As world leaders race to come to an agreement that limits green house gas emissions worldwide, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has chosen to focus on another aspect of the problem. Clinton’s focus is on the American communities whose very livelihood is endangered by this shift away from coal. She has not only recognized the potential economic problem but has also chosen to address it by rolling out a $30 billion plan to aid coal communities.
Clinton voiced her concerns in Friday’s op-ed in the Charleston Gazette-Mail (a renowned West Virginia newspaper). She stated unequivocally that the energy system of the 20th century has come to an end, due to many factors including the lower cost of renewable energy sources, the necessity of concrete actions to combat climate change, and the shale boom. Recognizing this change, while important, also throws into the limelight the growing financial cost to coal communities who are affected by this shift away from coal. However, she feels she has a solution to the problem which will not only provide a clean and secure 21st century energy future for the United States, but one that does not shun the coal community.
According to the campaign, domestic consumption of coal has decreased in the past 10 years by as much as 25 percent, while approximately one third of U.S. power generation is accounted for by coal.
According to the Clinton campaign, a clean, environmentally-friendly energy economy undoubtedly provides significant advantages, such as creating new job and industry opportunities, reducing carbon emissions and subsequent pollution, and providing health benefits. However, it must be recognized that the move away from coal consumption poses a significant threat to mining communities, as well as to the retirement security and healthcare benefits of the workers and families of the coal industry.
Clinton’s plan is a build-up on the Miners’ Protection Act proposed by Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, Shelly Moore Capito, R- West Virginia, and Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania, earlier this year. Its first element ensures the existence of a so-called backstop that allows coal communities’ retirees to receive their due benefits regardless of the bankruptcy faced by coal transportation companies or power plants.
A second aspect of the plan is boosting of the federal black lung benefit program by Clinton, which in turn will facilitate miners in receiving due deserved benefits.
Another aspect of Clinton’s proposal involves plans to support the transition of the coal communities’ economies. For example, she proposes that the Secure Coal Community Schools (SCCS) program be put in place to aid in compensating for the loss of local income from the coal industry. It would aid in paying for schools until such a time as an alternative source of local tax income is established.
Clinton proposes to invest in new infrastructure projects within the community so that these new sources of revenue are created. This investment would include the completion of bridges, water systems, roads, airports, transmission, and broad-band and transmission lines. Her proposal ensures that her administration works with railroad companies in discovering the optimal means of leveraging previously utilized rail capacity to transport coal. In addition to these infrastructure investments, Clinton also vows to simplify the permitting process, thereby improving efficiency. In short, Clinton’s investment on infrastructure guarantees that potential employees are connected to potential employers, and companies are connected to newly established markets.
Clinton also intends to make use of the existing funding in the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund. She aims to utilize these funds to aid in the financing of projects which find new purposes for existing mine lands, as well as power plant sites. The campaign cited Google’s intended proposal to establish a data center on the site of a recently shut down coal plant located in Alabama as an example to emulate.
Clinton’s campaign proposes to increase public investment in research and development at universities and other institutions located within coal-producing areas. Clinton aims to attract new private investments by widening the New Markets Tax Credit program so that coal communities are able to qualify. Clinton’s plans include offering companies the opportunity to eliminate capital gains tax on long-term investment projects located in coal areas, especially those communities that have been hard hit by the transition. Last but not least, Clinton proposes to have a series of grants which are aimed at promoting job training, local business development, housing, and arts and culture.