What does a just transition from a coal economy look like? How do we get started? What impacts will the closure of a coal facility have on our tax base, our workforce, our families, and the people who live and work in our community?
These are just some of the questions that communities must address when a major industry shuts its doors. Since 2015, the Just Transition Fund (JTF) has been working with non-profit organizations and municipal leaders to start, advance, and scale coal community transitions. Our goal is to work with communities to help develop sustainable, equitable, and inclusive economic growth for the people and places hit hardest by the transition away from coal. Often, determining where and how to start is one of the biggest hurdles. To make matters more challenging, the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic slow-down have accelerated the pace of coal plant closures, meaning that more communities must begin to plan for what their post-coal future will look like.
What’s in the Blueprint
This scenario is exactly why the Just Transition Fund developed the Blueprint for Transition. The first section of the Blueprint, Get Started, is an online resource that builds on the lessons we’ve learned from our technical assistance work in coal communities, through our grantmaking, and during our convenings. This section is meant to provide information and resources for community-based nonprofits and municipal leaders who may have only recently learned that a coal asset is closing and are just starting to think about their transition planning efforts.
There are six strategies in the Get Started section that can help ease the start of a just transition:
- Engage Early with your community by developing a diverse and wide-ranging leadership team
- Find Facts about the impact the transition will have on your community
- Bring Your Community Together to talk about what challenges people are experiencing and what opportunities they see for the future
- Engage Diverse Stakeholders throughout the transition planning process
- Find Funding from federal agencies to support your work
- Plan for the Long-Term and create a community vision for the future
The Need for Shared Resources
Many communities face similar challenges when a coal facility closes. When you and your community are just starting to think about the challenges and opportunities that the transition away from coal presents, there are models and strategies that can be learned from other communities and leaders who have already experienced a closure and begun their transition planning process.
Of course, no single set of recommendations for a just transition will fit every community. Developing locally crafted solutions is essential. The goal of the Blueprint for Transition is to share a set of resources and best practices that can be used to inform projects, programs, and policies while ensuring that they respond to the specific and unique needs of your community. These are assets and recommendations that can be customized to work where you live, given the circumstances you face.
Through our work in coal communities across the country, we’ve worked with the people and places who’ve already figured out a path forward to start a just transition -- and this Blueprint helps us share those stories with you. Here are a few examples:
- In Minnesota, JTF has worked with five communities that are part of a coalition of cities that host base load power plants to conduct an analysis of the economic and social impacts that closures would have on these communities. One of those communities, Becker, MN, was facing the possibility of losing 75% of its tax base and 150 jobs when the local power plant began to close. Town leaders took early action and began conversations 7 years before the first of the three generating units was shuttered. They found that early planning was key in order to bring people together and to tap into state and federal funding. Today, Becker has a new recycling company and a data center that is slated to open, sustaining jobs that were created by bringing stakeholders to the table early and finding resources to generate new growth. If your community has just learned of an impending closure, the work in Minnesota may help you think about how to assess the impacts a closure may have on your community and where and when to begin looking for that information.
- In Mingo County, West Virginia, the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority recognized that the community’s future would require diversification away from a coal-based economy. They collaborated with multiple stakeholders to create a land-use master plan to use former surface mining sites for aviation manufacturing and all terrain vehicle recreation trails. These projects resulted in new economic development and workforce opportunities in Mingo County. If your community has just learned of an impending closure, the work in Mingo County may help you think about how to identify your community’s assets and build on them to find creative solutions for economic diversification.
- In Tonawanda, New York, the Huntley Generating Station began its decommissioning process in 2016. Clean Air Coalition of Western New York (CACWNY), the Western New York Area Labor Federation, and the Kenmore Teachers Association launched a campaign to transition the facility and developed a comprehensive roadmap for the town’s industrial redevelopment. This group of partners created a coalition to draft their roadmap, led by the State University of New York at Buffalo and a diverse set of residents and workers and advocated for the first-in-the-nation state fund to provide tax base replacement for communities that were previously home to fossil fuel generators. If your community has just learned of an impending closure, the work in Tonawanda may help you think about how to build coalitions, engage various stakeholders, and develop a roadmap for the future.
These are just three examples that helped inform the tools in the roadmap. There are many more. From our work in the field with partners in Colstrip, Montana, Southern Illinois, Appalachian Ohio, and with tribal communities out west, our work on the ground has helped us learn the importance of engaging early, finding facts, bringing the community together, engaging diverse stakeholders, finding funding, and planning for the long-term.
An Evolving Field
Transition planning is an evolving field and as we continue to work with and learn from our technical assistance partners and grantees, this resource will be updated and modified. The transition process often does not follow a straight line. The Just Transition Fund wants to ensure that every community has access to tools that can catalyze local efforts to build equitable, inclusive, and low-carbon post-coal economies.
If you are interested in sharing your transition resources, stories, or challenges, please contact Emily Rhodes (firstname.lastname@example.org),Technical Assistance and Planning Manager. Also, please keep an eye on this website, as we will be adding case studies, policy examples, and even more to the Blueprint for Transition later this summer.
Photo courtesy of Candace Hamana.