Office of Just Transition’s final action plan highlights four key strategies for affected workers
OJT says the goal for workers is protecting the economic security of coal workers and their families
As Moffat County moves forward in adjusting to the decision to move away from coal as an energy provider forced on the communities from the state level, the Office of Just Transition’s final action plan highlights four key strategies for coal transition workers in hopes of helping those workers and families “transition” to a new career.
Due to Colorado’ initiative to transition to clean energy by 2040, the Yampa Valley (Moffat, Rio Blanco and Routt Counties) will see significant upheaval when it comes to the way of life locally, which has relied on the coal industry for more than 50 years.
With significant upheaval coming for Moffat County and the Yampa Valley as a whole, the state of Colorado and Governor Jared Polis passed Colorado House Bill 19-134, establishing the advisory committee for a Just Transition plan, tasking the committee with developing recommendations for the state.
The Office of Just Transition submitted its final action plan to Gov. Polis on Dec. 31. In the final action plan, the OJT highlighted four key strategies for helping workers and their families transition.
HB 19-1314 defines a “coal transition worker” as “a Colorado worker laid off from employment in a coal mine, coal-fueled electrical power generating plant, or the manufacturing and transportation supply chains of either.” By this definition, somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 Coloradans currently are potential coal transition workers.
Of the 2,000 to 3,000 workers expected to be impacted, close to 500 reside or work in Moffat County at Trapper Mine, ColoWyo Mine, and Craig Station.
As with the communities in which they live, some of these workers will face far more significant challenges than will others.
In Moffat County, transition for some coal workers has already started, which is much earlier than the OJT expected in its final action plan. According to the action plan, actual layoffs from the power plants, and from any coal mines due to the closure of these plants, were not expected to begin until later in the process — perhaps not until 2025, with the largest numbers likely not coming until 2028 or later. Trapper Mine recently laid off 22 people due to a drop in production needs.
While some of these workers will choose to move away from coal communities, one top goal of the action plan is to help affected communities retain as many workers as possible by providing good opportunities for them to continue to thrive where they are.
If a laid off worker decides to move or not, the OJT says it wants to engage them early in the state’s workforce development system, as the Just Transition Advisory Committee recommended in late July.
The OJT says that will be the best way to assist all who are interested in developing individual transition plans “for achieving their financial, career and/or retirement goals while maintaining or achieving economic self-sufficiency.”
The OJT hopes to achieve that for workers and their families through four strategies.
Empower workers and their families to plan early for future success
The first worker’s strategy entails reaching out broadly to power plant workers, miners, and others early in the closure process — perhaps 2 years ahead of an announced closure — to establish a relationship between them and the state workforce system, according to the action plan.
The first strategy also includes reaching spouses and other members of their households whose future employment may be key to family economic security.
“Our goal is for these early relationships to lead to effective early planning, counseling, career coaching, job training and other activities that will shorten the transition period for these workers and their families and help them find high quality opportunities after coal,” the action plan states.
The OJT says it is working with the Division of Employment and Training at CDLE to develop an outreach strategy, workforce toolkit and quick action plan to deploy when closures are announced. This strategy will include identifying any additional resources that may be needed, the action plan says.
Encourage the federal government to lead with a national strategy for energy transition workers
The OJT says it will work with the Governor’s Office and relevant Cabinet representatives to explore the feasibility of and gauge support for a national strategy to assist displaced energy workers. The OJT added that it will reach out to legislative leadership, Colorado’s congressional delegation, transition communities, labor leaders, utility representatives, environmental organizations and more to share the concept and enlist support.
“Based on the response, we will work with the delegation to develop a legislative strategy and with allies to develop an advocacy strategy and try to build a broad national coalition of support,” the OJT said regarding the second worker strategy.
Prepare, for future consideration, a detailed state program to help displaced workers build skills, find good jobs, or start businesses
In the rough draft submitted last summer, the Just Transition Advisory Committee recommended the state develop “a package of training, job search and relocation support services, similar to the federal Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) Program, to help workers achieve their transition goals.”
The OJT action plan says it will push for the TAA from a federal level, but if the strategy will not result in federal action, the OJT wants the state to be ready with options for consideration for a state-level program.
The OJT says it will lead a process within CDLE, with the assistance of other stakeholders as appropriate, to design a detailed proposal that reflects both the goals of the JTAC and the fiscal realities of the State of Colorado.
“The proposal will emphasize a broad range of skill development and education choices to help displaced workers maximize their future opportunities,” the action plan states. “Our goal will be to have a proposal complete by October or November 2021. We will also work to build consensus among stakeholders to support a common approach.”
Explore strategies to protect family economic security through the transition
In the final workers strategy, the OJT will continue to work with state economists to estimate the costs of different assistance options to more accurately inform future decision making.
Additionally, the State will engage existing employers in the coal industry to discuss the role they can and should play in assisting with worker transitions through severance packages, funding retirement benefits, and other strategies.
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