You’ll have to forgive the skepticism on the part of the people of Central Appalachia when President Joe Biden and administration officials recently announced a series of executive orders aimed at the Climate Change issue.
We’ve been here before. During the administration of President Barack Obama, we watched as rule-making was used to hasten the death of our region’s signature industry. The coal industry’s tough times were all but written in stone anyway, but the administration’s actions brought about a speedy fall for which we should have been, but weren’t, prepared.
The difference in Biden’s announcement and the actions taken while he was serving as vice president are the promises that the areas that will be impacted by the climate change rules — energy-producing regions that typically have that natural resource at the center of their economy — will be the recipient of new jobs in clean energy fields.
In fact, Gina McCarthy, who as EPA Administrator helped oversee the strangulation of the coal industry and will now serve in Biden’s administration in helping shape and enact climate change actions, said during a press conference on Jan. 27 that the orders direct that 40 percent of the expenditures in creating new energy businesses will go to areas such as ours.
John Kerry, who will serve as Biden’s climate envoy, said the point is that people in areas like ours will be given a better choice in jobs.
“The president of the United States has expressed in every comment that he has made about climate the need to grow the new jobs that pay better, that are cleaner,” Kerry said. “You look at the consequences of Black Lung for a miner, for instance, and measure that against the fastest-growing job in the United States before COVID was solar power technician. The same people can do those jobs, but the choice of doing the solar power now is a better choice.”
Again, you’ll have to forgive our skepticism, but when a person tells you that they’re going to take your job away, when they, in the same breath, say they’re going to give you a new job in exchange, the second part tends to get lost in the shock of the first.
Make no mistake, if the Biden administration truly does what it says it’s going to and helps establish new jobs in the production of the means of powering this nation — once again — but in a cleaner fashion, we’re more than willing to accept that help.
Economic developers and municipalities throughout Central Appalachia will be glad to accept grants and other assistance to help establish new jobs here. In fact, if the administration truly is able to help establish factory and other jobs here in Central Appalachia, it could be a game-changer with the potential of erasing the need for all those coal jobs.
But we’ve heard this song before. The words have changed but the melody is the same. No one can look at our region and not say something has to change. It’s easy to say, but a bit harder to fix. And a lot of words have been used over the years to discuss and opine on Appalachia’s lot, but the action to help from outside hasn’t always been there.
Many communities in Central Appalachia have found ways to sustain their economies and to create new jobs, but it’s not been an easy process, nor has it occurred quickly. On top of that, this new plan, unless it is enacted quickly and takes into account all of the country’s energy needs, could cause even further problems as the country’s energy requirements go unmet.
The kind of change and effort about which the Biden administration is talking is not something that can happen by chance or quickly without a major effort.
During press briefings on Jan. 27, Biden and his climate officials talked of how time is running out for something to be done about climate change. We just hope they see the same urgency in our community and also in the communities that will be affected by new oil and natural gas rules.
It’s an urgency that’s been felt here on the ground for a while but doesn’t seem to penetrate either the Winchester Wall, the walls of Congress nor the walls of the White House.
Despite paying lip service to coal, Obama’s successor, Donald J. Trump, did little to nothing to stop coal’s slide.
It’s easy to talk about the “plight” of Appalachia, but it’s harder to see the complexity and nuances of the issues we face and to try to make a difference on our behalf alongside us.
As we go forward, it is incumbent upon every official who has a hand in representing Central Appalachia to make as much noise as possible so the cries not only penetrate but reverberate throughout those areas where we’ve never really been heard.
We must hold their feet to the fire. For them, it’s often about public relations; for us, it’s about our lives. If Biden does what he says his administration will do in helping us establish jobs, we’ll be appreciative. Until then, we’ll be a bit skeptical, and a bit loud.