A call for bold action from the Biden Administration.
President Biden confronts several crises requiring immediate action and with a limited window to act: a divided country, an economy that needs stimulus during a pandemic, and a climate emergency. With new democratic Senate and House majorities there are narrow pathways forward - but the moment demands far-sighted leadership, not short political wins. In the aftermath of the politics of the past administration, there is a nascent sense of bipartisanship on the rise. Americans are hurting and need big ideas and bold action that can revive our collective future.
President Biden’s American Rescue Plan will be a two-part relief package to address the nation’s immediate COVID-19 priorities followed in short order by "historic investments in infrastructure, manufacturing, innovation, and research and development in clean energy." In the second part, one solution for the Biden Administration is to act on climate, invest in rural America, foster bipartisanship and seize the moment through a heavy focus on the needs of America’s coal country, starting specifically with Wyoming and West Virginia, through targeted investments that can yield jobs, climate action, and heal divisions.
Why Wyoming and West Virginia? Because they are the nation's leading producers of coal, rural, and hurting. America’s coal communities have been badly battered – with coal’s decline resulting in jobs disappearing, massive loss of revenue for schools and services, youth leaving, and communities hollowed out. With whole towns like Gillette, Wyoming almost entirely dependent on the extractive industry, the recent executive order to ban new oil and gas leases on Federal land was taken by many as an all out attack on the industries and jobs that the state depends on.
There's a better way. For climate action to be enduring, it must provide coal communities a pathway to build back better. It is also politically necessary; climate legislation will have to clear the Senate Committees on Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) and Environment and Public Works (EPW), where coal country Senators – both Republican and Democrat - hold key votes. Committees will be split and only bipartisan legislation will pass.
As a result, the American Rescue Plan and forthcoming legislation should have significant pillars dedicated exclusively to job creating climate action measures for coal communities through priorities such as:
1. Investing in economic development and infrastructure
a. Increase funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect program to fund rural broadband - key to attracting entrepreneurs and business investment.
b. Direct funding to coal communities for electric grid upgrades and new transmission capacity on federal lands with transparent and streamlined siting and permitting through the National Environmental Policy Act– facilitating renewable energy development and projects.
c. Pilot extensive infrastructure for electric cars in coal communities. Coal country is beautiful, with mountains and awe-inspiring expanses – perfect to orient the American roadtrip around with the infrastructure to support the electrical vehicles of the future.
d. Authorize and increase special funding at the Small Business Administration and Economic Development Administration like the Assistance to Coal Communities program to attract and support entrepreneurs in coal communities.
2. Providing protections and building for the future.
When a coal worker loses their job, they may lose their pension, their healthcare and will need training to get a comparable job. Proposals to provide assistance to former coal workers are included in the Marshall Plan for Coal Country which expands healthcare through Medicare access, provides education benefits and reforms bankruptcy laws to put pension payments first before other debt obligations.
3. Put coal communities on the front lines in reaping climate jobs.
Mobilize the establishment of the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Climate (ARPA-C) and bring innovation and jobs through two newly created East and West founding campuses - one in West Virginia, and one in Wyoming. Alternatively through the Department of Energy:
a. For West Virginia – through an ARPA- C East campus or increased funding for National Energy Technology Lab (NETL) direct significant research dollars to projects in carbon capture from power plants, new technology initiatives in photovoltaics, new transportation technologies and energy-efficiency technologies.
b. For Wyoming – Create thousands of climate jobs at the cutting edge of technological innovation through the newly established ARPA-C West or through a new DOE Carbon Capture Lab with a focus on emerging research in negative emissions technology and capture from industrial sources; the development of small modular nuclear reactors; and more, creating thousands of jobs and an entrepreneurship ecosystem in the heart of western coal country.
Now is the time for bold action. Taking these steps as a pillar of building back better will help people and ultimately make a stronger, more prosperous, and more unified, America.