Hairy starfish regeneration,” Hine

Back in 2018, NPQ reported on the Just Transition Fund, an initiative that, spearheaded by the Rockefeller Family Fund, the Appalachian Funders Network, and six other philanthropic partners, sought to distribute federal funding under President Barack Obama’s POWER (Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization) initiative to communities impacted by a vanishing coal economy.

Conversations about “just transition” have received a boost with President Joe Biden’s slew of executive orders, which include a moratorium on new oil and gas leases on public lands and an overarching goal to transition the country toward clean energy by 2050. Advocates have always argued that a “just transition” is necessary not only to protect local economies but to center workers and communities in the solutions.

“The critical action underway to tackle the climate crisis must also ensure that the communities that produced the fuels that powered America for generations—the places where we live and work, from Navajo Nation to the Powder River Basin to Appalachia and beyond—are not left behind,” reads a letter that a coalition of 13 groups sent to Biden in January. “To ensure durable support for climate action and to safeguard the livelihoods and well-being of millions of people in coal communities, our nation needs to get this transition right.”

By looking at these communities and taking a deeper look at the Just Transition Fund’s impact, we can envision how this transformation could look for the rest of the country. To date, the fund has awarded $8.3 million in grants and leveraged $172 million in public and private investments to support projects to redefine local economies impacted by coal plant closures. Grantees informed funders, however, that money alone wouldn’t be enough without the support of transition movement infrastructure and technical resources for local municipal leaders to develop supportive economic policies and tangible projects.

Over time, this demand for more ecosystem support materials has led to the publication of two valuable resources: the Blueprint for Transition and the National Economic Transition Platform.

The Blueprint is an online “get started” resource for those just beginning to think about economic alternatives to coal dependence. Focused on six basic steps—engage early, find facts, bring your community together, engage diverse stakeholders through the planning process, find funding, and plan for the long term—it’s a resource that draws on the knowledge of communities and nonprofit leaders.

To give just one example, leaders in Becker, Minnesota, facing the likelihood of a closing a coal power plant, took early preventative measures to brace for the impact of job and tax revenue losses. Conversations began seven years before the first of the plants was shuttered, and today, the town has a new recycling company.

“Of course, no single set of recommendations for a just transition will fit every community. Developing locally crafted solutions is essential…these are assets and recommendations that can be customized to work where you live, given the circumstances you face,” explains Emily Rhodes, a technical assistance and planning manager for the Just Transition Fund.

The National Economic Transition Platform released last summer builds on the work of 80 local, regional, and national organizations and offers a national framework for a just transition. It embodies a year-long collaboration that built on a series of in-depth interviews and community meetings in 2019, including three regional meetings in Appalachia, the Midwest, and the West. The platform is accessible online and includes a series of policy and local initiative recommendations—from investing in local leadership, family-sustaining jobs, and locally-owned business (dubbed “restorative economic development”), to workers’ rights and land remediation.

The fruitful overall work of this expanding network is both impressive and inspiring. At NPQ we look forward to exploring more deeply into these community-driven triumphs towards climate and economic justice—Sofia Jarrin

Correction: This article has been amended to reflect the correct amount of funds invested by JTF in coal transition projects.