Foreign Correspondent: Sept 2
ABC heads to the US & Spain to see how different regions are managing the dying days of coal.
In Eric Campbell’s Foreign Correspondent, report “Old King Coal,” he travels to two countries to meet the people hardest hit by the energy revolution.
In Spain, the government has made a deal with unions to shut down the coal industry. In the USA, Trump promised miners he would save their jobs but didn’t deliver. Now Biden is pushing renewables at the expense of fossil fuels.
As the world gears up for crucial climate change meetings in Glasgow in November and countries commit to phasing out fossil fuels, reporter Eric Campbell travels to two countries to meet the people hardest hit by the energy revolution.
For 150 years, Asturias in northern Spain was a centre for coal mining.
Lluques Días Rozada comes from a long line of coal workers. “All my family; my father, my brother, my uncle, my grandfather, my grand grandfather”, says Lluques. But now, not him.
The coal industry here had been in steady decline since the 1990s with unions fighting government attempts to close unprofitable mines. But in 2018 they signed an agreement to phase out the entire industry. Today there’s just one coal mine left in Spain and it’s due to close in December.
The so-called Just Transition deal saw the government pledge hundreds of millions of dollars so miners and power workers could retire early or retrain for new green jobs.
“One of the goals is zero impact in employment”, says Spain’s Secretary of State for Energy, Sara Aagesen. “We will fulfill that. Yes. I think we can do it.”
Lluques and his friends have found new work but they worry about whether the promises will be kept.
“For 30 years they´ve been saying there will be restructuring, there will be a future for us and the only thing I see every day are friends leaving, highly skilled people with studies… and at the end of the day they have to leave”, says Lluques.
While the transition is painful, a renewable energy industry is springing up in its place. Companies are investing tens of billions of dollars in hydrogen, wind and solar farms.
It’s a different story in southern Illinois where the decline of coal has been slow and steady and without any transition plan.
At the Old King Coal festival in West Frankfort, southern Illinois, locals celebrate a proud mining history.
But the future looks bleak. The town’s population has dropped from 20,000 to 8,000 in past decades as mines have shut down.
The town believes coal could revive with government support. “We have hard working people, we just need a little leg up, a little help, to get back on our feet. I think coal is still viable”, says the mayor, Tom Jordan.
That looks unlikely, as the new Biden administration has pledged to slash emissions and help the country transition to renewables.
And in West Frankfort, there’s no union to negotiate an exit.
“The UMWA, United Mine Workers, they helped out a lot. They kept a lot of this, the glue that held everything together”, says retired miner Steve Salawich. “The coal mines around here now are non-union mines. And the companies, they can pretty much just do what they want. And that hurt this area a lot when the UMWA went out.”
The Glasgow Climate Conference could force governments around the world to confront the same dilemma …prepare for the end of coal now or just hope it has a long-term future.
Thursday 2 September at 8pm on ABC.