Why the coalfields need a Green New Deal


This week, the Office of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez released the “Green New Deal Resolution.” The resolution outlines the goals, motivations, and responsibilities of the Green New Deal: a call for a collective effort to respond to climate change in a way that takes into account the economic, environmental, and social justice implications of changing climate conditions.

“A bold vision is desperately needed in our current climate and economic crisis. It is critical that as the resolution turns into policy, we listen to workers and frontline community members to drive the solutions” - Veronica Coptis, Center for Coalfield Justice Executive Director

Living in the coalfields, we all know that a plan to fight climate change won’t work unless it takes into account the needs of those most at risk - those who live with the everyday impact of pollution, environmental degradation, or resource extraction. We live in a place where our environmental concerns are inseparable from our economic concerns. The Green New Deal resolution has evolved over time to be more inclusive of communities like ours - and we support its language about fair transitions for our workers, diversifying our economy, and giving power to frontline communities.

We want to draw attention to a few of the Green New Deal’s resolutions and goals that make us particularly hopeful about the potential of this. We are excited to envision a future where our government is accountable to these principles.

The resolution calls for, with “transparent and inclusive consultation, collaboration, and partnership with frontline communities,” a government-launched mobilization to “achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers.” We are particularly engaged by the aim of a just transition. We believe that a fair economic transition is possible for our region’s future - and with national support for our transition this future becomes even more possible. The resolution explains what this transition would require:

“And be it further resolved, that to achieve the Green New Deal goals, a Green New Deal will require… directing investments to spur economic development, as well as deepen and diversify industry in local and regional economies and build wealth and community ownership, prioritizing high-quality job creation and economic, social, and environmental benefits in frontline communities and any communities, such as those reliant on greenhouse-gas intensive industries, that may otherwise struggle with the transition”

For those of us living on the frontlines of fossil fuel extraction, climate/environmental justice is inseparable from economic justice. If we consider energy, we must also consider the people involved in and affected by the energy industry; if we want to build resilience to environmental change, we must also build a diverse and resilient economy. The New Green Deal strives to address both climate change and economic inequality. Through this, it gives our community hope for a better future.

Contact us if you want to discuss this in more detail.

CCJ stands against efforts to remove DACA* protections and endanger 800,000 young adults and their families.


The Center for Coalfield Justice works daily to improve people’s quality of life and keep our families safe and healthy from outside fossil fuel corporations who are exploiting resources and people for private profit. We push against their power towards a healthier environment and a thriving economy where our children will have the best opportunity to succeed. Every parent and community hopes that their children will not face adversity and will have a clear path to grow and thrive into adults -- but unfortunately, that is not the case for many children in our communities and across the world.

In threatening to repeal DACA, President Trump is putting over 800,000 brave young adults -- young people who are working or going to school, living their lives, and contributing to our country -- at risk of deportation. Many of these young people came to the US with parents who, for the sake of their children, fled war torn communities, areas in economic collapse, or places with unsafe environmental conditions. This is their home.  

CCJ members know what it is like when a coal company destroys our home and we are forced to leave.  Such a situation is a tragedy and an injustice for CCJ members, but it doesn’t carry the same threat of displacement into places of political violence and other risks as for our immigrant friends.

The Center for Coalfield Justice stands in solidarity with the immigrant community in supporting the continuation of DACA to ensure that all young people are safe, connected to their families, and have the best opportunity to succeed in their lives.

Call your congressperson today to show your support for DACA.

*DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It is a program created through an executive order by President Obama in June of 2012, to give temporary, renewable, relief from deportation and work authorization to young people who meet certain eligibility criteria.

King Coal certainly ruled our past, but it does not have to rule our future.

