The nation — in fact, the world — needs to wean itself from fossil fuels if it is to have any hope of managing climate change. Burning coal is particularly bad for the environment, pumping far higher quantities of global-warming compounds into the atmosphere than natural gas, oil or other carbon-based products do.
So it’s heartening that the U.S. has been using less coal to generate electricity in recent years. An unrelated drop in coal-fired steel production in China has also reduced the amount of coal U.S. firms have scratched out of the ground and shipped overseas. Yet more needs to be done to speed up the shift to cleaner, more sustainable energy sources.
Though transitioning away from fossil fuels is absolutely necessary, it’s also vitally important to recognize the human and economic cost that such a change entails. That includes a significant number of jobs lost in northern Appalachia, Indiana and Illinois, and Wyoming, where the vast majority of the nation’s existing coal mines are found.
Closing coal mines means cutting good-paying jobs in places where replacement work for similar pay is hard to come by. Though that shouldn’t slow the move away from fossil fuel, our energy policies need to be mindful of the disparate effect on coal-dependent communities, many of which are in rural and economically weak areas of the country.
A bill in Congress could mitigate some of that economic impact. The proposed RECLAIM (Revitalizing the Economy of Coal communities by Leveraging local Activities and Investing More) Act would tweak an existing program aimed at securing old abandoned mines — for the sake of public safety as well as environmental protection — to make $1 billion available over five years for economic development primarily in old coal mining areas of Appalachia.
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