Spain Wants To Phase Out Coal Plants Without Hurting Miners

Under its new strategy, the country is ensuring that the over 1,000 miners who stand to be affected will be able to transition into new jobs in renewables and environmental restoration.

During the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump won over voters in coal country by claiming he would keep mines open, and retain coal as a prominent energy source in the U.S. His argument was an economic one: He knew that miners were worried about their jobs, and that many did not see a path forward should the mines close.

But closing mines does not have to mean a loss of work. Done thoughtfully, it could present an opportunity for new economic growth, and environmental renewal. That’s what Spain is looking to accomplish via its recent commitment to close nearly all of its coal mines by the end of this year. The Spanish government and unions that work with private coal mines just reached a deal that will bring €250 million ($285 million) in investments to mining regions in the form of early retirement funds for miners over age 48, and comprehensive retraining schemes and economic support for younger miners.

With this newly announced deal, Spain is providing the rest of the world a model in how to accomplish a “just transition” away from polluting energy sources like coal. The larger just transition movement advocates for a shift to renewable energy in a way that protects the economic livelihoods of the people who stand to be affected by that shift. By ensuring that the over 1,000 miners who will lose their jobs in the closure of the 10 coal plants have a safety net already in place, Spain is aiming to prove that a just transition can happen equitably, if a country lines up resources to support workers beforehand.

In The Guardian, Montserrat Mir, the Spanish confederal secretary for the European Trades Union Congress, said that she thinks other regions grappling with how to move away from coal could learn from Spain’s model. “Spain can export this deal as an example of good practice. We have shown that it’s possible to follow the Paris agreement without damage [to people’s livelihoods]. We don’t need to choose between a job and protecting the environment. It is possible to have both.”