In Colorado and around the country, workers and communities are facing the impacts of the transition away from coal energy to cleaner, more sustainable energy sources. As this transition takes shape, supporting the workers who have powered our nation for decades remains imperative. Predicting the far-reaching impacts of coal closures, Colorado established the Office of Just Transition in 2019 to transform the economics of rural Colorado coal towns while protecting workers before, during, and after coal closure deadlines.
As of September 2023, the Office operates with four full-time employees and the support of a 19-person advisory committee with representatives from local government, state government, organized labor, utility companies, and workforce and economic development. The Office has received $32.5 million in legislative appropriations to-date, split between economic development ($17.5 million) and worker support ($15 million) efforts. Starting in 2021, the Office’s Community and Economic Development Manager has created a variety of economic development programs and grants in conjunction with the Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) to help coal communities diversify their economies and attract new businesses. On the worker side, the Transition Workforce Program Manager has been gathering information on coal workers for a survey, conducting meetings and interviews with workers in Yampa Valley, and compiling a literature review on transition best practices and lessons to inform the Office’s work.
The Office accomplished many of its initial goals, which included developing some of the first ever pre-transition supports in the country. However, many key policies, programs, and support mechanisms still need to be designed and implemented to improve worker transition outcomes. In order to assess these opportunities, the BlueGreen Alliance worked with Gianna De Filippis, a graduate student at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy to author Supporting Colorado’s Coal Communities, a report that analyzes the Office’s impact on communities and implementation of worker support since its creation. The report reviews the Office’s actions to date, identifies challenges and barriers to success, and provides recommendations for how it can continue to meet its objective of providing tangible support to coal transition workers and communities.