In Arizona, former coal workers—many of whom are from the Navajo Nation or Hopi Tribe—are preparing for major layoffs. The Navajo Generating Station is officially on its death bed. The last coal train left the Kayenta Mine Monday, reports Arizona Central, marking the end of an era of carbon emissions and air pollution. It also points to the need to help workers impacted in the transition away from fossil fuels.
The largest coal plant in the West and its accompanying mine have been on the road to being shutdown since 2017 after the utility owners decided that coal was no longer profitable in an energy market where natural gas was prevailing. Since then, leaders in the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe have tried to prevent the plant from shuttering by calling on Congress to intervene, protesting, searching for new owners, and suing.
None of these efforts have worked, however. The facilities will be shut down by the year’s end. While the closure of a major coal plant—which emits more than 20 million tons of carbon dioxide in a single year—is a major win for the planet in the age of climate change, it’s awful news for Native American communities that have become economically dependent on the jobs the plant and mine created.
Layoffs are starting this month at the Kayenta Mine, and 265 workers will lose their jobs. Come winter, hundreds more will lose their jobs, reports the Tucson Sentinel. The annual salaries for these workers ranged between $70,000 to $74,000, according to a county report. Many may have to move out of state to find competitive work in other coal mines. By 2021, the Navajo Nation as a whole will suffer a $40 million loss in revenue.
This situation illustrates the need for what advocates have dubbed a “just transition,” ensuring proper protections and training are in place for the fossil fuel workers as the world transitions to clean energy. The fossil fuel industry can’t exist in a world where we’re making strides to solve climate change, but these workers can’t just be thrown to the wind. They need training and assurance that there’s a spot for them in our clean energy future.
The Navajo Nation has been looking more and more to solar in recent years. The tribe received a $94 million loan earlier this year to complete a solar farm, which has temporarily employed some members of the nation, according to a local public radio station.
Recovering from this loss financially won’t be easy, though. The transition toward clean energy must happen to fight climate change, especially in a community where many don’t even have electricity.