Project Report:
Policies to Assist Coal Workers and Their Communities
- Investigates the causes of economic imbalances.
- Investigates the effect of the global financial system and/or the monetary system in fostering a sustainable economy.
- Investigates causes tending to destroy or impair the free-market system.
- Explores and develops market-based solutions.


In this project, Brookings scholar Adele Morris will participate in field-based listening sessions with community development and economic transition leaders in coal-reliant communities, as organized by the Partnership for Responsible Growth (PRG). She will also conduct research and engagement on the issues independently of the PRG. Brookings plans to submit a second proposal in January 2019 in which Morris will incorporate her findings from this work into a policy brief. The goal is to inform the provisions of carbon tax legislation that could provide funding for assistance to these workers and communities.

The Coal House, Williamson WV.  Photo Barrett Walker
The Coal House, Williamson WV. Photo: Barrett Walker


This memo summarizes the work performed under the grant ending June 30, 2019. Most of our work so far has been to meet with stakeholders and scope the range of issues that need further research for our research paper. Our goal remains to inform the provisions of carbon tax or other legislation that could provide funding for assistance to these workers and communities. We have also been researching what a decline of coal production means for the revenues to local governments, as reflected in our new paper with Noah Kaufman: “The Risk of Fiscal Collapse in Coal-Reliant Communities.”

In February 2019, my research assistant, Siddhi Doshi, went on a planning visit to West Virginia with Linda Lance and Jesse Vogel from Partnership for Responsible Growth (PRG). The purpose of the trip was to talk with individuals with organizations associated with coal-reliant areas in West Virginia. They spent time in Charleston, Beckley, Williamson, and Huntington, West Virginia.

In Charleston, they met with representatives of groups that work in capacity building and skill training. They were each familiar with other organizations doing similar work, but generally seemed to be working in silos with disjointed efforts. One cause for this is the system of small separate grants to fund their efforts, rather than one overarching program. Some expressed meeting fatigue; various organizations and policy makers come talk to them to understand the situation, little action has come of it.

In Beckley, our team met with a representative of a group that helps miners understand their healthcare and pension rights. It is funded by a grant from the Department of Labor, but bureaucratic hurdles impede accessing this grant. While there are career options for laid off miners which require minimal training, such as truck driving, few pay as well as a coal miner’s salary or benefits. The remoteness of the region also creates barriers to training and job options.

In Huntington, they met with representatives from a tourism company and social enterprises and works towards rebuilding Appalachia. Issues for Appalachia that came up in this meeting included a lack of transportation infrastructure, drug addiction, obesity, and limited opportunities for training and employment.

On April 30, 2019, Siddhi and I attended a coal listening session in Huntington, West Virginia. This session was organized by PRG, and the participants included various individuals involved in coal-related sectors in West Virginia and Washington, DC. The theme of the session was economic transition and revitalization, and discussion focused on current and potential policies and investments to address transition-impacted regions like West Virginia.

The conversation started with a discussion of community priorities for economic diversification. Hopeful diversification strategies included agriculture, tourism, fishing, and land and water conservation, along with small business development and social entrepreneurship. The event was held at a facility that local organizations promoted as an example of successful entrepreneurial efforts in Appalachia.

Participants expressed frustration at the current sources of funding for such activities. These sources are scattered across different channels, with each having its own complex bureaucracy and application processes. Ideally, the participants noted, the money would flow in as grants and not as loans. They also expressed a desire for more local funding for small projects, since most federal funds tend to go to larger projects. Agency grants, like those from USDA, are appropriated though states as well. Clearly, the administration and governance of assistance programs should be on our research agenda.

Access to healthcare, especially for coal miners suffering from black lung disease, and clean water (free of mining-based contaminants) remain challenges in these communities. Water quality impairments struck us as important impediments to attracting new businesses and investment to the area. How are these communities going to bring in new businesses and economic activity if the water is undrinkable? But we need to know how these water quality problems occur, exactly, and what can be done about it cost effectively.

An increasing number of coal-related bankruptcies, along with bankruptcy laws that allow coal companies to discharge liabilities, threaten healthcare benefits for workers and retirees and mine reclamation. We came away convinced that both issues are important for our research. We also concluded that we need to incorporate the trends and costs of black lung into our policy analysis.

Other potential federal programs and policies that received a push in the discussion included infrastructure programs, broadband, workforce training and digital education, and microlending programs (such as those from Small Business Administration). The discussion ended with participants stressing the urgency of the problem and urging federal action.


This project will allow us to conduct further research contributing directly to the Walker Foundation’s purposes:
• It investigates the underlying causes of economic imbalances, such as depressions, recessions and unemployment, and the factors which contribute thereto;
• It investigates causes tending to destroy or impair the free-enterprise system;
• It explores market-based solutions;
• It investigates approaches that can be applied to solving economic imbalances that may affect the United States, and challenges to the free enterprise system;

Our project will directly serve these objectives by exploring the range of pragmatic approaches to ameliorate the disproportionate impacts that a carbon tax will have on those reliant on the coal industry.


Under this proposal, Morris will participate in a series of local/regional meetings in both eastern and western coal communities organized by the Partnership for Responsible Growth (PRG). Her goal is to help improve communication between local citizens and organizations in coal-reliant areas and policymakers who are considering legislation that would price carbon. Although a number of recent carbon pricing bills have included support for coal workers (or energy sector workers more generally), none of them has included the detail necessary for appropriate implementation.
A major goal of our local meetings will be to find out what groups working in these areas have found to be effective tools over the past few years. A second major goal of this proposal is to help translate those findings into the potential provisions of carbon tax legislation.

Amounts Approved
$25,000.00 on 12/14/2018 (Check sent: 12/21/2018)
$1,000.00 on 3/29/2019 (Check sent: 4/17/2019)

Adele from April 2019 visit to WV
April 2019 visit to Huntington, West Virginia for a listening session with representatives from coal-reliant communities.

ClimateWire_Article_6-25-19 (PDF)
Coal House
Adele from April 2019 visit to WV
Report on Coal Workers Grant (PDF)
The Coal House, Williamson WV. Photo Barrett Walker

1775 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20036

(202) 7976000


Sarah Savoy
Director of Development, Foundations, ES, The Brookings Institution

Posted 11/30/2018 10:17 AM
Updated   9/25/2019 4:23 PM

  • Nonprofit

© 2024 Alex C. Walker Foundation