Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm promised that the Biden administration is working on ways to help communities like those in West Virginia devastated by the decline of coal and other fossil fuels, even as that state's senior senator warned that the global economy will continue to demand fossil fuels whether or not they're produced in the United States.
Speaking virtually Monday at the National Press Club, Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said Congress should remember that climate change is a global problem.
Manchin and Granholm spoke as the Biden administration touts a $2 trillion infrastructure plan and a $1.53 trillion fiscal 2022 budget that would invest heavily in clean energy initiatives it says will create new jobs. It also comes as lawmakers from fossil-fuel producing states question whether those jobs will be available to workers displaced by the transition to low-carbon energy sources.
Manchin, a potential swing vote on Biden’s public works proposal in a Senate split 50-50 between Republicans and the Democratic caucus, said the U.S. should invest in and export new energy tools to make fossil energy worldwide less damaging.
“We have many of our lawmakers in Washington and we have many people who believe just quit using fossil. That's all, that'll take care of the problem. It's called global climate, it's not called North American climate, it's not called West Virginia climate, it's global,” Manchin said.
Foreign nations, he said, “are going to use whatever fuels they have in their backyard. With that, we have to entice them to use the new technology, which we should be developing and manufacturing in America, preferably in West Virginia.”
The number of coal-mining jobs in America hit a peak of about 180,000 in 1985, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. That tally has generally fallen since. There were approximately 43,600 people employed in coal mining in March, data show.
Granholm, speaking at a virtual clean energy conference organized by the Labor Energy Partnership of the Energy Futures Initiative and the AFL-CIO, referenced a soon-to-be-released administration report on identifying communities hit hardest by energy market shifts and shrinking opportunities in fossil fuels.
The administration wants to direct federal resources to those communities, not just for retraining programs, but for convincing companies to locate their operations in those areas, she said.
“When we build the industries of the future in these communities, we're committed to creating and maintaining jobs in the short term, the medium term, with skills-matched work,” she said.