Will Just Transition be a ‘just’ transition?
HB 1314 advisory committee promises to build trust, partner with community
If one thing was clear Wednesday night during the Just Transition community open house at Craig Middle School, it was that Moffat County residents will fight for survival and won’t take its quality of life direction from the Front Range.
More than 200 people turned up to take part in the two-hour meeting hosted by the Just Transmission Advisory Committee, which has been established as a result of Colorado House Bill 1314. The bill’s primary goal is to provide transition assistance to workers and communities impacted by Colorado’s move away from coal-based electrical generation by 2030.
While the community knows that disruption is certain, it doesn’t take the sting out of the state’s regulatory bite.
“The name of this is Just Transition. We know we are going through a transition, we just want to know how ‘just’ it’s going to be,” Craig City Councilor Ryan Hess said. “We’re taking the blow for zero emissions. We’re filling that burden. We’re doing our part and we’re losing our jobs. I hope this doesn’t become a political process and it’s more of a humanitarian effort.”
In a meeting where the tone could have been one of discouragement and anger, the crowd was largely focused on ideas for a sustainable economy in Craig and Moffat County while imploring the committee to help create new industry and new jobs that represent the fabric and values of the community.
Kindra Jazwick attended the meeting without her husband, who was at work as a coal miner. She urged the committee to look at jobs that reflect local workers.
“We’ve heard the shtick. And we don’t want that anymore. We know we are facing hard times. We know because we’re living it,” Jazwick said. “We need to incentivize businesses to come in here and give our guys a place to work. These are blue-collar guys, they aren’t going to do white-collar jobs.”
Ideas shared during the meeting included: making Northwest Colorado a hub for light manufacturing and carbon fiber industry innovation, seeking federal and state funding to position Moffat County as the capitol of low water, grass and silage research, incentivizing and recruiting new business by improving the current rail and transportation infrastructure and paying special attention to addressing the mental health needs of those in the community struggling with transition.
While the Just Transition group won’t be making policy or have a say in decisions regarding the future of coal in Colorado, they are tasked with assisting communities affected by the coal transition.
Wade Buchanan, Just Transition Advisory Committee Director, acknowledged the committee needs to prove itself to Moffat County. He said they have a “direct assignment from the legislature” to find ways with these communities to make sure they thrive and “be part of the Colorado family.”
Committee members said several times that Wednesday’s meeting would not be the only visit to Moffat County. However, with the draft plan due in July 2020 and no future meetings listed on the website, it’s unclear what’s next.
“I hope they listened to us last night,” Craig Mayor Jarrod Ogden said Thursday. “We don’t need a survey or a study to know what to do. We already know. Craig was here before the plant was built and it will be here after the plant is gone. What does our picture look like in the future? The best picture we can paint.”
Ogden is crystal clear that the ideas and the will already exist. The missing pieces are connections to the policy makers, investors and economic leaders who will help make big things happen and the financial support to put ideas into action.
“We have a community that is working better together and more unified than ever before,” he said. “We don’t need lip service. If you can’t help us, then don’t be a speed bump. Get out of the way and go Just Transition someone else.”
Citizens also voiced concern about the perception that environmentalists aren’t fans of most of Moffat County’s big industry – ranching, mining, hunting and coal.
“It’s taken us a hundred years to learn how to do resource extraction. The environmental community does not like any of this and is trying to shut all of this down as of yesterday,” said Moffat County resident Ran MacDonald. “According to the assessor’s office, 46 percent of our property tax revenue is associated with resource extraction. If we lose that all in 20 years, we are going to take a kick to the gut in terms of our economy.”
The topic that silenced the room fastest was mental health. Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner Janelle Hoaglund encouraged the committee and the community to recognize the need to care for children and young adults who will see their parents struggling with the transition. She cautioned that without a plan, the community could face increased substance abuse, depression and suicide.
“I am a coal miner’s daughter, by gosh. My dad worked damn hard for everything we had. I would not be standing here today if it wasn’t for all of his overtime he put in at Twentymile Coal Company,” she said. “That man gave his life to that mine.”
Brad Campbell, who relocated to Craig from Nucla, has been through one power plant shutdown already and offered insight on keeping the community together.
“There’s a lot of stuff we can do ourselves – start businesses, spend money, do things for our neighbor. Take care of things that we already have here,” Campbell said. “Take care of each other and take care of yourselves.”
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On a summer morning in southern Idaho, the day breaks early, before 6 a.m. The air is stale, never fully cooled from the heat of the day before.