Executive Summary

This manual is intended for anyone—communities, unions, environmentalists, native tribes, public officials, and others—involved with or affected by the retirement of coal-fired power plants. It is designed as a guide for those who wish to make the transition away from coal in a way that is most beneficial and least threatening to ordinary workers, consumers, and community members.

In the past decade, a broad-based campaign has formed to move America beyond coal and power the nation with clean energy. The movement includes people from all walks of life—medical professionals, faith leaders, environmentalists, business people, workers, decision makers, and local residents—who are working to address the serious pollution problems caused by coal and to seize the economic opportunity offered by clean, safe, renewable energy.

This campaign has been remarkably successful, preventing the construction of more than 165 new coal-fired power plants, and thereby keeping energy markets open for clean energy. In state after state, as new coal proposals have stalled, advocates have launched campaigns to retire existing coal plants and replace them with clean energy, securing the retirement of more than 110 existing coal plants to date.

The coal industry and their allies regularly claim that jobs, workers, and unions benefit from coal plants and that transitioning away from coal will harm them. Industry claims about creating or protecting jobs have often proved fallacious or hugely exaggerated. Still, this message resonates powerfully in tough economic times and presents a real challenge to coal retirement efforts.

Several recent campaigns have demonstrated that coal retirements can be structured in ways that take care of affected workers and the area economy, and even win the support of organized labor and local decision makers. As the case studies described in this manual show, addressing these economic challenges is most effective when the concerns of workers and the local economy are built into the campaign objectives, messaging, proposals, action, and interventions in policy arenas.

As this manual explains, proposals for alternatives to coal-fired plants can be designed in ways that maximize job opportunities, and can often be shown to be more job- and worker-friendly than coal-based alternatives. Proposals to transition particular plants away from coal can be connected with a wide array of green job creation and economic development proposals that are already being developed and implemented in many states and communities.

Coal transition advocates should insist that the cost of transitioning to clean energy should not be borne by workers who, through no fault of their own, depend for their livelihoods on facilities that society decides to phase out. Meeting the legitimate needs of those workers should be part of the policy proposals coal transition advocates fight for. This manual shows that it can be and indeed has been done.

Organized labor plays an important role in energy policy discussions, and coal-retirement advocates should engage with unions directly to learn about—and address—labor’s concerns about existing jobs, future jobs, job quality, energy prices, energy security, and economic development. By being proactive in building these relationships, coal-retirement advocates will be better positioned to help ensure that the needs of workers and local communities are met as part of positive transition plans. This manual helps provide advocates with a road map for that important work.