A powerful movement aims to reduce and eventually eliminate the burning of coal and to encourage a transition to clean, environmentally viable renewable energy. This effort is opposed by many coal-producing and coal-using corporations, who see it as a direct threat to their bottom line. But it is also feared by many ordinary workers, consumers, and citizens who are apprehensive that it may have a negative effect on their jobs, energy costs, and local economies.

Jobs Beyond Coal: A Manual for Communities, Workers, and Environmentalists is a guide for those who wish to make the transition from coal—and to make it in a way that is most beneficial and least threatening to ordinary workers, consumers, and community members. It is intended for communities, unions, environmentalists, native tribes, public officials, and anyone involved in or affected by coal-retirement campaigns.

The goal of this manual is to help those campaigning for a transition from coal to renewable energy to design their proposals, frame their appeals, and conduct their campaigns in ways that are most likely to win support and reduce opposition from workers, unions, and community members.

Whenever there are challenges to the use of coal, the impact on jobs, workers, and unions is almost always part of the equation. There have been many creative and constructive efforts to transition beyond coal in ways that address concerns about present and future jobs and the workers whose lives they affect. But all too often coal-producing and -using companies and their allies have been able to frame the issue as jobs versus the environment, with clean-energy advocates cast as a threat to coal-dependent jobs

Advocates of moving beyond coal need to be aware that, as Carl Wood of the Utility Workers Union of America put it, “Workers are used to being ground up and spat out by any change in society. In the U.S. there is no safety net for the victims.” [i]  He cited mechanics in a southeastern Ohio coal-fired power plant represented by his union whose jobs would be eliminated by the phasing out of coal as a very real example of how changes that might be socially beneficial could nonetheless threaten specific workers even if they result in more jobs in total.

Jobs Beyond Coal is designed to help make campaigns for clean, renewable energy simultaneously be campaigns for the expansion of future jobs and the protection of workers in existing jobs. It provides case studies and other information carefully selected and organized to be useful for that purpose. It also provides discussion and guidance on key strategic issues regarding jobs and the economy that need to be considered in planning and conducting campaigns around the transition beyond coal.

Transition Beyond Coal

The United States is in an era of conflict over the future role of coal in our energy system. This conflict is already well under way both at the level of national and state legislation and policy and in local communities and regions around the country.

The campaigns to transition away from coal have already stopped the building of more than 150 new coal plants. As of 2012 not a single new coal plant has broken ground in two years. Only a few states—notably Kentucky, Georgia, and Texas—are even considering building new coal plants.

But five hundred coal-fired power plants are still in operation; there are more than a hundred active campaigns aiming to convert or replace them with alternative clean energy.

A Jobs Strategy for the Transition Beyond Coal

It is possible to run campaigns to shut down coal plants or to prevent them from being built simply on the basis that they have harmful effects on health and the environment. But such campaigns are nearly always met by counterarguments that closing coal plants or preventing them from being built hurts jobs and the economy. The jobs-versus-the-environment frame is a crucial weapon of those who wish to profit from continued production and use of coal. That is likely to be even truer in today’s hard times, when people are desperate to hold on to any job if they have one and to secure any job if they do not. The coal-producing and -using interests will be able to mobilize fears about jobs and the economy to fight for preservation or even expansion of coal use unless those concerns are addressed.

Jobs Beyond Coal focuses on three strategies for countering those fears:

  • Building jobs and economic development into transition plans
  • Ensuring job security and livelihood guarantees for affected workers and communities
  • Reaching out to engage workers and their organizations in dialogue, consultation, and cooperation for moving beyond coal

Jobs Beyond Coal explores how to build these strategies into every aspect of campaigns for coal retirement.

About This Manual

Planning and executing a successful campaign has many aspects. This manual does not aim to provide a comprehensive guide to running a campaign to close a coal plant. Rather, its purpose is limited to providing the background and understanding needed to address the jobs and labor dimensions of such campaigns. For that reason it does not address the important but distinct question of a clean-energy transition for coal miners and their communities, except when they are directly connected with a particular power plant.

This manual is largely based on case studies of how jobs and labor issues have been addressed in a variety of coal-retirement campaigns. The case studies have been constructed primarily from publicly available sources, with additional information and insight drawn from interviews with participants and observers. Their purpose is to illustrate some of the possible ways clean-energy campaigns can address issues of jobs, workers, and unions, and some of the dynamics that can result. They are not intended as evaluations of particular campaigns or even particular decisions and tactics, and we urge that they not be considered as such.

The manual also includes examples of materials that have been used in a variety of campaigns. While every campaign needs to develop its own materials, these examples can help provide a starting point for that process.

We would like to thank the many people and organizations that have contributed information and insight for this manual. Special thanks go to Jennifer Coken, formerly of Western Clean Energy Campaign; Chris Deisinger, of Syntropy Energy Solutions; K. C. Golden, of Climate Solutions; Charlie Higley, of Citizens Utility Board of Wisconsin; Mary Anne Hitt and Margrete Strand Rangnes, of the Sierra Club; Wahleah Johns, of Black Mesa Water Coalition; Burt Lauderdale and Sara Pennington, of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth; Dave Poklinkoski, of IBEW Local 2304; Justin Wilson, of Western Clean Energy Campaign; and Meredith Wingate, Rachel Golden, and David Wooley, of the Energy Foundation. None of them share any responsibility for the contents. Preparation of this manual was made possible by the Energy Foundation.


[i] Joe Uehlein, “Will Workers Be Left Behind in a Green Transition?The Nation, May 5, 2009.