Where We Work
The Fund focuses on coalfield and power plant communities throughout the country. We prioritize support for coal communities experiencing the most economic distress and take into account equity factors that make transition an even greater challenge. Our decision-making draws from scientific analysis. Every two years, we conduct a data-driven evaluation of coal-affected communities. This evaluation uses data from a range of sources to consider both the level of economic distress and equity factors in each community. We also consider political factors such as the existence of climate-friendly policies at the state level as well as nonprofit capacity on the ground. In all that we do, we strive for equitable and inclusive solutions to the coal transition.
The closure of coal-fired coal plants is impacting communities across the country. Plant closures not only result in direct job loss, but also cause significant reductions in public revenue when plants are removed from local tax rolls. According to the Energy Information Administration, more than 130 coal plants have closed since 2015, with many more closures expected in the next few years. Already, nearly 40 percent of the U.S. coal fleet has been announced for retirement, and the economic recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic will make closures happen even faster in the months and years ahead.
Based on our latest analysis, we’ve identified the following priority communities (bolded in blue) as priorities for investment in 2020:
Appalachia’s natural landscape is known for its narrow ridgelines and steep valleys known as hollows. But three centuries of coal mining has resulted in the loss of 500 mountains, and the region has endured huge coal-related losses. In the mid-20th century, the industry employed 150,000 people, but changes in technology and now the move away from coal have caused major job loss. In fact, 87 percent of the nation’s coal-related job loss has occurred in Appalachia. According to the Appalachian Regional Commission, the region lost more than 23,000 jobs between 2011 and 2015 alone, as production plummeted by more than 40 percent to reach its lowest historical levels. Although mechanization had caused job loss for decades, the steep decline of coal production and closing of power plants has been a wake-up call for a region long dependent on a single industry. A just transition will require long-term investments in creative, community-based solutions to build a diversified economy that creates jobs, retrains workers, and builds local wealth.
2020 Priority Communities in Appalachia:
- Eastern Kentucky - Between 2011 and 2016, Eastern Kentucky lost 10,000 jobs or 72% of the total coalfield jobs in the region. Persistent, long-term poverty and poor education exacerbate the region’s transition challenges. Affected counties include Harlan, Leslie, Martin, Pike and Perry Counties.
- Southwestern Virginia - Southwestern Virginia has seen its coal work force shrink by 53% between 2011 and 2016. Environmental and community economic development groups are working to transform the region into a solar industry hub. Wise, Buchanan, and Dickenson Counties are some of the most affected counties in the region.
- Southern West Virginia - Between 2011 and 2016, this area lost 13,000 jobs. The region has relied heavily on severance tax disbursements, which will recede along with coal production. Affected counties include Mingo, Boone, and Logan.
- Western Pennsylvania - Mine closings are resulting in job loss and a decrease in revenue, yet this area of Appalachia has received less financial support from public sector partners than other Appalachian areas. Washington, Greene, and Indiana Counties are among the hardest-hit counties in this region.
For thousands of years, Native Americans have lived in the Powder River Basin, which stretches across Wyoming and Montana. Homesteaders began ranching and farming there almost 200 years ago. But the area has in recent generations been best known for its energy production, and it supplies 40 percent of the nation’s coal.
The region is beginning to reel as both coal plants and mines close. Job losses are particularly devastating for communities in Wyoming. In the coming years, industry predicts the state could lose upwards of 10,000 coal-related jobs.
More broadly throughout the West, tribal communities and those dependent on federal coal are struggling. For example, in the Navajo nation, 700 jobs were lost with the closing of the Navajo Generating Station and Kayenta mine. The loss of coal royalties and plant lease payments meant the Navajo and Hopi tribes lost roughly 25 percent and 80 percent of their budgets, respectfully. And 15,000 homes are without power. The loss in tax revenue is especially acute for these committees, where 75% of the population lives below the poverty line. Efforts to rebuild coalfield communities in each of these places are threatened by the immense legacy liabilities that coal leaves behind.
2020 Priority Communities in the West:
- Arizona, Four Corners Region - Our priority communities in Arizona include the Navajo and Hopi tribes. In addition to the loss of about 700 coal jobs, the Navajo and Hopi tribes lost 25% and 80% of their budgets from foregone coal royalties and plant lease payments after NGS and the Kayenta Mine closed.
- Colorado, Western Slope - Coal employment across the state dropped 13% year over year in 2017, a loss of 162 industrial coal jobs. The closure of the Nucla plant and New Horizon mine could cause a 70% loss of the area’s tax base. Delta and Montrose Counties are some of the most heavily affected in the region.
- Colstrip, Montana - Our priority in this area is the area surrounding the Colstrip Generating Station, which along with the Redbud mine employs over 8,000 people, plans to close two of its four units. Among those affected are the Cheyenne and Crow tribes.
Across the Midwest, coal communities are experiencing a rapid shift away from fossil fuels, creating a regional need for long-term planning, community investment, and policies that enable a just transition. The region has a long and deep relationship with coal. In fact, coal mining began in this region in 1820. But as closures accelerate, the efforts some state legislatures are making to keep the industry afloat are not enough to avoid the inevitable transition away from coal. According to a report by the Institute for Energy Economic and Financial Analysis, in 2018, the Illinois Basin - which straddles southern Illinois, southwest Indiana, and western Kentucky - produced about 14 percent of the total thermal coal mined nationally. In the last year, however, the pace of closures has accelerated, with five coal mines idling or closing, mining companies filing for bankruptcy, and 20 of the region’s 38 coal plants announcing retirement dates for some or all of their units. If these trends continue, it is predicted that within the next 20 years the industry may vanish from the region. As more closures are anticipated throughout the region, identifying each priority community’s challenges and tapping into their unique assets and opportunities will be essential to shape a just transition away from coal.
2020 Priority Communities:
- Central Minnesota - Our work has focused on Becker, Oak Park, and Cohasset Counties. As a state, Minnesota has adopted a clean energy strategy, which is strongly supported by its largest energy provider, philanthropic organizations, and the public.
- Ohio River Valley, Ohio - Our primary communities include Adams County, where the Stuart and Killen plants closed in June 2018, idling 490 workers and depleting about 60% of the tax base, which provides 75% of school funding.
- Southern Illinois - Impacted areas where we’ve worked reach from Chicago to the southern portion of the state, creating shared concerns among state legislators. At this early stage, an opportunity exists to work from the ground up, helping to identify and build organizations that can spearhead transition issues and to play a role in shaping state legislation.
- Southern Indiana - Affected counties include Posey, Warrick, Sullivan, Pike, Vermillion, and Floyd Counties in southern IN and LaPorte and Jasper County in the northern part of the state. Indiana is now seeing more mine closures and announced plant retirement dates, impacting workers and increasing the need for community transition planning.