The Just Transition Comes ‘Just in Time’

Posted September 30, 2021 By Victor Mercado

As the threat of climate change grows, states and utilities are wasting no time reshaping the American workforce while building a cleaner economy.

These ‘just transitions’ are taking place in states like Illinois, which recently passed the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA) committing more than $80 million annually to invest in building an equity-focused workforce, and in Colorado, where utilities like Xcel want to repurpose fossil-assets into job-saving renewable facilities.

In this month’s blog we feature the work of the Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization whose 2021 report offers a path forward as states and utilities prepare to transform the workforce and support energy-impacted communities with outsized support from the federal government.

Workforce Development is a high priority on the Biden administration’s agenda

Executive Order 14008, Sec. 218, established the Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization. Comprised of more than 12 federal and regional agencies (among them, the Departments of Energy, Labor, Transportation, and the Appalachian Regional Commission) the working group seeks to:

  1. Identify and prioritize a broad set of energy-impacted communities vulnerable to closures,
  2. Authorize nearly $40 billion in funding to provide immediate relief to these communities, and
  3. Identify immediate actions to engage with these communities and deliver these investments.

What Areas of the Country Are Most at Risk?

The working group identified a handful of areas of the country with the highest concentration of traditional energy-related jobs according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). These included the Appalachian Region, Illinois Basin, Four Corners region, Northern Rocky Mountains, Mid-Continental Gulf Coast, and the Alaskan Region. The group then ranked the top 25 coal-dependent areas based on the number of direct coal-related jobs, as a percentage of the total number of jobs in each area most vulnerable to additional near-term coal mine and power plant closures.

Stakeholder Engagement: Summary of Key Learnings

Working Group staff also consulted with national, regional, and community-based organizations, labor unions, tribal leaders, community and public sector agencies, private sector representatives, and others. Below we highlight key learnings from the 2021 report.

  • There are no “silver bullets.” Stakeholders agree that there is no set of uniform solutions to community revitalization; policy interventions must consider the circumstances and assets of each Energy Community.
  • Local community engagement matters. Stakeholders want direct federal engagement with local communities, rather than engaging through state governments. With the federal government at the table, communities are assured that the commitment is real and that tangible investments are coming.
  • Immediate jobs and a long-term strategy. Community members want immediate, good-paying jobs if/once a plant shuts down. Public investments as ‘bridge jobs’ can serve as stopgap measures, insofar as long-term workforce development projects are in the works.
  • Invest in Workers. Stakeholders want solutions to “keep folks whole” and emphasized that it would be a mistake to assume traditional energy jobs will transition into clean energy and renewable jobs. Our industry should consider a “high road” or “union” jobs scenario, not just “green jobs”.
  • Invest in local entrepreneurs and place-based organizations. Stakeholders emphasized buoying the small business ecosystem through access to capital as local businesses and community organizations face difficulties obtaining such resources. They also described the need for additional infrastructure investments such as access to broadband, which was cited as a barrier to remote work jobs and attracting new companies.

The Takeaway

Equipped with these initial learnings, the Biden administration is running a full-court press prioritizing and engaging the country’s most energy impacted communities. We hope these findings can speed up similar conversations in other regions as our industry awaits the fate of an outsized infrastructure package before the clock runs out on our climate.

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