Substantially decreasing carbon emissions is both necessary to stave off the worst impacts of climate change and also certain to result in a loss of jobs and revenue for fossil fuel communities and workers. Just transition policies aim to mitigate these losses and provide an equitable transition away from fossil fuel extraction and use. Yet, just transition is often contested in the regions the policies are meant to aid. This paper presents a case study of the Powder River Basin, Wyoming, the largest coal mining region in the U.S where the energy transition is deeply contested. In the summer of 2019, two large coal mines suddenly and unexpectedly shut down. The research conducted explored whether this sudden change in conditions changed perceptions toward the energy transition or just transition polices based on interviews with decision makers, environmental advocates, coal industry officials, and union officials. I find that the energy transition and just transition remains deeply contested and opposed, even after the sudden closure of the mines, indicating that transition may always be contested due to the long-standing role coal has played in the region. Despite opposition and efforts to prolong the life of the coal industry, an energy transition is occurring and a government-led managed decline with just transition policies is the best way to prevent severe economic distress in the region.
Cha, J. M. (2020). A just transition for whom? Politics, contestation, and social identity in the disruption of coal in the Powder River Basin. Energy Research & Social Science, 69, 101657. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.erss.2020.101657