Adapted from the Labor Network for Sustainability Report “Just Transition” – Just What Is It?
We are well into the greatest economic transition ever experienced — one that will dwarf all that came before. Creating a carbon-neutral economy will require us to retool all sectors of our economy, from manufacturing, transportation, and health care to waste management, communications, energy, and more.
Frontline communities — including workers and all those threatened or already devastated by climate change and the fossil fuel economy — can be leaders here. A “just transition” is one that protects and prioritizes communities and workers’ livelihoods as we build this climate-friendly economy together.
We know that coal power is a significant driver of climate change, for instance. How can we ensure that the people who work for coal companies have good jobs in the clean economy of the future?
The Eastern Kentucky Clean Energy Collaborative has created an innovative and inspiring model.
A significant portion of electricity in eastern Kentucky is provided by the East Kentucky Power Cooperative (EKPC), a rural electric co-op serving eighty-seven counties. In 2005, EKPC got the go-ahead to build a coal plant in Clark County.
In 2009, a public interest coalition, including the Sierra Club, contested the decision. They argued that changes in energy demand and the availability of renewables made the plant unnecessary.
The coalition also knew that the issue of jobs and economic impacts would be crucial in impoverished eastern Kentucky. So they commissioned a study showing that far more jobs would be created and electric rates would be lower if EKPC invested instead in energy efficiency, weatherization, hydropower, and wind power.
The report spawned lots of positive public discussion. Community leaders shared educational materials, held meetings and hearings, and met with EKPC board members to encourage them to support the alternative to the coal plant.
About a year later, in November 2010, EKPC agreed to immediately halt plans to build the coal plant.
Even more remarkably, EKPC committed $125,000 toward a collaboration between its member co-ops and public interest groups to evaluate and recommend new energy-efficiency programs and renewable energy options in Kentucky. The Clean Energy Collaborative meets quarterly and comprises a wide range of partners, including the EKPC and its member co-ops, the public interest coalition members, and housing and economic development groups.
In late 2016, Kentuckians reached another milestone with the launch of the Empower Kentucky Summit. The event brought together renewable energy and energy efficiency professionals, faith leaders, environmentalists, social justice advocates, electric cooperatives, and many more. Here was a roadmap for the future, from the very heart of coal country.
We can build an economy that saves the climate, creates good jobs, and contributes to community well-being. Labor and justice advocates, environmental organizations and others can come together for a common vision. A just transition is within reach if we work together.