Nemacolin Slag Dump in Greene County, PA

Nemacolin Slag Dump in Greene County, PA

Dear Representative Snyder,

As you said in your op-ed, coal has fueled our economy, has won wars for us, and has continued to play a leading role in our energy production. You’re right on all counts. However, coal has also resulted in thousands of cases of black lung, has destroyed water supplies, and has seen a rapid decline in investment in the past decade.  As a lifelong resident of Washington County (ironically, of Coal Center), I grew up in a mined-out legacy area, where there are dump piles directly next to baseball fields and where people still live in the old row-houses that were part of company towns.  As the granddaughter of a coal miner, I know just how important coal has been to our area and to my own family. I am also painfully aware of the fact that we desperately need to change the way we produce energy else we leave behind a terrible planet for the next generation.

Representative Snyder, you say that coal is a resource “deserving more respect, investment, and consideration by many whose homes and businesses are heated, cooled, and lighted by the very resource they disparage.” What investment are you referencing here? There exist – today – technologies that could produce zero-carbon emissions from power plants that burn coal.  Why are we not investing in these?  Do you expect the utility companies to implement and pay for these changes on their own - without pushing the cost to ratepayers?  Will the legislature pass a law mandating the use of these technologies?  If so, is the state willing to pick up the tab for investing in these technologies? And what about respect for residents and their choice?  We heat our homes with electricity from coal and natural gas because those are the only options available to us in our energy market.  All residents can do to make our carbon footprints smaller is control our consumption of electricity.  We as energy users are being as responsible as we can. I wish I could say the same for the legislature that represents us.

Demand for coal nationwide is declining.  We are seeing states enact legislation that requires an increasingly larger percentage of the energy produced to come from renewable sources.  More importantly, people in the country want to see us transition:  recent polling indicates that less than 30% of the U.S. population supported ramping up coal production. Comparatively, 75% want us to invest more in solar energy, and 71% want to see us further develop our capacity for wind power. Yes, people in southwestern Pennsylvania also want to see a cleaner energy future.  As renewable energy options expand to more and more communities across the country, people are going to choose to use the renewable energy, further decreasing the demand for coal.  If the demand is going away, why do you insist,  “Coal is not going away – quietly or otherwise?”  If you hide your eyes and block your ears to the scary realities of our energy future, our economy will suffer.

No one should discredit what truly clean energy technology has and can do for our world and the security of future generations.

Right now, the wind and solar industries are creating jobs 12 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy.  They are growing at about a 20% rate each year.  That breaks down to anywhere from 1.3 to 1.9 million jobs over the next forty years – more than 32,000 jobs a year.   These numbers are based on the current investment and development we are seeing nation-wide in these industries; however, the U.S. is actually not the leader in clean energy jobs in the world.  China and Brazil have created more jobs in these areas than we have, and we are closely followed by India, Germany, Japan, France, Bangladesh, and Colombia.  If we want to be exceptional - as you claim we are - we need to become a true leader by not only talking about clean energy but by acting now to make it a reality in our communities across the country. What if we in Pennsylvania became the national leader in bringing these jobs to the coalfields, where workers will be displaced? What if all the legacy coal sites, currently polluting our communities, were reclaimed and replaced with solar or wind farms instead?

Transitioning to a clean energy economy does not mean leaving coal miners behind:  it means respecting them, their families, and their futures enough to invest in them.  It is, in fact, insulting to imply that miners can only be miners for the rest of their lives.  Miners are already among the most dedicated in our workforce:  they work every day in dangerous conditions, and they work irregular shifts and overtime to meet the production demands of their companies.  They do it to provide for their families, and their work contributes greatly to their communities.  Miners are already accustomed to working with extremely complex technology:  they have the minds and skill sets to learn to code or to learn how to operate the equipment needed to install and maintain renewable energy systems.  All they need is the opportunity.  Representative Snyder, what are you doing to attract these opportunities to your district?

You’re right again, Representative Snyder:  “It’s a big job, but we’re Pennsylvanians. We’re used to big jobs. We’re used to carrying a nation on our shoulders.  We have the resources.  We have the people.”

Now, all we need is a state legislature that looks at the bigger picture and is willing to bravely lead the way in creating communities with a thriving economy and healthy environment.