Various groups in your community will feel the weight and possibilities of transition very differently. Build partnerships across sectors by gathering, respecting, and examining all perspectives to ensure that you create a long-term transition plan that all community stakeholders can support. Equitable collaboration depends on diverse, inclusive, and active participation. Those who are most impacted by the transition away from coal must be at the forefront of planning for what comes next in your community.
Following are descriptions of 10 different groups and the concerns and ideas they may bring to the transition planning process. This list is by no means comprehensive. Every community and partnership is different. Use these ideas as a starting point, then add more partner segments that are relevant to your community.
Common Partners in Community Transition
Leaders of your community’s nonprofit organizations, religious organizations, clubs, and even informal groups can deliver valuable grassroots insights on the concerns and hopes of residents.
This group should include and prioritize local residents who have borne the environmental impacts of the plant or mine and/or those whose voices are often not heard in planning discussions but who bring deep knowledge of community assets and needs based on lived experience.
Economic Development and Workforce Professionals
Organizations and agencies working on economic and workforce development can support communities and regions throughout the transition process, from addressing the immediate economic shock of a closure, to diversifying their economies and supporting the workforce over the long-term.
Environmental and Economic Justice Groups
These organizations can provide input to help communities address legacy environmental issues around a closed coal plant or mine, organize those most impacted by the closure to participate in the planning process, and provide recommendations for how to best leverage sites to address the needs and concerns of historically marginalized groups.
Labor and Trade Unions
Workers who lose jobs as a result of the closure will be able to describe the immediate impacts and provide valuable information about what they would like to see next.
Elected officials and other government employees bring a deep knowledge of tax and public funding issues. They may feel the added pressure of sustaining public services in the face of diminishing revenue.
Power Generation and Distribution Companies
In some cases, a closure may create tension between these stakeholders and others. However, they can bring important resources to the conversation and a willingness to be productive contributors to the community.
Depending on the agency, they have the ability to offer funding, technical assistance, and research. They also have the authority to pass transition legislation.
The private sector plays an important role in economic transitions and can provide the resources and expertise necessary to bring new economies to scale.
Tribal communities face unique opportunities and challenges in the transition away from coal. Tribal leaders bring deep knowledge of the issues that impact their tribe the most.
Bring All Stakeholders Together
Bringing the broader community together is the best way to create a response to an economic downturn. It is noted above but bears repeating: Those who are the most impacted or who have been sidelined from conversations in the past should be at the center of the decision-making process. When bringing the community together, ask people to share their solutions to the impacts they are experiencing
Identify Impacted Stakeholders
What people and places will be most affected by a plant or mine closure, either directly or indirectly? This list is probably longer than you think, and is driven by unanticipated ripples that occur over the months and years that follow a plant or mine closure. Ask your partners to help identify other impacted stakeholders. People feel those reverberations in the form of direct and indirect/secondary impacts. And those impacts may be anticipated, or take community members by surprise. To understand impacts in your community, ask people to share stories and express their experiences in their own words.
Direct impacts could include:
- Loss of property and tax revenue;
- Job loss at the plant and/or mines;
- Change in infrastructure needs and use;
- Legacy cleanup and remediation costs of coal-related operations; and/or
- Worker loss of identity/sense of self.
These might include:
- Gaps in the industrial and commercial supply chain of products and services;
- Loss of housing value;
- Higher residential and commercial vacancy rates
- Idle/oversized infrastructure;
- Loss of population and personal resources of time or talent;
- Declining revenue for local businesses that provide essential goods or services;
- Reduced local government bond ratings (which makes it more difficult to fund capital improvements);
- Family instability due to loss of income and health insurance; and/or
- Increased municipal insurance rates (these may rise as a local government’s ability to provide services decreases).
Direct and indirect impacts may affect specific portions of your community’s population more than others. For example, workers who lose jobs as miners or plant operators may feel the brunt of the transition more acutely than area business owners, at least in the short run. Likewise, some areas of your community may also feel the effects of a plant or mine closure more acutely—such as neighborhoods with a high concentration of unemployed workers, or school districts that may suffer declining enrollment if families move away.
Not all impacts of a closure are negative. Consider the new opportunities a transition may create and who in your community can help identify what is possible. Looking at your list of existing assets can help identify new opportunities and can inform your plan for the long-term.
Make a list of all the groups and organizations within your community that will be affected—either directly or indirectly—by a mine or plant closure. Invite a representative from each of those groups and organizations to take part in your community’s transition planning process.
In addition to those directly or indirectly affected, there will be others in your community who can add value to your transition planning. People with expert knowledge, connections, or even those known for visionary thinking or creativity can be key members of your planning team. Ask yourself:
- Who has influence in the community and how can this influence be used positively?
- What groups will lend a perspective that we might otherwise overlook (e.g., youth, labor unions, environmental groups)?
- Who can help the community find funding to support successful transition outcomes?
Design an Inclusive Engagement Process
Transition planning is messy work. Members of your community may have widely different priorities. Here are six tips for keeping the engagement productive and moving the process forward.
Six Ground Rules for Keeping the Engagement Productive
Honor the past.
