Coal Miners Union Says It Would Accept Transition to Renewables With Green Jobs

The largest union of coal miners in the U.S. announced Monday that it would accept a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy as long as the federal government takes care of coal workers through the provision of green jobs and income support for those who become unemployed.

“There needs to be a tremendous investment here,” said Cecil E. Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) International. “We always end up dealing with climate change, closing down coal mines. We never get to the second piece of it.”

Ahead of a press conference outlining the UMWA’s approach to addressing the climate emergency in a way that improves rather than diminishes the well-being of workers in the dirty energy sector, Roberts said in a statement that “energy transition and labor policies must be based on more than just promises down the road. We want to discuss how miners, their families, and their communities can come out of this transition period and be certain that they will be in as good or better shape than they are today.”

“Much of the coal-producing areas of Appalachia and elsewhere are already in bad economic shape,” said Roberts. “Washington has taken little action to address it over the past decade. That must change.”

“As we confront a next wave of energy transition,” he added, “we must take steps now to ensure that things do not get worse for coal miners, their families, and communities, but in fact get better.”

The UMWA plan “calls for the creation of new jobs in Appalachia through tax credits that would subsidize the making of solar panel and wind turbine components, and by funding the reclamation of abandoned mines that pose a risk to public health,” the New York Times reported. “The union wants the federal government to support miners who lose their jobs through retraining and by replacing their wages, health insurance, and pensions.”

Political commentator Anand Giridharadas described the UMWA’s demand for a just transition as “excellent, and a testament to the work of activists and leaders who were called radicals and dismissed — and who will be vindicated by history before long.”

That sentiment was echoed by Evan Weber, co-founder and political director of the Sunrise Movement, who attributed the coal miners’ newly expressed openness to renewable energy as the product of collaborative organizing by labor and environmental justice advocates.