The United Mine Workers of America has come out in favor of renewable energy, provided that miners can shift to well-paid jobs in that sector. The nation’s largest union representing coal miners has seen coal jobs drop by almost half over the last decade, as fossil fuels are phased out in favor of renewables.
The union wants the government to give tax incentives for manufacturing wind turbine and solar panel parts in coalfield areas and has asked that out-of-work miners get hiring preference for these new jobs. Cleaning up abandoned coal mines could provide additional jobs and improve public health and safety. These possibilities align with President Joe Biden’s emphasis on renewable energy and job creation. His infrastructure and jobs plan funds job training, carbon capture research and reclaiming mines.
In the last decade, the number of people working in the coal industry dropped from 86,000 to about 44,000. Natural gas, foreign competition, wind turbines and solar panels have all chipped away at coal-fired occupations, wounding Appalachian mining towns. The union wants to retain those coal jobs that still exist and worries that federal polices curbing emissions could “dramatically slash coal employment further, and soon.” Mine workers are especially interested in research being done on technology that would let coal-fired plants capture carbon and store it underground instead of releasing it into the atmosphere. This could potentially help mines stay open.
In 2019, five states accounted for 71% of total coal production in the U.S.: Wyoming (39.2%), West Virginia (13.2%), Pennsylvania (7.1%), Illinois (6.5%) and Kentucky (5.1%). While these states — and coal miners — aren’t all politically progressive, United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts thought coal workers could conceivably get behind the Democratic president’s plan. “Anybody in Appalachia that would say, ‘Well I don’t want good-paying jobs in Appalachia because they might come from the Biden administration’ — I find that to be utterly ridiculous,” Roberts said at a recent press conference. “We’ll take the good-paying jobs any way we can get them.”
Coal mining is a dangerous job, but well-compensated. Coal industry workers average $75,000 a year for a 50-hour week and often get pensions.
Image via Herbert Aust