Provide opportunities to acknowledge the generations of workers who have been employed by a plant or coal mine that is being closed and the importance that the plant has played in the community.
Use respected, neutral facilitators to create a safe space for discussions.
Find people and groups who can remain neutral and are respected in the community to help keep the conversations positive and forward-thinking. Identify the economic development agencies, chambers of commerce, and other organizations that are trusted proxies for economic development and social health and invite them into the conversation.
Make discussions accessible.
Hold facilitated discussions at various times of day to accommodate participants’ schedules. Bring the listening process to locations people can easily reach. Some successful communities have created regular times and places for community members to simply gather informally over coffee to discuss what is on their minds.
Acknowledge dissent, but avoid blame and denial.
Blame, denial, and lack of community cohesion regarding a positive way forward, cannot only bog down productive discussions, but also undermine your ability to secure funding or assistance at the regional or state level. Dissent is common, but a skilled facilitator or leader can manage it constructively to inform, rather than wreck, a productive conversation.
Stick to the facts.
Community engagement is most effective when the discussion is grounded in fact. Present the facts and impacts as you know them, provide resources to address unanswered questions, and set the stage for constructive input from the community.
Set clear goals.
Productive discussions have a clear purpose. Use the facts you have gathered and input from the various stakeholders to draft a set of goals for your transition process. Ensure that your community stakeholders can agree on those goals, or encourage them to draft goals together. This may take longer than you think, but consensus ultimately creates a much smoother process.
Develop Your Community’s Goals
Why Start with the Goals?
Everyone needs a destination in mind before moving forward. It is vital to develop and write down your community’s goals in achieving a just transition.
To some, this step may seem overly academic or even impossible. After all, how do you know what’s possible before you start? And what about all the unexpected twists and turns you’re bound to encounter along the way?
Coming to an early agreement on what your community wants to achieve is essential to a successful process. Remember, a goal doesn’t tell you how you’re going to get there. It just makes explicit how you will define success and how you will know you have achieved it. Doing this has several advantages that we will cover in this section.
Be warned: Setting meaningful goals is hard! It may be difficult to get the right level of focus from the various stakeholders. Some groups may be more adamant about certain facets of the problem than others. These challenges make it tempting to skip this step. It’s easier to say things like:
- “Let’s jump right in. We’ve lost enough time already.”
- “Everyone already knows what we want to do.”
- “We’ll figure things out as we go along.”
- “Things will change anyway, so why waste our time on this detail?”
- “This great opportunity (like a data center) has presented itself. We need to decide on it fast.”
So what happens if you skip this step and go right to discussing solutions? It will be impossible to compare and assess competing ideas or determine which ones have the best shot at getting you to where you want to be. Developing the group’s shared goals before you discuss possible solutions will make everything easier. You can then refer back to your shared goals when evaluating alternatives and making decisions.
Setting goals up front will help you have more focused discussions and frame competing interests within the larger context. Shifting opinions won’t derail the process. In other words, putting in the hard work to determine what your community wants to achieve in its transition efforts will pay off with a smoother, faster, and more efficient process that will ultimately lead to a higher likelihood of success. The effort spent in this phase of the process is time well spent.
Where Do You Start?
To start, you need to understand what a goal is, and what it is not.
A goal describes your ideal end state.
A goal describes where you want your community to be when your transition plan is fully implemented. It usually includes who is being supported, the geographic extent of your transition efforts, and the timeline of your expected outcomes.
A goal does not include a predetermined solution.
So you can say, “Our goal is to have a healthy local economy (reduce unemployment by 10 percent or reduce poverty by 10 percent) where community members are able to support their families with living-wage employment, start businesses in a business-friendly climate, and afford housing in the community.” This describes the end state of your planning efforts. However, if you said, “Our goal is to bring a large employer to the area,” that phrasing includes a solution. You will brainstorm and evaluate proposed solutions in a later stage of the process. Now is the time to create a shared vision by developing a goal (or set of goals) that everyone can agree on, not to start talking about possible solutions.
A goal does not include action items or tasks.
Remember, you are not stating how you will proceed, but rather what you want your ideal end state to look like. Statements like, “We will conduct a gaps analysis to see what needs to be done” or “We will hire a consultant to create a jobs impact report” do not belong in your goal. Those statements are describing tasks that may (or may not) be helpful in achieving your goal, but they are not your goal.
What you do next will flow from your goals. Many people think a “scope of work” is the right place to start any project. But a scope of work often describes what will be done and what steps will be taken. It belongs after goals have been defined and agreed upon by all stakeholders. If you have done a good job of defining your goals, you’ll find that the scope of work is fairly easy to write. The process of defining your goal(s) may seem overly methodical, but the sequencing of these steps is important.
Who Should Be Involved?
All of the stakeholders! There is a reason this step comes after you create your leadership team and community engagement process. It is essential to get input and consensus on the goal(s) from all stakeholder groups in your community. While the leadership team will take on some of the early tasks while taking stock (like identifying challenges and assets), developing shared goals involves your wider stakeholder group. It may feel like there are too many cooks in the kitchen, but it is vital that everyone’s voice is heard at this crucial step in the process.