The rural and tribal communities that powered America for generations have been left out of economic growth and left behind by policymakers for far too long. They deserve not just a seat at the table, but support to deploy and scale up the economic development solutions that are already working in communities hit hard by the energy transition across the country. Early indications are that the Biden Administration is taking important steps forward that could help do just that and change the status quo.
Last month, the Biden Administration released the first report from its Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization — and it’s an important start. The report makes three important commitments to coal communities.
First, it shows that immediate investments are on the way. The report identifies billions in existing resources that can go to the people and places hit hardest by the decline of coal to invest right away in the building blocks of economic growth, from deploying broadband to improving rural health care to reclaiming and restoring old, abandoned wells and mines that will create jobs immediately.
Second, the Administration is committed to an ambitious, long-term approach to building out much-needed digital, physical, and human infrastructure where we live and work. That means making more investments in developing local leaders, the local workforce, and long-term, sustainable growth fueled by local solutions that will ensure our communities don’t just recover from the decline of the fossil fuel industry, they prosper for generations to come.
Third — and perhaps most importantly at this stage — the Administration lays out a comprehensive plan to keep listening to local workers, advocates, and community members. This report itself was guided by the input of local leaders from the communities directly impacted by the decline of the fossil fuel industry and the energy transition — many leaders who were also a part of creating the National Economic Transition (NET) platform. Now, we’re encouraged that workers and community members will continue to guide the Administration’s decisions. The report lays out an extensive engagement strategy, establishing an advisory committee to shape the Working Group’s progress moving forward, regional convenings to assist with economic development planning, and a listening tour with town halls in transitioning communities all over the country. Additionally, within one year, the IWG will establish and expand efforts to create a “one-stop shop” for Energy Communities seeking access to federal resources.
We’re greatly encouraged to see elements of the NET platform included in this report and the Working Group’s efforts so far. The platform was built by local leaders and advocates from coal communities to help put the solutions that we know will work to spur equitable and sustainable economic growth in front of federal policymakers. This report makes it clear that we’re being heard. From identifying reclamation, broadband, and transportation infrastructure as investment targets to prioritizing building local capacity and workforce training programs aligned with economic development plans, many of the pillars of the NET are built into the foundation of the Working Group’s efforts. And we’re eager to not just ensure they stay included, but that they are supported by bold, ambitious investments, complemented by other priority needs, and deployed in line with guidance and expertise from local leaders and local communities.
This report shows there is a way that can be achieved — and that is progress we haven’t seen in years. This is an important indicator that the Biden Administration recognizes the enormity of the problem and is committed to addressing it. By prioritizing robust, comprehensive community engagement, they can address it in the right way that works for our communities to create more jobs in a sustainable, equitable and inclusive economy. The people and places who powered our nation for generations deserve nothing less, and we are excited to work with the Administration as they work toward that essential goal.