To best support economic revitalization in America’s Energy Communities immediately and over the long-term, the Interagency Working Group is guided by these principles to prioritize the most meaningful actions.
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The closure of a mine or a power plant often leaves already challenged Energy Communities with even fewer good-paying jobs. Community and labor organizations make clear that many Energy Communities need immediate support. Said one stakeholder, “There is an opportunity to make large strides in the near term.” Immediate investments in critical infrastructure like broadband, water infrastructure, and roads can create good-paying union jobs today. Also, with appropriate investment, Energy Communities can become hubs for the advanced energy economy—retrofitting traditional energy generation and industrial facilities with carbon capture technologies or helping construct and maintain renewable generation facilities.
Creating good-paying union jobs in Energy Communities is necessary, but not sufficient. Energy Communities that often suffered from years of disinvestment, even during the boom times of the traditional energy economy, require foundational infrastructure investments to access the benefits of the innovation economy. Investments in public infrastructure (e.g., broadband, water systems, roads, and the electric grid) and civic infrastructure (e.g., hospitals, schools, small businesses, rural serving financial institutions, and community-based non-profits) can spark new economic activity, provide community services and amenities, and build community wealth. Finally, achieving economic revitalization and spurring opportunity will require a long-term federal commitment to planning and public investment in close partnership with state, regional, and local leaders.
As stated in Executive Order 14008: “Mining and power plant workers drove the industrial revolution and the economic growth that followed, and have been essential to the growth of the United States.” These Americans experienced numerous industrial transitions in the last 50 years, resulting from trade policies and myriad technological changes. Time and again, Energy Communities were promised everyone would benefit from a changing economy. In practice, the gains were not fully shared with Energy Communities.
Today, many workers in these communities are still struggling as they deal with the challenges of a global pandemic, economic collapse, and the impacts of climate change. A national clean energy transformation will only be successful if it provides good-paying union jobs in growing markets and industries and secures the benefits that energy workers earned. Changes to bankruptcy rules, for example, could help ensure coal companies make good on their commitments to workers and to environmental remediation. As one labor leader stated, “We need to think about the individual workers who lose their jobs. We need to provide robust support over time to keep folks whole and empower people to make choices about their futures.”
Even as mines and plants closed, energy workers, their families, and nearby fenceline and other communities continue to face the health and environmental effects of mining and power generation. Environmental degradation resulting from abandoned traditional energy infrastructure is also an environmental justice issue and an impediment to economic revitalization. In this sense, environmental justice communities and Energy Communities share common economic and health interests. Federal investments in environmental remediation efforts, such as plugging leaking oil and gas wells and reclaiming abandoned mine land, can create good-paying union jobs while restoring natural assets and curbing toxic emissions that pose serious safety hazards and cause air and water contamination. Returning idled properties, such as brownfields, to productive use can be another source of place-based jobs enabling new economic activity.
Executive Order 14008 directs the Interagency Working Group to adopt an integrated approach to supporting Energy Communities. This direction was echoed by stakeholders who urged the Interagency Working Group to better coordinate the various federal programs that can support Energy Communities. These programs are often siloed, requiring different entry points and different applications, forcing communities to expend valuable time and resources obtaining wholistic federal support.
The Partnership for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) Initiative, launched under the Obama Administration, was often elevated as a model of success. “It was remarkable and a great interagency collaboration,” observed one participant from the government-focused stakeholder input session. “We need to reignite that collaboration…the success of a project can rise or fall based on the collaboration of an agency program manager.” The efforts of the Interagency Working Group also need to be coordinated with other government-wide efforts, including the Justice40 Initiative; the implementation of the Supply Chain, Buy America, and Racial Equity Executive Orders; and the emerging rural development StrikeForce effort.
Executive Order 14008 requires the Interagency Working Group to consult with key stakeholders. During the initial listening sessions detailed in Appendix A. March Stakeholder Engagement, stakeholders emphasized there is no uniform set of solutions for economic revitalization. “It’s very different for coal, than it is for timber, than it is for oil and gas,” one stakeholder noted. “In general, regionalized economic development builds upon existing industry, which, again, looks different in different places…so there can’t be a one-size-fits-all approach.”
Policy interventions must account for the assets of each Energy Community and be driven by community input, including the most economically disadvantaged, such as women, people of color, and those living in rural communities. Further, local community residents, not state intermediaries alone, must drive the direction of local economic development. This point was summed up well by a tribal stakeholder’s comment calling for engagement at the grassroots level— “Talk to the local people. Don’t stop at the government level. Bring it to the people.” Finally, successful economic revitalization efforts will require public support, and collaboration with residents, business leaders, and philanthropic interests.