Biden teased some of these concepts in his $ 2.2 trillion infrastructure package, including tying labor standards to renewable energy tax credits, channeling funds to unionized apprenticeships, targeting economic development grants to former members Mining towns and the use of overlooked programs to convert defunct factories in rural areas. Biden's Democratic allies have released bills that bring a greater portion of the benefits to areas where coal mines and power plants have closed.
“Yes, we have to spend some money,” said Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Who wrote a massive capital expenditure calculation known as the Marshall Plan for Coal Country. “But I actually think that the coal country has great potential for companies to invest in the region because of the talent available.”
But many of the jobs that Democrats advocate appear nebulous to local voters. The middle solar worker gets $ 24.48 an hour, compared to $ 30.33 an hour for natural gas workers, according to a study by the Energy Futures Initiative by former Obama Administration Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.
Democratic MP Matt Cartwright is a place close to Biden's heart – northeastern Pennsylvania, including Biden's hometown of Scranton. In the region, jobs in the coal sector declined in the 1970s and were replaced by electronics manufacturing. Now it has to grapple with new challenges arising from the outsourcing of jobs by companies to Mexico. He said people in his district would only rate the Democrats positively if they saw the well-paying local jobs coming about.
“It's pretty simple: what people want is jobs,” Cartwright said. “Are people ultimately interested in what they produce in order to work in lucrative, family-sustaining jobs? Of course not.”
Some Democrats bluntly argue that some level of economic upheaval is inevitable – suggesting the decline of the north-east mill towns or the rise of industrialization thanks to electricity – but that this time around they can work better on taking care of people, who are trapped in the city.
“Watching public order for the past 25 years or more, that piece of economic recovery – unfortunately, it was an afterthought,” said Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), Chair of the House Select Committee on Climate Crisis. “It wasn't coordinated. It wasn't a priority. “
Organized labor detests the term “just transition,” but most Democrats and their Green allies still use it. Too often, however, the message is summed up in a broader culture war in which solutions conceived by Washington are portrayed as at best fool's gold, at worst a death sentence, that hinders the party in politically moderate districts.
Democrats say clean energy is the future and jobs are here. But they are often not in the right place or with the right advantages. Obama and Hillary Clinton both had coal-country transition plans, but they best remember Clinton's campaign gaffe that “we're going to put a lot of miners and coal companies out of business,” which is still resonating.
On top of that, there was another candidate – former President Donald Trump – who told workers that coal mining was coming back, that they didn't have to change, switch, retrain, or worry. Democrats accuse Trump of accelerating the trend of Republican politicians who dishonestly attributed the demise of cities to a so-called “war on coal” rather than the economy. Indeed, the Democrats claim that most coal-fired power plants are outdated, inefficient, and unable to compete with cheaper natural gas without additional environmental constraints.
“You're lying,” said Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.) Of Trump-imbued Republican rhetoric, and he accused the Democrats of not calling them. “The conversation is very important because instead of saying, ‘You are lying to the American people,' we refer to them as ‘the gentleman from Texas'.”
However, some Democrats feel that the problem lies deeper and that blunt talk of moving and retooling means for workers not to respect their skills.
“It's really crazy to me when people say to a boiler maker, a pipe fitter or a worker with a capital L who is an expert in piping work, ‘Oh, don't worry, you can install solar panels,” he told MP Andy Levin ( D-Me.), Former Work Organizer and Clean Energy Advisor, “This is insulting a) because it doesn't understand the incredible capabilities of their work and b) because it doesn't understand that they really have a whole culture around their work.”
The challenge of transitioning to a new, worker-empowering economy is already being felt in West Virginia, a state where the coal economy has declined sharply over the past decade as policymakers struggle to create new economic opportunities. The state is now uniquely positioned to take advantage of federal investment through its two Senators: Joe Manchin (DW. Va.) And Shelley Moore Capito (RW. Va.), A member of the Environmental and Public Works Ranking.
Nearly a dozen Western Virgins told POLITICO that residents of the state by and large accept the notion that the coal sector is unlikely to recover despite Trump's promises, but many remain skeptical of federal promises of new jobs and investment. In fact, West Virginia, which wasn't a Democratic stronghold until 1996 when Bill Clinton defeated Bob Dole by 15 points, gave Trump his second-largest lead in the 2020 election, a whopping 38 percentage points. There is still resentment about the perception that environmental regulations from Obama's administration accelerated the decline of coal.
Job retraining promises are “a dissuasive trigger” because such programs are difficult to implement, require people to put their current employment on hold, and often create jobs that don't pay as well as coal mining positions . Brandon Dennison, founder of Coalfield Development, is committed to promoting new businesses in Appalachia.
Capito said there is “a definite recognition of the reality in West Virginia that coal will never come back as big and wide as it has in the past,” but that it has a “impending doom” in the face of some of the first statements from Biden government officials, many of whom had similar roles in the Obama administration.