President-Elect Joe Biden said throughout his campaign: “I’m running as a proud Democrat, but I’ll govern as an American.”
As one of those Americans who care more about the country than any political party, I wish him success, and suggest we give him a way to demonstrate he’s serious about that claim.
Wyoming voted for Donald Trump by the largest margin of any state — with 70% of votes cast for the president, as opposed to 26.6% for Biden. Furthermore, there is almost nothing more contrary to the Democratic Party’s policies than helping coal — and Wyoming is a coal state.
Despite that, not every measure that helps coal communities creates greenhouse gases. Which means that if properly presented by our Washington delegation, we can offer President Biden policies that will give him an opportunity at his State of the Union address to demonstrate that he meant what he said, while not running afoul of his party’s platform.
Since winners and losers in the energy sector are largely determined by federal policy, the government has an obligation to protect communities that are impacted by changes in these policies.
Federal subsidies for renewables allowed onshore wind and industrial solar to become profitable, while regulations and tax policies that promote fracking led to a further decline in thermal coal consumption. These shifts in policy have had a devastating impact on our coal communities. Washington owes us attention and our Republican Congressional delegation — which will include newly elected Sen. Cynthia Lummis along with Sen. John Barrasso and Rep. Liz Cheney — should request four things of the Biden Administration that aren’t at odds with his party’s positions.
First, gain Biden’s support to include amendments to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 in the next round of COVID relief legislation. These amendments would include the nation’s coal communities as Opportunity Zones. This would provide significant tax benefits to companies interested in starting or relocating to coal communities.
Second, ask Biden to extend unemployment benefits to workers who lost their employment as a result of mine closures or reductions in coal production. This benefit should also include the professions that support the mines such as rail workers or vendors to the mining companies.
Third, request federal protection for pension and other retirement obligations that have been lost or put at risk as a result of recent bankruptcies. If we can protect banks after the 2008 mortgage crisis, we can certainly find the will to prop up our mining communities.
Fourth, establish a special committee within the EPA to create a plan to expand exports of our high-quality coal to Asia. The committee’s charge would be to expand exports while reducing global greenhouse emissions. In my Senate campaign, I commissioned a study that demonstrated burning Wyoming coal instead of the common forms of Chinese and Indonesian coal reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
This is State of the Union Address stuff: A grand gesture by Biden to support coal communities in, of all places, the state that voted overwhelmingly for his opponent.
All the while, he’d help working-class Americans, many of them union workers, and improve the environment. Everybody wins. But to do so, it will take bridge building and creativity on the part of our Washington delegation.
We need to lay down our weapons and instead respectfully make the case to a Biden Administration that there is likely no better opportunity to prove his intention to “govern as an American,” than to take these four steps.