made some West Virginians skeptical of what lies ahead.
They're "caught in the middle and tired of being in the tug of war of politics," Hannah said. "Coal is an industry that's dying, and it's tough because you look back at the past, or even 100 years in West Virginia, and you see a legacy of empty promises being made — empty promises by politicians that didn't lead to much."
Like Hannah, others told the Washington Examiner that it's imperative the state diversify as quickly as possible.
"For so long it's been coal, coal, coal, but things have to change," Juliana Claudio, owner of Arts and Antiques Marketplace, a mixed-use retail space in Fairmont, West Virginia, told the Washington Examiner. "The longer you wait, the harder it gets."
While it's true that West Virginia's economic prosperity has long been tied to coal and global supply shortages have pushed prices for the fuel to record highs recently, residents and small-business owners are starting to accuse Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of putting his own financial well-being ahead of the state's and argue that pandering to nostalgia does more harm than good. They've pointed to his cozy relationship with "Big Coal" and claim all the money he's made could be clouding his judgment.
"It doesn't take a genius to know you can't survive on coal, and [Manchin] needs to do better," Morgantown resident Whitney Lancaster told the Washington Examiner. "I know that's how he makes his money, but he represents all of us, not just a few of us."
Since 2012, Manchin has made $4.35 million from stock he owns in Energy Systems, the Fairmont-based coal company he founded in 1988, according to his Senate financial disclosures. He's also made up to $236,000 from notes receivable and stocks he owns in Farmington Resources. And last year, Manchin made half a million dollars off the coal company he gifted his son, which is about three times the $174,000 salary he pulls in yearly as a public servant.
During his 2018 reelection campaign, Manchin received $10,000 from Exxon Mobil, and his top donor so far for the 2022 cycle is Tellurian, a gas company. Manchin has received more donations from coal, oil, and gas companies this campaign cycle than any other senator.
The real rub for West Virginians is that so much of Manchin's net worth is tied to a carbon-heavy industry he's hellbent on protecting — even if it comes at the expense of his constituents.
Phoebe Galt, a spokeswoman for Food & Water Watch, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit organization, recently told the Charleston Gazette-Mail that Manchin is "holding America's future, and the future of our planet, hostage to his own unabashed financial interests."
"While he feigns concern for the people of West Virginia, his obstinance risks missing the biggest opportunity we have to move toward a clean energy economy," she said.
West Virginia Climate Alliance co-founder Perry Bryant told the outlet that it would "serve the public interest if Sen. Manchin would divest himself of fossil fuel investments while he serves in the United States Senate and, in particular, while he chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee."
Bryant added that doing so would remove any doubt that he's "acting in the nation's interest and not his own financial interest."
Manchin's office insists that his personal wealth in coal does not have an impact on his decisions as a senator, but others aren't so sure.
His history of supporting the fossil fuel industry has prompted some of his Democratic colleagues to speak out against him.
Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal said he hopes Manchin will soon "see the interests of West Virginia's people in fighting climate change."
"They're as much harmed by it as anyone," he added.
But Hannah told the Washington Examiner the federal government is missing the point and that swapping in green jobs for coal jobs still leaves the state vulnerable.
"It is incredibly damaging not to diversify," he said. "In the last four years, we've seen an uptick in coal mining with the previous administration due to the reduction of some of the environmental regulations, but it gives false hope because now those numbers are back down again. It's impossible to de-tangle the narrative from the politics and the culture and the economics."
"I think that's what a lot of people miss because they see Appalachia as a battleground narrative," Hannah added. "So if you can control the narrative one way or the other, you've sort of captured the essence of the conversation because West Virginia has been one of the largest coal-producing states in the history of America."
Chris Hamilton, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, told the Washington Examiner that talk of phasing out coal is premature, and he said he believes Manchin has enough fight in him to stand up to opposition.
"These mining jobs won't last forever, but they will last another 20, 30, 40 years," he said. "It's highly probable."
Hamilton admitted that there's a lot of negativity around coal these days, but he blamed it on the "bombardment of very negative overtures being made by media outlets."
When asked for a comment, Manchin's office said it needed more time to respond.
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