Jim Probst: Going from coal without abandoning miners (Opinion) | Opinion comments
“Change is happening whether we seek it or not. Too many people inside and outside the coalfields have looked the other way when it comes to recognizing and specifically addressing what this change needs to be, but we can no longer look away. We must act, while acting in a way that has a real and positive impact on those most affected by this change.
The above quote is from a document released in April by United Mine Workers of America, titled “Preserving Coal Country”. On June 16, a bill was introduced in the United States Senate that addresses the changes taking place in the land of coal in a real, positive and substantial way.
Presented by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, DR.I., and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, The Save Our Futures Act offers a comprehensive list of support for coal miners and coal-fired power plant workers affected by transitions occurring in the way we produce energy.
For workers and their families, the bill includes:
n Five years of full salary replacement.
n Continuation of health care for five years based on previous employment.
n Retention of pension contributions for five years also depending on the level of the previous employer.
n Establishment of a GI Bill-type program to provide educational services to the workers concerned and their children.
The bill also ensures that the communities that have contributed so much are not left behind in this transition. The support offered to communities would include:
n Replacement of lost tax revenues, for local authorities, on a sliding scale, over a period of 10 years.
n Increased investment in reclamation of abandoned mines, remediation of coal ash ponds and recovery of orphaned oil wells.
n Increased investment in organizations important to community economic development, such as the Appalachian Regional Commission.
n Investment of $ 30 million per year for 10 years in rural broadband development.
Quoting the President of the Utility Workers of America, who approved this legislation, “The five years of full wage replacement, health insurance coverage, retirement and education in this legislation together represent a basis of support that we must provide individuals and communities that propelled American innovation for generations.
In total, this legislation would offer around $ 120 billion over 10 years to fossil fuel workers and their communities as part of its Energy Veterans Package.
Of course, the driving force behind this need for action is our changing climate. The Save Our Futures law will take a strong approach to tackling climate change by imposing substantial fees on greenhouse gas emissions and reimbursing 70% of fees collected from low- and middle-income households on a semi-annual basis.
This approach will reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 50% after 10 years and help ensure that the global temperature change remains below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The reality is that we can no longer say that change is coming. Climate change is happening now, and so are the ways we produce our energy. Over the past 10 years, employment in the US coal industry has declined by more than 50%.
To quote UMWA, “The devastating impact on families and communities cannot be overstated. Divorce, drug addiction, imprisonment and suicide rates are all on the rise. Poverty levels are slowly rising in the northern and central Appalachians, in the heart of Coal Country. For every direct coal job that has been lost, four more jobs have disappeared in these communities, meaning a quarter of a million jobs have already been lost.
The need for urgent action is now. Senators Joe Manchin, DW.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, RW.Va., both recognized the need to take action to tackle climate change as well as the downturn facing our coal communities. The problem is that their approaches to date have simply not reached the required level of urgency.
We need a bold, dynamic, far-reaching and comprehensive path to tackle what are certainly the most important issues of our time. The Save Our Futures Act provides for this path and I strongly urge our two senators to support this bill.
Jim Probst, of Hamlin, is state co-coordinator of the West Virginia Citizens Climate Lobby.