Commentary: Biden’s Climate Change Proposal and its Appalachian Consequences

President Joe Biden delivers remarks at NJ Transit Meadowlands Maintenance Complex to promote his "Build Back Better" agenda, Monday, Oct. 25, 2021, in Kearny, New Jersey. Photo: Evan Vucci/AP Photo
President Joe Biden delivers remarks at NJ Transit Meadowlands Maintenance Complex to promote his “Build Back Better” agenda, Monday, Oct. 25, 2021, in Kearny, New Jersey. Photo: Evan Vucci/AP Photo

President Biden’s climate plan attempts to set America on a clear path towards carbon neutrality and updating our infrastructure to take into account the energy transition that needs to take place in our country to avoid further perpetuating the climate crisis. 

As he heads overseas to a climate conference in Scotland, Biden has set a goal to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2030.  In order to do this, the country will have to take on widespread reforms in almost every sector of our economy with a specific focus on energy, infrastructure, transportation and housing. 

With a historic level of federal funding on the table through an infrastructure bill and federal budget negotiations still ongoing in Washington, it is important that Appalachian communities and leaders assess what specifically the Biden administration’s Climate Plan would mean for Appalachia. 

The Administration’s Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Community Economic Revitalization has identified over $3.5 trillion of federal funding for energy communities to help them transition their economies by investing in “infrastructure, environmental remediation, union job creation, and community revitalization efforts.” 

Biden’s spending areas on climate incite a revolution for fighting against climate change that has never been seen before: $150 billion for a Clean Electricity Performance Program is the center of Biden’s climate package. This program compensates utility companies to move away from the fossil fuel industry and to a cleaner, more climate-friendly form of energy, like solar, wind, hydropower, etc. The President proposes to pay utility companies if they make the switch, but if not, they could be fined. Electricity companies across America – and especially in the coal fields of Appalachia – have expressed their hesitancy with this system, as it may cause rates to increase for customers. 

Biden also plans to create a job-generating Civilian Climate Corps with $10 billion of his American Jobs Plan.  This program would generate employment for thousands of young people to increase efforts in the fight against climate change. Although this is not the original CCC that was initially established in 1933, Biden plans to do just as much good with a much more inclusive hiring process. The Sunrise Movement estimates that Biden’s CCC 2.0 will employ around 20,000 people a year, aiming to pay them a minimum of $12 – $15 per hour. For Appalachians, this means getting paid to conserve a place that we hold so close to our hearts. Especially if the minimum wage is $15 per hour, this section of Biden’s plan could aid in the just  economic transition that Appalachians deserve.

Appalachia, in many ways, finds itself at the nexus of the climate crisis and will continue to do so in the years to come. We have seen firsthand the impact of climate change with increased flooding across the region. This is compounded with a long history of labor exploitation, environmental degradation and now the economic downturn of the coal industry that once fueled our economy and contributed to the onset of the climate crisis. 

This bill poses a great opportunity for Congress to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change already being felt across the country – hurricanes, flooding, tornadoes and wildfires. Natural disasters will only continue to worsen unless we make significant changes to our infrastructure and everyday lives. 

As it sits, this legislation will be the largest climate change investment in history, leaving many folks on both sides of the aisle hesitant of the proposal, several of which represent parts of Appalachia. Biden’s goal of reducing emissions by half will not be reached by only targeting the coal and fossil fuel industries, but also the transportation industry that makes up nearly 30 percent of domestic emissions.

While corporate influence will continue to impact our region, as they have for well over a century, our communities need to begin advocating more fiercely that our representatives recognize the reality and severity of the climate crisis’ impending impacts in Appalachia. It is an issue that will eventually impact all of us; no matter our political affiliation, socioeconomic status, or background. 

In recent months, Eastern Kentucky and Western North Carolina experienced major flooding brought on by unprecedented rainfall as a result of the climate crisis. We are without question entering a period where unprecedented is our new normal, which will require our communities and our elected officials to take bold and innovative action. 

Stacie Fugate is a lifelong daughter of Appalachia. A recent graduate from the University of Kentucky, Stacie grew up in Hazard and is a 2017 alumna of Hazard High School. She currently holds a fellowship with Appalachians for Appalachia at the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky and is passionate about serving the people of Eastern Kentucky.

Baylen Campbell is the Executive Director of Appalachians for Appalachia and Director of InVision Hazard, two projects of the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky. Originally from Hazard, Kentucky, Baylen is passionate about policy, research, and advocacy work in Central Appalachia.

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