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How to Put Coal Communities Back to Work

On Tuesday, President Trump signed an executive order, reversing President Obama’s climate policies and promising coal miners that they were “going back to work”. Coal communities across the nation have been in economic decline due to their dependence on coal, and so this news came as a relief to some.

The Jackson Hole Center for Global Affairs, a bipartisan think and do tank based in Jackson Hole, recently ran a twitter poll asking Wyoming residents “post-Trump’s election, will the Wyoming coal industry rebound?” With almost 450 respondents, only 34% believe that Trump will be able to bring Wyoming coal back. Wyoming is the nation’s largest producer of coal, by far, and the state’s revenues are heavily dependent on the resource. If this poll is an accurate forecast of the future, the future looks bleak for Wyoming without some changes. This is even more so for Appalachia, where coal faces an even glummer future.

Even if in the short-term Tuesday’s announcement provides some relief, in the long-term, coal communities need new, diversified, economic growth in sectors in addition to and other than coal.

Our organization wants to build bridges that assist these communities work towards economic diversification, while also combating climate change. As the most carbon intensive fossil fuel, coal contributes disproportionately to global carbon emissions. Addressing coal's carbon emissions will play a large role in combating climate change. Partnering with coal communities could also help the nation bridge political divides by creating a shared jobs-climate goal that gets beyond the political divides of climate change.

Wyoming is working to drive diversified economic growth through the ENDOW Initiative. The state is also driving innovation in carbon capture, utilization, and storage. The Wyoming Business Alliance, via the Tour 23 Initiative, has started a process to engage directly with communities across Wyoming. Local organizations like the Casper Area Economic Development Alliance are working hard to drive innovation and workforce development in the energy, medical, finance, and advanced manufacturing sectors. The University of Wyoming’s Technology Business Center focuses on supporting business start-ups.

The economic diversification challenge for coal communities is a national challenge. West Virginia, Southern Illinois, and western Pennsylvania are also facing job declines due to their dependence on coal and lack of alternative economic drivers. At a national, local, and public policy level, numerous organizations are thinking through solutions for these communities.

Here at JHCGA, we believe Wyoming could be at the forefront of an economic boom and a hub for investment supporting startups and entrepreneurs. Wyoming has no corporate or income tax, numerous tax incentives, low operating costs, good infrastructure, and world-class quality of life appeal. JHCGA believes that the global investment community – foreign direct investment from nations like Norway or China, Wall Street, and impact investors, should look more closely at Wyoming and other coal communities, as good investment opportunities. Investing in coal communities could be a great way to combat climate change.

Towards this goal, JHCGA has launched an initiative focused on coal communities with the dual goal of driving new investment in coal communities and combating climate change. The initiative’s goals are threefold:

1. Jobs for Coal Communities

2. Combat Climate Change

3. Build Investment Action Networks that Invest in Coal Communities

The initiative is also encouraging Wyoming to prioritize the development of renewable energy in Wyoming – specifically wind – via a wind coalition. We are building an index and capturing interviews with Wyoming and regional experts, to yield a roadmap whitepaper on economic diversification to be released at the May 2018 Jackson Hole Forum.

We want to help coal communities think big and achieve big results. We seek to drive a process that helps non-coal communities better engage with and better understand, the challenges and potential of coal communities. We want to drive processes that reorient national divides into national shared goals.

In the coming weeks, we will profile existing ideas and research around the globe and nation on economic diversification case studies that Wyoming and coal communities could study and potentially replicate. We welcome your participation and interest in our progress while we build this initiative, tackle this national challenge and opportunity to build national bridges towards shared win-win goals.

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