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Miners’ Union Supports Biden Energy Plan, Demands Jobs and ‘Clean Coal’

Man at podium with man in foreground
Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry listens as President Joe Biden speaks to the virtual Leaders Summit on Climate, from the East Room of the White House, Friday, April 23, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The country’s largest miners’ union is backing the Biden administration’s proposed transition to clean energy. In a release, United Mine Workers of America made it clear that they understand coal is well on its way out.

They’re demanding a few things in return, including job training for coal miners moving to new fields and more funding for ‘clean coal,’ or technologies that mitigate the impact of continued coal use.

Federal and state governments have increasingly written coal out of their long term plans in favor of natural gas and renewables - that shift ultimately manifested in economically devastated mining communities.

Nino Ripepi, a third generation miner and an associate professor at Virginia Tech, says lost mining jobs end up having a ripple effect in the community, eliminating even more jobs at hospitals, restaurants and more.

“Basically, their revenues have gone down considerably, and that changes what they can do for communities,” Ripepi said.

In Virginia, coal employment has fallen by about half in the last decade. A new state law will sunset tax credits for coal jobs starting next year. The law’s patrons say the money wasn’t providing economic benefit to the regions most impacted by lost coal mining jobs.

But the mine worker union still has members and history here. The union organized major strikes against Pittston Coal Company in Southwest Virginia in the 1980s. Now they say it’s their responsibility to protect coal families against further harm.

When the union demands ‘clean coal,’ they’re calling for a wide range of methods and technologies that advocates say reduce carbon emissions from the fuel.

Ripepi has worked on carbon capture and storage technology for two decades.  It falls under the clean coal umbrella, but can be used for emissions from other point sources like natural gas.

“If we want to reduce CO2 emissions considerably, I think we have to keep carbon capture and storage on the table as an option,” Ripepi said.

He says installing the tech creates and protects jobs. And making current energy cleaner is essential as electric vehicles promise a new burden on the grid.

But, critics say this technology doesn’t do enough, and that reducing emissions to zero as soon as possible is the only way to protect against the worst effects of climate change.


Patrick Larsen is VPM News' environment and energy reporter, and fill-in host. He began his career as a VPM News intern in 2019 and has covered pipelines, urban heat islands, the electric grid and more. You can find him biking in Bryan Park, petting neighborhood cats or listening to live music.