Give shut-out U.S. coal, auto workers a chance in green energy

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Senator Joe Manchin Democrat of West Virginia discusses climate policy coal and renewable energy at a press briefing at the IHS Markit CERAWeek conference in Houston

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By Timothy Gardner

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. coal and auto industry laborers who have lost jobs as the economy moves to green energy should be put to work in those technologies, and new legislation can spark that transition, Senator Joe Manchin said on Friday.

Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat who heads the Senate Energy Committee, introduced bipartisan legislation this week to provide $8 billion in tax credits for manufacturers to retool, or build new plants in coal and auto manufacturing communities so they can make climate friendly products.

As the country’s energy supply has changed, coal miners have felt shunned as U.S. soldiers did when the returned from the unpopular Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s, Manchin said at the virtually-held CERAWeek conference.

“Now we’re not good enough, we’re not clean enough, we’re not green enough, we’re not smart enough,” he said about sentiment in U.S. coal industry, where production is the lowest in decades and employment has plummeted more than 40% since 2008 to around 46,500 workers.

The Appalachia region, including West Virginia, used to be Democratic stronghold, but much of the region supported Republican Donald Trump in the last two elections, partially because of fears that Democrats want to stop fossil fuel production.

“A coal miner will build you the best darn windmill you’ve ever seen, they’ll build you the best solar panels, they’ll build you the storage, they’ll build you the batteries,” he said. “Just give them a chance.”

President Joe Biden, a Democrat, wants to steer 40% of the benefits of clean energy investments to coal and industrial states that have been left behind as he pushes to put the country on a path to decarbonize the economy by 2050. His energy department has created an office of energy jobs to help sidelined fossil fuel workers find employment.

Manchin’s bill is also sponsored by Senator Steve Daines, a Republican from coal-producing Montana. The legislation would expand an advanced manufacturing tax credit, known as 48c for its place in tax law, first created in the 2009 economic stimulus.

It is uncertain if the bill will become law. But Manchin, who holds a lot of power as a moderate Democrat whose vote will likely be the deciding factor in a wide range of legislation in the Senate tied at 50-50, could use it as leverage as Democrats map out climate legislation.

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