Thank you for sharing the fears folks have about losing coal jobs with a switch to clean energy. The conversation you carry forward in your "War on Coal" editorial is an important one to have.
Coal has provided employment for generations of Illinois gentlemen. Plenty of coal still lies in the ground. Asking coal to leave now seems ludicrous and dangerous. If we close the mines, where will coal miners work? How would we get affordable energy?
There is, however, another problem. Where do coal miners work when there is no water? Peabody Coal Mine in Coulterville, Illinois, with the best safety record in the state, had to lay off workers a little over a year ago. Why? A drought made worse by climate change. Without water, you can't wash coal. If we wait long enough, Mother Nature will shut down the coal mines on her own.
On the other hand, we could get out ahead of Mother Nature. To do that, we need a slow, steady, and decisive shift in the direction of clean energy so coal miners can take their can-do attitude and work ethic into wind, water, and sun. Let's move the jobs from coal mine to wind turbine. Coal companies can become energy companies. They can mine rare minerals needed for solar panels and then build, transport and install the panels.
What would help us make this switch from coal to clean energy? A revenue-neutral carbon tax. Also known as a carbon fee and dividend, this consumer-friendly tax would send a price signal to investors to bet big on clean energy and encourage U.S. ingenuity. When we return all of the carbon-tax revenue evenly to American households, we shield the middle class and poor people because they would get more in their monthly rebate check than they spend on increased energy costs. We would set the price low in the first year and have it rise steadily until the switch to clean energy is complete. Starting low at first prevents a shock to the economy. Having the fee rise steadily over time provides businesses, including coal companies, market predictability that would allow for a smooth transition to clean energy.
I hope you will continue this conversation so that we can find the solutions that encompass all of the challenges we face, from jobs, to energy, to environment.