Washington, D.C. – Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and a group of his colleagues introduced the American Energy Worker Opportunity Act to provide critical resources and training opportunities to assist and empower workers whose jobs are affected by the energy industry’s move toward cleaner sources.
"Across Colorado, I’ve heard concerns about the effects coal mine and power plant closures have on our communities," said Bennet. "As we work to transition to a 21st century, clean energy economy, we must make sure that energy workers – who have powered our economy for decades – are at the forefront of our approach. The American Energy Worker Opportunity Act would provide critical wage replacement and health benefits to workers and invest in training and education programs to help them transition to new, good-paying jobs."
The bill would create a worker transition program with wage supplements, health care benefits, education and training funds, and an additional education benefit for children of laid-off workers. It would include:
- Eligible workers: workers whose employment is terminated from a coal mine, coal-fired power plant, coal transport, or oil refinery, provided that the worker was employed continuously and full time for at least 12 months prior to layoff, with authority for the Secretary to add additional groups of fossil fuel-dependent workforces as employment impacts make it necessary.
- Wage supplement: workers will receive wage replacement or supplement in addition to assistance to maintain health benefits and contribute to retirement.
- Worker education and training: workers will be eligible for grants for allowable education and training up to and including a four-year degree
- Education for the children of dislocated workers: direct educational grants for the children of dislocated workers deemed eligible by the program for allowable education and training up to and including a four-year degree.
The proposal would also prioritize employers who plan to hire eligible workers for the clean energy grants created under the Build Back Better plan.
Earlier this year, Bennet held a roundtable discussion in Craig, Colorado with the Northwest Colorado Development Council and local leaders on his proposal to create a permanent, long-term source of funding to boost economic opportunities in rural communities like those in Northwest Colorado facing fiscal challenges due to declining revenues from coal plant and mine closures. That proposal and the bill released today would complement each other by supporting workers and their families, as well as their surrounding communities, in the transition away from fossil fuels towards new economic opportunities.
In addition to Bennet, this legislation is co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)
The legislation is endorsed by: The United Mine Workers of America International, United Steelworkers (USW) International, the Utility Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO, BlueGreen Alliance, National Wildlife Federation, LCV, NRDC, EDF, and the Union of Concerned Scientists.
“Energy workers and their families have been the backbone of America’s growth and prosperity for the last century,” said Executive Director of the Craig Chamber of Commerce, Jennifer Holloway. “The American Energy Opportunity Act will assist our energy workers as we transition by helping empower them to find new purpose, build skills and recreate their communities with a more diverse economy building resiliency across America. I am grateful for Senator Bennet and others who support of our Coal reliant communities here in Northwest Colorado and across the US and am eager to see how we can all work together towards a sustainable economy."
“The Town of Hayden is very excited that the American Energy Worker Opportunity Act has been introduced and want to thank Senator Bennet and all the bill sponsors. This will help us support our energy sector workers as they chart their own path towards transition and give them the ability to determine their future success,” said Hayden Town Manager, Mathew Mendisco.
“The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) has been clear that as we continue to move through an energy transition in the United States we need to stop leaving workers, families and communities behind. For us, the principles of a true transition are to; first, preserve as many UMWA jobs as possible; second, create new well-paying union jobs in the coal-producing areas of the country; and third, create a bridge for those workers who are forced to make a transition so that they do not fall into poverty,” said United Mine Workers of America International President Cecil E. Roberts. “This legislation fulfills that last principle, and I thank Senators Brown and Casey for introducing it and standing up for UMWA members, their families and their communities. As Congress considers how to approach energy transition, this must be part of the solution.” This legislation fulfills that last principle, and I thank Senators Brown, Casey, Whitehouse, Baldwin, Bennet, Duckworth, Smith and Warren for introducing it and standing up for UMWA members, their families and their communities. As Congress considers how to approach energy transition, this must be part of the solution.”
“Our union remains deeply committed to preserving our members’ jobs throughout the energy economy. However, workers also need meaningful economic support when this is no longer possible, so that they can secure their next high-quality job or retire with dignity,” said United Steelworkers (USW) International President Tom Conway. “The American Energy Worker Opportunity Act will aid dislocated coal and oil workers and their families, providing them with educational opportunities, wage supplements, health care benefits and retirement contributions. We applaud Sens. Baldwin, Casey, Whitehouse, Bennet, Duckworth, Smith, and Warren for announcing this crucial legislation.”
“The Utility Workers Union of America commends the leadership of Sens. Brown, Casey, Whitehouse, Baldwin, Bennet, Duckworth, Smith and Warren on the American Energy Worker Opportunity Act. It will offer stability for our members and their families when they need it most,” said the Utility Workers Union of America’s National President, Jim Slevin. “While there’s considerable change taking place across our energy infrastructure, this legislation delivers necessary resources for those working in power plants and eligible industries to transition into new careers. These are the kinds of worker-driven programs we need to support those who have powered America’s communities for generations.”
“Our economy is changing, and as we make the investments needed to fight climate change, America's working people must be at the top of the priority list. Maintaining well-paid union jobs at the same location is always the first and best choice, and we realize in some cases this will be difficult or take time,” said Fredrick D. Redmond, Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO. “The American Energy Worker Opportunity Act gives workers and their families the support they need during those difficult times, and we urge Congress to pass and fully fund this legislation.”
“As our nation’s energy system transitions, it is absolutely vital that we do not leave workers and communities behind. These are the workers who have powered our nation for generations and we owe it to them to ensure that they have every opportunity to succeed in the clean economy,” said BlueGreen Alliance Executive Director Jason Walsh. “We thank Sens. Casey, Whitehouse, Baldwin, Bennet, Duckworth, Smith, and Warren for their leadership and look forward to working with them to see this bill through to the finish line.”
"The transition to a clean energy future means we cannot leave behind those workers who have played such a crucial role in powering our homes and communities for decades," said Sara Chieffo, Vice President of Government Affairs at the League of Conservation Voters. "These workers, their families, and their communities must be supported to take advantage of the millions of new jobs in the clean energy economy that will be created by passage of the Build Back Better Act. We believe this bill helps us achieve this, and thank Senators Brown, Casey, Whitehouse, Baldwin, Bennett, Duckworth and Warren for their leadership on this important issue."
“For too long communities have faced economic transition without a proper safety net and too many of them have been left behind. This legislation will help ensure that no worker is left behind as we transition to a clean energy economy,” said Marc Boom, Director of Federal Affairs at NRDC.
“We can address climate change and support fossil fuel workers, who have helped keep the lights on for generations, simultaneously,” said Jeremy Richardson, Senior Energy Analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists. “The American Energy Workers Transition Act ensures that fossil fuel workers have the resources they need to land on their feet as we shift toward clean energy. Congress must enact a strong set of climate actions in its reconciliation package and it must support workers at the same time. These priorities are both essential.”