Obama’s new climate change plan has jangled nerves in the fossil fuels industry and kindled hope in the environmental community, but it might light an even greater spark in the heart of Coal Country.
While the White House’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) is weak in global terms (the projected 32 percent reduction in emissions from 2005 levels covers just a fraction of the UN’s recommended goal, lagging parallel carbon-cutting efforts by European governments), it is fueling excitement in the depressed towns that stand to gain or lose the most from the energy transformation. Whether old mining communities latch onto Obama’s program, however, hinges on finding new investment to reverse the doomed course that’s held their economy back for generations.
These communities have long seen King Coal as a source of good union jobs, yet the industry has also killed and sickened countless mine workers through disease, injury and poverty. Some community groups seek to revitalize the grid not by clinging to fossil fuels but rather, embracing energy transition, on their own terms.
In contrast to the industry’s doomsaying about lost jobs, the advocacy group Kentuckians For The Commonwealth (KFTC) issued a statement welcoming Obama’s plan as a regenerative force. Carl Shoupe, a former mine worker who now campaigns for localized clean energy on the Benham Power Board utility, stated, “people in Harlan County have accepted the fact that the coal jobs are not coming back” but transitioning to a post-coal power system “gives us a challenge and an opportunity to do it again through renewable energy and energy savings—ways that are good for all people.”