Bloomberg Pledges $3 Million for Coal Country Transition to a Low-Carbon Economy

Michael Bloomberg, Bloomberg Philanthropies, clean energy, renewables, coal, sustainable development, education, Leon Kaye, social enterprise, West Virginia
A former bank building in downtown Danville, West Virginia.

It is clear that coal is disappearing from America’s energy portfolio, despite the Donald Trump administration’s pledge to give the sector a shot in the arm. The environmental case against coal is clear; but coal’s decline is mostly due to the convergence of technology and economics, not regulation. Even West Virginia’s largest utility recently announced it is weaning itself away from coal.

But often lost in the debate over whether our future will be powered by coal, natural gas, renewables or an “all of the above policy” is the question of what will happen to the people who lose their jobs as the U.S. increasingly drifts away from coal.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg believes he has the answer, as he described in an op/ed published this week in the Washington Post

His foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, says it has a plan to mitigate climate change, move away from coal and prepare for a clean-energy future. And it also intends to work with coal miners and other industry workers who will need to find new jobs as the triad of automation, natural gas and renewable energy makes coal further irrelevant.

During an interview Wednesday night with Trevor Noah on “The Daily Show,” Bloomberg said the U.S. must stop using coal if it hopes to continue its progress in fighting climate change, but that we should not forget displaced workers. “Find ways to retrain and create jobs for the people that get hurt, but you don’t keeping doing something that’s bad for everybody to create some jobs for a number of people; you find other ways to get them the jobs.”

On that point, Bloomberg Philanthropies created a fund of $3 million to support this transition; he and his foundation are seeking donations on Crowdwise to boost that total. The former mayor said he will match donations and cover transaction fees out of his own pocket.

A film the foundation produced, “From the Ashes,” discusses the lives and challenges faced by those working within the coal industry. It’s scheduled to appear on the National Geographic channel this summer.

Three organizations will benefit from this campaign.

First, the Coalfield Development Corp., based in southern West Virginia, is out to rebuild the Appalachian economy. Its social enterprise mission includes jobs and new career opportunities in fields such as green building, solar power systems installation, land reclamation of areas once mined, sustainable agriculture and craftsmanship. The organization hires unemployed citizens, including coal miners, who then follow a 33-6-3 weekly schedule: 33 hours of paid work in one of the aforementioned sectors, six hours of higher education or training, and three hours of professional mentorship.

“The result is real work experience, an associate’s degree, and renewed self-confidence,” a Bloomberg Philanthropies spokesperson explained in an email exchange with TriplePundit.

In order to create resilient communities in what were once coal-dependent regions across the U.S., the Just Transition Fund will launch projects that ensure local economic development and long-term energy resilience.

In supporting coalfield and power plant communities that have started to transition away from coal, the Fund seeks to diversify and strengthen local economies, build stronger economies that prioritize people while protecting workers, and promote clean energy policies and technologies that can scale.

Finally, the Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC), which first started in 1979, says it balances land stewardship and smart economic growth. A network of grassroots organizations spread across Colorado, Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming, WORC has a long track record of protecting local water resources, preserving family farms and ranches, and working with communities to make sure they have a say in the decisions that impact their communities.

WORC’s recent advocacy work includes a fight to exempt groceries from Idaho’s sales tax and efforts to make sure small and family farmers are treated fairly by federal agriculture policy.

As he wrapped up Wednesday night’s appearance on “The Daily Show,” Bloomberg made it clear that he and his foundation are determined to step up where he says coal companies have failed.

He acknowledged that the public wants to breathe clean air, but they are also aware of the fact that many who once worked in the coal industry have been left behind.

“The coal companies have left the coal miners in a terrible situation,” Bloomberg said. “Generally, what has happened is the coal miners have been left with bad health problems, and no pensions, and in a part of a country that — sadly and tragically and disgracefully for all of us — has stayed poor for many, many, too many years.”

Image credit: Jimmy Emerson/Flickr

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Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).