by Yingxia Yang and Tanay Shanker
- Rusty Bell, Director of the Office of Economic Transformation in Campbell County, Wyoming,
- Brandi Harlow, Northeast Regional Director for the Wyoming Business Council, the state’s economic development agency, and
- David Foster, distinguished associate at Energy Futures Initiative and lead author for the workforce development work as part of the MIT Roosevelt Project.
Bell started with the importance of coal mining to Campbell County’s government revenue and the community and that in anticipation of reduced coal consumption in the future, the county has been exploring alternative ways to use coal. Harlow presented Wyoming’s ‘net zero all above mix state energy strategy and the current efforts to reclaim and reuse the local coal mines for new businesses. Foster provided key findings from the analysis of the MIT Roosevelt project on workforce development and the implications for future employment in fossil producing regions.
- Campbell County in Wyoming and Wyoming in general are not currently under economic distress; they are managing the energy transition proactively by embracing an all-of-the-above state energy strategy and exploring alternative use of coal.
Campbell County produces around 50% of the coal in the nation and coal mining plays an important role in the county’s K-12 education and quality of life in the community. Currently, the county has a relatively low unemployment rate (3.1%) and high income per capita. However, there has been a change in mindset in the transition to clean energy. Wyoming is a net exporter of energy and it still aims to continue to power the rest of the nation through an all-of-the-above net zero energy strategy under the clean energy transition, including coal, gas, renewables, nuclear, geothermal, hydrogen, etc. They are also exploring alternative ways for alternative use of coal (e.g., the carbon centre, carbon SAFE project, soil amendment, asphalt production, etc.) and mining of critical minerals, such as rare earth. In addition, Wyoming Business Council is working with local mines on the opportunity to reclaim the sites and reuse its water and other infrastructure for other businesses. Work is also being done on zoning/rezoning for properties as industry zones and with nature conservancy to reuse existing mining sites.
- The challenges Wyoming faces in the energy transition include the lack of policy certainty and timeline clarity and its mismatch of its demography with the eligibility for getting the federal funding under the IRA for energy transition.
Rusty commented that one challenge Wyoming faces is not knowing when coal is going to be phased out as it makes it harder to plan. In addition, it has been difficult to get the advanced manufacturing grants as there are no resources to create the concept paper and there is no large union presence in Wyoming. Lastly, Brandi pointed out that Wyoming does not meet the eligibility to get the federal fundings for low-income fossil fuel communities because of the high income per capita and relatively low unemployment rate, nor does it fit the DEI category because it has a 60%-70% white population.
This begs the policy questions worth considering: (1) under the current political system, what are the best way to provide policy certainty and timeline clarity? (2) should the federal funding only be used for distressed low-income communities, or should it also be available to regions like Wyoming to help them proactively manage its energy transition, despite its high income per capita and low unemployment rate?
- While decarbonization will directly affect employment in fossil fuel regions, policy measures, such as targeted infrastructure investment and workforce retraining, can create more jobs and ensure just transition for these regions based on the MIT Roosevelt Project analysis.
Fossil fuel related jobs are heavily concentrated in 15 states, which are home to 60% of all fossil-related jobs, a total of about 1.6 million jobs. To evaluate the impacts of different energy transition policies to achieve decarbonization goals, the MIT Roosevelt project simulated three cases - Base, Decarbonization (without any just transition policies) and Roosevelt (with policies providing targeted infrastructure investment and job retraining along with domestic content rules for EV and batteries, and carbon border adjustment policies.) The simulation result indicates that nationally the Roosevelt Case produced 1.5 million more jobs than the Base Case and 7.5 million more jobs than the Decarbonization Case. The analysis also shows that investments in direct air capture, CCUS, and hydrogen were critical in fossil fuel dependent regions’ employment. Meanwhile, domestic content rules and carbon border adjustments were critical for the resurgence in manufacturing with the Heartland region.
This is a report for a study group titled The Future of Coal Regions, co-sponsored by the Reimagining the Economy Project and the Belfer Center's Environment and Natural Resources Program, designed for Harvard students to learn and share knowledge about the challenges facing coal-producing regions, to identify opportunities for overcoming these challenges, and to foster connections and collaborations between students, faculty, and affiliates. Over the course of Spring 2023, the study group focused on coal-producing regions around the world, but the discussion generated insights applicable to other fossil-fuel-producing regions.