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America’s coalminers call for urgent help amid Covid-19 and industry decline

Coalmining communities have called for immediate action to stem the economic devastation wrought by the decline of coal, rising job losses and the coronavirus pandemic.

More than 84 organizations, including the Just Transition Fund, Appalachian Voices, Center for Coalfield Justice, Native Renewables and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, released a National Economic Transition platform on Monday in an effort to help coal communities adapt to climate change.

About 33,000 coalmining jobs in the US have been lost in the past decade, a trend likely to continue as renewable energy is expected to overtake coal in electricity production for the first time ever in 2020. Coal consumption is projected to decline by 23% this year, and the coronavirus pandemic has led to the permanent closure of several mines.

The declining coal industry is having significant effects on communities historically reliant on coal, such as Appalachia, the Navajo nation, and parts of Illinois and Wyoming.

Adam Wells of Appalachian Voices in Wise county, Virginia, said: “The vast majority of people in my community understand what’s happening with coal and know it’s not going to come back.”

He said: “Workers and communities from across the country that helped power the nation in the last century should be among the first to lead and benefit from the transition into the economy of the 21st century – but that’s not going to happen on its own.

“We need a federally scaled program and intervention to make sure those communities aren’t left behind and it has to be from the ground up.”

The organizations are demanding the immediate creation of a Federal Office of Economic Transition, to implement an action plan created within a year by a national just transition taskforce.

Nicole Horseherder, executive director of Tó Nizhóní Ání, the environmental advocacy group, said the coalition focuses on bringing coal communities out of poverty.

She said: “This is not something others are talking about, and it’s what I think this platform does. It illustrates how even environmental impacts are also economic impacts.”

The platform includes calls for reclamation projects of coal sites; investing in social and physical infrastructure projects, expanding sustainable agriculture and forestry sectors; holding coal companies accountable during bankruptcies; diversifying local economies in these regions with an emphasis on small businesses; and providing federal support to expand the clean, renewable energy sector.

Brandon Denison, the chief executive of the Coalfield Development Corporation, in Wayne, West Virginia, said: “A lot of times when we talk about a new economy in discussions about mitigating climate change, coal communities are thought of as collateral damage, and that we just need to get some money to those people to ease the pain. But our workforce has the skills needed to transform the economy.”

He added: “I’m hoping we can reframe the discussion to see the potential in coal communities and not just the hurt.”


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