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Case for Just Transition for WY Coal Communities

Between 2008 and 2017, more than half of U.S. coal mines closed operations, and dropping costs for renewables make coal a less attractive energy source. (Greg Goebel/Wikimedia Commons)
Between 2008 and 2017, more than half of U.S. coal mines closed operations, and dropping costs for renewables make coal a less attractive energy source. (Greg Goebel/Wikimedia Commons)
November 7, 2019

CHEYENNE, Wyo. – Murray Energy recently became the fifth coal company this year to file for bankruptcy, and Ann Eisenberg, an assistant professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, maintains it's past time to have a conversation about creating what has been called a just transition for coal workers.

Eisenberg says because the nation collectively created the fossil fuel economy – through favorable policies, government subsidies and tax incentives – communities in Wyoming shouldn't have to bear the entire burden of moving to cleaner energy.

"As we pursue effective climate policy, as we try to move away from coal altogether – because we all want cleaner air and better energy systems – is it fair to just leave coal workers and communities in the lurch?" Eisenberg wonders.

Eisenberg says the challenge is to create policies, programs and institutions that offer more than short term Band-Aids.

She adds that efforts to rebuild entire regional economies need meaningful input from the people directly affected.

Skeptics point to past attempts by government – to help timber dependent communities impacted by spotted owl protections, and manufacturing workers hit by globalization – which were not entirely effective.

Between 2008 and 2017, more than half of U.S. coal mines closed operations, and dropping costs for renewables make coal a less attractive energy source.

Eisenberg says strengthening the capacity of local governments, helping offset lost tax revenues, is one tactic to prevent a downward spiral that makes it harder to attract new businesses and residents.

"If your local government is so weak that your library is closing, your police department is operating part time, buildings are crumbling on Main Street, a key policy prescription would be for states and the federal government to provide substantially more support to rural local governments," she stresses.

Eisenberg says all potential solutions should be on the table, including job retraining programs, expanding the social safety net, and installing broad programs that benefit all struggling communities, as outlined in the proposed Green New Deal, for example, where anyone who needs a job that pays a living wage can get one.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - WY