There could be changes coming to coal communities in the U.S.

Rural America is known for its deep connection with agriculture, but it is also home to the majority of coal and natural gas production. Here is how climate talks could reshape the coal communities.

American coal mining employment has fallen from more than 175,000 in 1985 to roughly 40,000 in 2020, according to the Federal Reserve.

Jeremy Richardson, Senior Energy Analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists, says that the decline is tied to climate goals and automation.

“You know a lot of the climate action is going to harm fossil fuel-dependent workers and communities unless we actually do something to mitigate that harm, and many of those communities are rural communities,” Richardson states. “Many host coal mines that have been used by decades, if not centuries, to power the economy and many of them are host to pretty remote coal-fired power plants as well.”

Richardson comes from a third-generation coal mining family and says that it will be important to protect workers as climate action increases.

“Income supports for dislocated coal workers, making sure that they have wage replacement for five years to give them a chance to, you know, figure out what’s next and what’s right for themselves and their families, making sure they have healthcare coverage over that time, making sure that they continue to receive their full retirement and pension contributions that they were expecting,” he notes.

He worked on a recent report, which identified 462 at-risk coal counties clustered in the Four Corners region, the Northern Rocky Mountains, the mid-continental Gulf Coast, the Illinois Basin, and central Appalachia. He says that one solution will be retraining miners to work on clean-up and green energy projects.

“A lot of opportunity I see in decommissioning and reclamation and remediation because there are a lot of clean-up activities that are needed to address the legacy of pollution from fossil fuel extraction and fossil fuel usage,” he explains.

He is also paying close attention to the infrastructure package on the Hill, which includes investments for rural America and coal country.

“A lot of interest in broadband investments which are critically needed, water infrastructure, and there’s a lot of pieces in there around mine reclamation and remediation that I think will start to get at the problem,” he adds.

In addition to potential infrastructure legislation, a presidential interagency working group identified $37.9 billion dollars in existing federal programs that can be immediately directed towards assisting energy communities.


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