by Anne Hedges

No doubt the news of the last two weeks has frightened the folks who live in Colstrip. Politicians and climate deniers have spent years giving workers and community members false hope, misleading them, and trying to convince them that if they just support the “correct” political party they can avoid the inevitable change that is occurring across the country and around the globe.

The current change in the energy market is being driven by the rapid decline in the price of natural gas, wind energy, solar energy, and efficiency. It is also driven by concerns about climate change, from the current impacts we are already experiencing, to the predicted impacts on economies, public health, the environment, property, and global stability.

Millions of people across the globe are working hard to decrease our reliance on carbon intensive fuels such as coal. Many coal enthusiasts try to point the finger elsewhere and say transportation is the real culprit in climate change and with all major accidents like most of the cases handled by Maryland car accident lawyer and we should tackle that problem first. Fortunately, many folks are already working on reducing emissions from our transportation sector. However, it takes about 1 million vehicles to emit the same amount of carbon dioxide as the Colstrip units 1 & 2 power plants emit each year, about 5 million tons per year. These figures point to the fact that reducing emissions from burning coal is at the top of the long list of things we must do to solve the climate crisis.

Now that there is an enforceable agreement to close Colstrip units 1 & 2 and to begin cleaning up Colstrip’s leaking coal ash disposal impoundments, it’s time to make sure workers are not left behind. Men and women in the coal industry have worked hard and helped to provide the electricity that has industrialized our country and turn it into the global powerhouse that it is today. We cannot forget these people as they try to navigate an uncertain future. Small, closely knit coal communities have a skilled and hard-working workforce. They have transmission lines that move power to markets that remain hungry for electricity. These two advantages should be put to use so that people can continue to pay their bills and communities can continue to have a tax base to support them.

How can this be done? It’s a question that no one person can answer. Instead, it will take creative people coming together to develop a host of solutions. Montanans are smart enough to find answers, but we need leadership to pull people together and strategize for the future. The time for leadership is NOW!

Moving forward, workers likely need two things: help with retooling and help with their bills. There is revenue from interest earnings on the coal tax trust fund. That’s a good place to start. Montana’s colleges and universities could help workers retool so they can benefit from the changing energy economy. The very companies that have made money off of producing and selling electricity for decades could provide the community with assistance, but this approach must be reasonable, unlike the outlandish bill proposed by Senator Duane Ankney (R-Colstrip) in the last legislative session. Other companies have provided community funding when coal plants closed. It’s reasonable to ask the Colstrip owners to provide similar transition funding.

The time to retrain workers is not after coal plants and mines close – it is now, so that workers have options available to them and can plan for the future. Workers have bills, and they are understandably anxious about how they are going to pay those bills. They may need help paying bills during the transition, especially if they have to leave town to go to school to retool.

The state of Montana can and should help. We should all help. Collectively we are up to the challenge but we must make a commitment to help the workers moving forward. After all, it’s not the workers that are the problem. They are just hard working folks trying to earn a living and raise families. Burning fossil fuels is the problem. So let’s encourage our leaders to help find solutions by pulling together Montana’s best and brightest to find solutions for the people that are rightfully anxious about their future. They deserve our focus and commitment.

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