Energy & Environment

Miners union to back Biden on green energy if it retains jobs

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The nation’s top miners union on Monday said it will back the White House’s plan to transition fossil fuel industries to renewable energy production if the Biden administration can guarantee the preservation of jobs.

“There needs to be a tremendous investment here,” United Mine Workers of America President Cecil E. Roberts told The New York Times on Monday. “We always end up dealing with climate change, closing down coal mines. We never get to the second piece of it.”

Roberts made the announcement Monday at an event with Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), whose vote will almost certainly be required for any major climate legislation in a Senate where each party controls 50 seats.

The union’s plan calls for the government to subsidize a transition to renewable energy in heavily coal-dependent Appalachian economies. These include tax credits for manufacturing wind turbine and solar panel parts, as well as funding for reclaimed mines that damage the environment and public health in the surrounding areas.

The union also called for increased research into carbon capture technology, which has attracted the support of Republicans as well. In August, Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) called the technology “one of my top policy priorities” in the leadership position.

“We’re trying to, first of all, insert ourselves to the extent that we can in this conversation because our people, a lot of coal miners in this country, their families have suffered already some traumatic losses,” Roberts told NBC News in a separate interview.

Biden has emphasized his union roots both on the campaign trail and as president, and he and other White House officials have presented job preservation versus environmental measures as a false choice.

The administration has insisted the clean energy jobs that take the fossil fuel industry’s place will themselves be well-paid union jobs.

But Roberts told NBC that “currently, the jobs that are being discussed here are not good paying union jobs. They’re a fraction of what a coal miner makes.”

“Change is coming, whether we seek it or not,” the union said in a statement Monday, according to the Times, noting that employment in the coal industry was more than halved between December 2011 and December 2020.

“We’re on the side of job creation, of a future for our people,” Roberts told the Times. “If that isn’t part of the conversation at the end of the day, we’ll be hard pressed to be supportive.”

Sunrise Movement, a progressive environmental group that has been critical of centrist Democrats, hailed the announcement in a statement Monday.

“Sunrise Movement stands with and celebrates the United Mine Workers Association announcement today as they lean in to the transition towards a renewable energy economy, and we renew our commitment to fight alongside them to ensure the government leads in ensuring coal communities are whole and not left behind,” Political Director Evan Weber said in a statement.

Updated at 4:44 p.m.

Tags Cecil Roberts Joe Manchin John Barrasso United Mine Workers of America

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