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In my work as the Appalachia regional coordinator for a grassroots climate organization, I’m at ground zero of two of the most pressing challenges of the climate crisis. I work with coal towns like Madison, West Virginia, where livelihoods depend on the fossil fuel industry. I also work with communities like Norfolk, Virginia, that are experiencing rising sea levels and intensified storms made worse by climate change wrought by historic and continued fossil fuel use.

As America transitions to a clean energy future, we cannot let communities like the ones I serve fall behind. Thankfully, there are legislative solutions that will meet the unique needs of both types of communities. The legislative framework presented by carbon pricing is a no-brainer: it generates revenue to support our clean energy transition while ensuring the workers and communities impacted most during this time are taken care of. Crucially, it can be adapted to apply to communities across the spectrum of industry and geography.

A new bill introduced by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, and Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, would provide historic funding for communities in coal country, paid for by putting a price on carbon and other emissions. Miners and their families are squeezed by an industry that has faced precipitous decline in recent years: In the four years from 2016 to 2020, quarterly average coal employment across the U.S. fell 25%.

Sens. Whitehouse and Schatz understand these communities need support. Their bill proposes long-term investment in coal communities: five years of full wage, pension, and health care replacement for coal workers; a modern-day G.I. bill for coal workers and their children; lost revenue replacement for rural coal communities; and more.

As we make the necessary transition to the clean economy of the future, we can’t leave behind the energy veterans who have put their lives on the line to power our country for the last century. President of the United Mine Workers of America Cecil Roberts said in April, “We’ll take good paying jobs any way we can get them.” This plan is one way to make that happen.

By pricing greenhouse gases and air pollutants like particulate matter, the government can collect billions in revenue that will be returned to our communities. It’s a common sense solution that will help usher in a future with clean air, clean communities, and clean jobs. The bill I outlined above is just one of many carbon pricing solutions that can get us on track to combat the climate crisis while protecting the communities that need it most. What we can’t afford to do is delay action. Congress must act to lead us into the healthy, stable, and thriving future we want.

I’ve lived my whole life in Pennsylvania, which has the most acreage of any state in Appalachia. I know how special these communities are. Appalachians are resilient. We’re strong. And I’ve seen firsthand how adaptable we are. It’s this very adaptability that I believe is our best asset as we look to a fossil fuel-free future. In turn, our leaders in Congress must prioritize change that fosters a strong economic future for us while ensuring no community gets left behind.

Jon Clark is the regional coordinator for Appalachia at Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

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