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President Biden stands up for coalfield communities

Peter Hille is the president of the Mountain Association.

President Biden signed an executive order on Jan. 27 that will put “the full force of the federal government” behind a new commitment to a better future for coal-impacted communities.

The order does not mince words: “Mining and power plant workers drove the industrial revolution and the economic growth that followed, and have been essential to the growth of the United States. As the nation shifts to a clean energy economy, federal leadership is essential to foster economic revitalization of and investment in these communities.”

The initial steps in this historic undertaking will be outlined in a report to be issued within 60 days by an Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities. This working group, established by the executive order, brings together cabinet-level leadership across the new administration to address the pressing need for resources to build a new economy in these places that have given so much to the rest of the nation.

This is welcome news. Community leaders from Appalachia to Wyoming to the Navajo Nation, where people once relied on the coal industry, have been developing and implementing promising solutions to create inclusive, equitable and sustainable economic growth for years. But these leaders have largely lacked supportive public policy and investment at the necessary scale to accelerate this work.

The Mountain Association joined with partners across the nation to develop a National Economic Transition platform, reflecting the interests of labor, environmental organizations, grass roots groups, economic developers and Native American communities. The NET platform identifies seven pillars, key elements to guide policy makers and leaders in building new and more resilient economies in these places, and ensuring that the new economy works for everyone. These pillars include calling for investment in leadership, restorative economic development, workforce development, reclamation, infrastructure, protection for workers and communities when failing companies declare bankruptcy and direct access to federal resources.

Our coalition presented the NET platform to the incoming administration, and we are greatly encouraged to see our call for economic justice reflected in the far-reaching executive order and in the president’s public announcement:

“It’s not time for small measures. We have to be bold. So, let me be clear: that includes helping revitalize the economies of coal, oil, gas and power plant communities. We have to start by creating new, good-paying jobs, capping abandoned wells, reclaiming mines, turning old brownfield sites into new hubs of economic growth.” Biden went on to make this further commitment, “We are going to work with mayors, governors, and tribal leaders, and business leaders who are stepping up, and the young people who are organizing and leading the way.”

President Biden’s executive order recognizes what people in the coalfields have known for years—that they sacrificed to grow our nation’s economy, and that they now bear the brunt of changes in global energy markets. This announcement gives us new hope that we can accelerate the just transition to a new economy, an economy that can be more diverse, resilient, sustainable and equitable.

We applaud the President’s swift action and engagement on economic transition policy right out of the gate. We look forward to engaging with the Interagency Working Group to help craft solutions that work for the communities and people of Eastern Kentucky as well as coal-impacted communities across the nation. But we know that it will take time, hard work and major investments to get the job done. To create the future we want, we must make our voices heard and hold the administration accountable. Bold words must be turned into bold action.

Peter Hille is the president of the Mountain Association. Contact Peter at peter@mtassociation.org.

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