Project Report:
Coal Country Just Transition Listening Sessions
- 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.


The Partnership will work with Adele Morris at Brookings Institution to schedule field-based listening sessions with community development and economic transition leaders in coal-reliant communities; will consult with her on her research and policy analysis; and submit a second proposal in January 2019 to undertake additional sessions. The goal is to inform the provisions of carbon tax legislation that could provide funding for assistance to these workers and communities.


SUBJECT: Progress Report on Coal Country Just Transition Listening Sessions

Since receiving our grant from the Alex C. Walker Foundation, the Partnership for Responsible Growth has expanded our team, adding Jason Walsh, a former Obama official who helped craft the administration’s POWER+ initiative for coal communities, as a part-time senior advisor. We’ve also secured a small amount of funding for Jason’s consulting work; $10,000 for our national partner, the National Wildlife Federation; and up to $45,000 to provide grants to local coal community organization partners. Meantime, we’ve been busy laying the groundwork for our first coal country just transition listening session.

Though we have continued to do phone outreach to potential partner organizations in other coal states, we are focused on West Virginia as the site of an initial listening session because of the quality of our relationships in the state and the strength of local civil society organizations there. At the invitation of Coalfield Development, a nonprofit that’s incubated a network of five social enterprises employing former coal miners and others in southern West Virginia, we visited the region in late February for introductory conversations with community leaders. The purpose of this trip was to build trust with key organizations, identify potential partners, and gain perspective on how to shape an agenda for an initial listening session that would be useful to participating national policy experts and local community organizations and leaders.

In addition to attending Coalfield Development’s region-wide monthly staff meeting in Huntington, we met with:

• Emma Pepper, West Virginia Community Development Hub, Charleston
• Emmett Pepper, Energy Efficient West Virginia, Charleston
• Kelly Bragg, West Virginia Office of Energy, Charleston
• Anne Barth, Tech Connect West Virginia, Charleston
• Brett Dillon, United Mineworkers of America Career Center, Beckley
• Jeffrey Lusk, Hatfield-McCoy Trails, Man
• Marilyn Wrenn, Coalfield Development, Huntington

We were grateful to have Siddhi Doshi, Adele Morris’ research assistant at the Brookings Institution, join us on this trip.

Broadly, local leaders we met with were kind, welcoming, and supportive of further dialogue on issues of economic development, economic diversification, and just transition. We were upfront about our work on national carbon pricing policy, but we emphasized our strong commitment to addressing local economic challenges. We discussed how communities see the future of their local economies given the decline of coal, what local groups and leaders are doing to support workers and communities in that transition, and what federal policy tools would be most useful in addressing local priorities. Most everyone we met understood that West Virginia needs to move past coal. That served as a starting point for discussion. Many expressed gratitude for our having made the trip to this rural region of their state and were thankful for our interest in what they had to say.

Though we found broad support for the concept of building local listening sessions on economic development and diversification post-coal, we also learned that it will take time to get the participants and agenda right. One community leader told us there is some “meeting fatigue” in the region, as outsiders have eagerly sought to meet local West Virginians (and Trump supporters in particular) after President Trump’s election and as progressive groups have tried to pivot toward addressing rural working class concerns. Additionally, the distances between coal communities and the rural way of life mean that it takes time to travel to meetings and to develop trust with locals. Given our belief that the trust of local partners will make the end product – a network of communication and a successful and candid conversation leading to good federal policy development – stronger, we believe we cannot rush the organizing process.

The trip reaffirmed our understanding that there is a lot of interesting and innovative local work on economic diversification and transition and that there are several local networks of key organizations and leaders. Coalfield Development will likely serve as a key convening partner, and we are pursuing further conversation with the West Virginia Community Development Hub, an organization with statewide reach. Many of these organizations have received POWER grants through the Appalachian Regional Commission and have built a network of local community development practitioners through the grant application process. We also learned about the Central Appalachian Network of seven anchor organizations across the West Virginia-Virginia-Ohio-Kentucky-Tennessee region. We are scheduling a call with them to learn about their work and consider how our project will or will not overlap with their efforts.

It is troubling that despite significant federal government investment in the region, deep poverty and significant structural economic challenges remain. That indicates to us the need to approach future federal investment in the region differently--by working from the bottom up, by carefully listening and learning to local leaders about what’s worked and what hasn’t, and by conducting targeted research on the most promising policies. Our visit confirmed that there has been and continues to be a lack of that local outreach, and that communities are anxious for it. We believe our project will help address this missing piece.

We have identified three next steps: (1) a further round of phone and email outreach to West Virginia community leaders with the goal of making another trip for one-on-one conversations in early April, primarily to the heavily impacted counties of Mingo and McDowell, where the schedules of several local leaders made it impossible to meet with them on our last trip; (2) identifying a date for our first listening session in West Virginia in late April or early May; (3) continuing outreach to potential Kentucky partners to identify prospects for initial meetings in Eastern Kentucky as part of our next trip to West Virginia. Understanding that organizing initial meetings in West Virginia and Kentucky will do a lot to inform our approach to later meetings, we are focusing on setting up these eastern listening sessions before engaging in the West.

Thank you again for your generous support of this project. We learn more every day about coal country, and are more convinced that this work can fill a gap in past policy processes that could really make a difference.


This project will allow us to conduct further research and analysis on:
1. Economic imbalances such as unemployment and recessions resulting, in part, from technologicai change.
2. Investigates the ability of the market system to foster sustainabililty.
3. Explores how best to use a quintessential market-based solution (carbon pricing) that by failing to price externalities undermines the market system
4. Develops a market-based system to help those in distress and to fortify market credibility.


Any viable new bipartisan climate effort is likely to have a price as its core, and will not only mitigate carbon pollution but also raise significant amounts of revenue. A small percentage of that could be a down payment on needed economic and community development investments.

Yet a lack of consistent relationship-building and information-sharing on these issues between national organizations and local citizens in coal country hampers prospects for intelligent “just transition” policy development.

To facilitate the development of new communication channels and better policy choices, the Partnership will organize four field-based listening sessions in which national organizations will listen to and learn from community development and economic transition leaders in impacted communities. With policy experts including Adele Morris, we will develop options for incorporating programs these local representatives believe could be most effective into the national policy dialogue.

Amount Approved
$25,000.00 on 12/14/2018 (Check sent: 1/11/2019)

Coal fired power plant
A power plant fueled by trainloads of coal. Communities in Appalachia are facing economic decline as coal-fired power plants are replaced by cleaner, cheaper natural gas. Photo from shutterstock.

Coal country listening session in Whitesburg, KY
Coal country listening session in Williamson, WV
Coal fired power plant

1133 19th St NW
Third Floor
Washington, DC 20036

(202) 3203003


Mr. George T Frampton Jr.
CEO, Partnership for Responsible Growth

Posted 12/11/2018 5:44 PM
Updated   12/18/2019 11:37 AM

Coal country listening session in Whitesburg, KY
Coal country listening session in Whitesburg, KY. Photos by Barrett Walker.

Coal country listening session in Williamson, WV
Coal country listening session in Williamson, WV.

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