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“First of all, coal’s not back. Nobody saved the coal industry.” The problem with this statement from United Mine Workers president Cecil Roberts is that it doesn’t go far enough.

The harsh reality is that coal is not going to make a comeback, and the sooner that supporters of the industry and the communities that depend upon it come to that conclusion, the sooner they can begin to work on ways to transition to a more sustainable future.

Holding out hope that technologies such as carbon capture will allow a future for coal are a pipe dream. Carbon capture is a long way from being financially viable, and by the time that it becomes so, the energy production sector will have moved on to more sustainable and renewable forms of energy.

Another reality is that sometime soon, our carbon emissions are going to be addressed either in the form of new regulations or in the form of some sort of a price on carbon. With a price on carbon, resources are generated that can be used for any number of purposes. With new regulations you get, well, more regulations.

There is presently a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives — the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (House Resolution 763) — that would place a steadily increasing fee on the carbon content of all fossil fuels. The funds collected would be returned to U.S. households in the form of a dividend.

This is the approach that Citizens Climate Lobby has been advocating as an essential first step in addressing the climate crisis. The thing is, a properly designed carbon fee has the potential to raise considerable revenue, with HR 763 projected to collect $3 trillion over the first 10 years.

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A group of CCL members from coal states, because of our concerns that coal miners and coal communities are not abandoned to the dust bin of history, are proposing to carve out from HR 763 1 percent of the dividend collected to be returned to the coalfields to support a just transition. This small carve-out could result in $25 billion over the first 10 years, with $13 billion targeted toward communities to replace lost revenue, and the other $12 billion to be directed toward out-of-work miners to provide support as they transition to new employment.

One other piece of legislation presently moving through the House is the RECLAIM Act. This bill would distribute $1 billion from the Abandoned Mine Lands Fund, over a five-year period, to states to fund reclamation projects that would also be tied to long-term economic development.

This would seem to be a win/win for a state like West Virginia, as the money is already in the fund and would mean over $200 million for our state.

RECLAIM was passed in committee, and they have not marked it up yet, as they are providing time for more co-sponsors to sign on. There are presently 62 co-sponsors with Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., being the lone West Virginian.

Pennsylvania, which has the largest number of identified abandoned mine land resites, has 12 co-sponsors. They know a good deal when they see one. California, with no abandoned mine land sites, has five legislators signed on to the bill. Did I mention that West Virginia — which has the second most abandoned mine land sites — has one co-sponsor?

So, rather than bemoaning the continuing decline of the coal industry, let’s start taking the steps that are available and necessary to ensure a future for our miners and our coal mining communities, while at the same time helping to ensure a future for our planet.

Jim Probst, of Hamlin, is the state coordinator for the West Virginia Citizens Climate Lobby.

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