Brian Anderson knows that more than a bandage – more than a zillion of them, actually – are needed to stanch the bleeding in coal country.
“We’re working with communities to revive their economies, and not just with a Band-Aid,” he said Tuesday morning. “We’re talking about creating family-sustaining careers, and not just salaries, benefits and health care. We want to ensure that those types of jobs are being created as the energy sector transitions (toward de-carbonization).”
As if the responsibilities of being director of the National Energy Technology Laboratory in South Park and Morgantown, W.Va., weren’t formidable enough, Anderson has assumed an additional role within the U.S. Department of Energy. The Biden administration announced Friday he is the executive director of the White House Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization.
Biden established the organization through his Jan. 27 executive order on climate issues. The administration has devoted $109.5 million for research projects designed to revive economies, remediate environmental issues and support energy workers in communities ravaged by shutdowns of coal mines and coal-fired power plants.
The interagency group’s first objective was to issue a report describing ways “to prioritize grant-making, federal loan programs, technical assistance, financing, procurement or other existing programs” to assist these affected communities.
That report has come out, and it identifies “the 25 most impacted regions for coal-related declines” across the United States. One region is designated as Southwestern Pennsylvania, which encompasses eight counties.
Greene is among them, but is the only one that is truly in the southwestern-most corner of the state. The others are Clarion, Crawford, Forest, Indiana, Lawrence, Venango and Warren.
Washington County was not included, Anderson said, because it is considered to be part of the Pittsburgh metropolitan area.
State Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Jefferson, is aware of the Working Group and its objectives, and endorses Anderson’s appointment.
“As coal jobs continue to decline, this investment can stabilize coal’s position in our energy portfolio and give birth to new coal uses that will keep Greene County coal miners employed for years to come,” she said in a statement.
“Dr. Brian Anderson is a gifted visionary with a passion for the economic future for coal communities that have long been forgotten. I applaud the Biden administration for making this commitment to the future of coal country and for bringing Dr. Anderson on board to lead the charge. I look forward to working with him to diversify our local economy.”
Anderson said he was selected for the Working Group role because of his background with NETL’s Regional Workforce Initiative. He is well aware of the decline of coal, an industry that since 2012 has lost nearly 44,000 jobs – half of the U.S. labor force. Cecil Roberts, international president of United Mine Workers of America, said recently 7,000 jobs were cut last year alone.
“We’ve had big job losses (in the coal industry) over the past decade, and as the administration stresses de-carbonization, shifts are likely to continue,” said Anderson, who comes from a West Virginia coal family.
The interagency group is charged with building up coal communities at a time the energy playing field is changing. De-carbonization over the next decade has become a major focus. Production of more eco-friendly electric vehicles is expected to increase substantially.
Inconsistent broadband access is another issue confronting coal communities, according to Anderson. Investing in infrastructure to expand access is a possibility he suggested.
The working group is planning to have town hall meetings in the 25 designated regions, to enlighten workers, residents and public officials of what may be ahead.
“We’re building partnerships across the country,” Anderson said. “It’s so important to be working hand in hand with these communities.
“It’s a challenge. It’s not a simple issue to tackle. This will take a comprehensive effort.”
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