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Life After Coal: Can A New State Office Help Transition Communities When Plants Close?

jimmy thomas / CC BY-SA 2.0
Craig Station.

Last week, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association announced it will close Craig Station, one of Colorado’s largest coal-fired plants in Craig, and the nearby Colowyo mine by 2030. The power plant supports nearly 500 jobs in the area.  

It’s one of a few coal plants shuttering around the state, and the state is considering how to assist workers and communities when plants close.

A new state office has been created to help communities, like Craig, deal with the transition away from coal. It's called the Just Transition Office and it is in the Department of Labor and Employment. Joe Barela, executive director of the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, joined KUNC’s Colorado Edition to explain the work the office will do.

Credit Scott Franz / Capitol Coverage
Colorado Governor Jared Polis spoke at a press briefing about Tri-State on Wednesday.

Interview Highlights

These interview highlights have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Kyra Buckley: Can you tell us more about the mission of the Just Transition Office?

Joe Barela: The task force that was designed that will support the office and guide the office, is really looking at how Colorado can be responsive, to not only the disruption that’s happening with the coal industry, but how do we work with communities that are going to be impacted, not just the workers.

Because we’re really concerned about the skillsets and the workers transitioning into other jobs in their communities or within the state of Colorado, but how communities survive the elimination of a tax base or a revenue generation from those power plants and coal mines in certain, specifically rural communities, in Colorado.

What work will the office be doing on the ground in communities like Craig when plants close down?

We don’t think there’s a prescribed fix for each of the communities that will be impacted over the next several years. So we know that Craig has been grappling with this for several months, if not years, now. And so what plans do they have in place for their economic diversification and development? What are the opportunities to keep workers in that area with the skills they have, or do we need to start looking at funding resources for these workers to upskill or to basically change careers with new skillsets?

And Craig is pretty fortunate, they have a thriving healthcare system there, a hospital, they have a community college, and they have some diversification in their economic picture, but we need to figure out what do they see as opportunities for them moving forward, for the displacement of workers, but also the economic vitality of that community. And then what are the challenges that maybe as a region of local governments, state governments and even national resources, if we can identify them, can go into that community with some response plans that they’ve idea-ed on, not the state or the national government telling them what to do.

Is the office up and running right now?

The task force is meeting since August. The office, we are in the process of searching for a director.

One of the main deliverables of the task force and the office this year is a draft report that is due to the governor July 7, with possible 'what are the situations created by this disruption' and then what are some of the solutions that can help workers and communities get over this or survive this transition or disruption.

This conversation is part of KUNC’s Colorado Edition for Thursday, Jan. 16. You can find the full episode here.

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KUNC's Colorado Edition is a daily look at the stories, news, people and issues important to you. It's a window to the communities along the Colorado Rocky Mountains.
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