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LETTER: State needs to lead transition from coal

LETTER: State needs to lead transition from coal

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COVID-19 is hammering the final nail in the coffin of the coal industry. The writing has been on the wall for some time. Together, we can create a better future for communities affected by the demise of the coal industry.

Coal sites across the nation are closing as the cost of natural gas lowers and the renewable energy industry grows. And, with the added strain COVID-19 has placed on the nation, prospects are looking bleak for coal’s future.

Before the pandemic, Murray Energy and Foresight Energy filed bankruptcy. Closure of the Shay #1 Mine in Macoupin County was already announced, with operations remaining at Deer Run Mine in Montgomery County, Pond Creek Mine in Williamson County, and Sugar Camp Mine in Franklin County.

On the day Murray filed bankruptcy, board chairman Robert Murray’s base cash salary was $12 million, and the company has since asked the federal judge overseeing the bankruptcy to relieve the company of its retiree healthcare obligations.

Illinoisans know this story too well. When coal companies go bankrupt, they protect their executives and business interests, not workers. Left behind are families with lost wages and unfulfilled pension promises.

The federal administration’s promises to save the coal industry aren’t holding up, and what’s worse is the people of Illinois will suffer. We can continue to prop up an industry that will ultimately leave communities behind, or we can plan for the future and a just transition.

The Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA) is a bill that would put Illinois on an equitable path to 100 percent renewable energy, decarbonize the power sector, and reduce pollution from the transportation sector without raising consumer energy bills.

One component of CEJA includes Clean Energy Empowerment Zones that focus on communities who have relied on fossil fuel jobs and support a “just transition” to new resilient economies. As a part of the transition, fossil fuel workers (including coal miners and power plant workers) will be provided with advanced notice of plant closure and education and retraining opportunities. Along with worker support, communities will benefit through new state economic development resources for new business tax incentives and local property tax revenue replacement.

If we want a just transition, we need to work to do what the coal companies are failing to do: prioritize workers and ensure that no community is left behind.

Our local, state, and federal leaders will be returning to Springfield this fall to consider policies to help our communities recover from the pandemic and boost our economy.

Coal companies are already at the table asking for a handout that will only serve to protect their executives and shareholders and temporarily prop up a failing industry. Instead, we can choose to reinvest in our workers and in our communities.

The people of Illinois have had a long-standing, proud history of providing energy for families across the state. Let’s continue our proud history by moving forward into a legacy where we can provide a just transition to a new energy economy.

Christina Krost, Mattoon

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