Trump wants to ramp up coal. Spain has found a way to quit it.

This
story
was originally published by the HuffPost and is reproduced
here as part of the Climate
Desk
collaboration.

Villablino, Spain — When the shutters come down on the last 10
privately owned pits in northwest Spain’s once mighty coal
industry later this month, there will be tears and trauma in the
region where the country’s mining unions were born.

There is also a fragile hope that a better, cleaner future could
follow — but a barely hidden warning that the despair that
propelled Trump to power in the U.S. lurks in the wings if it does
not.

Spain’s uneconomic coal industry has been killed by a pincer
movement: cheaper imports from developing countries on one flank
and falling renewable energy prices on the other, fanned by
binding E.U. targets to reduce
emissions and a dawning awareness of coal’s climate and other
environmental costs.

Industry shutdowns are painful, especially in sectors like coal
mining which go back generations. The risk is unemployment and
social dislocation. But this one may play out differently: in a
“just transition” deal —
brokered by unions and a new leftwing government — that could
have implications for other coal-producing countries, including the
U.S.

Spain plans to support laid-off miners and their communities by
plowing $285 million over a decade into compensation payouts,
retraining for low-carbon jobs and environmental restoration work
in pit communities. The aim is to ensure a safety net to catch
those whose jobs will disappear as the economy shifts to a
low-carbon one. Politicians and union officials say the deal will
ensure both environmental and social protection as the economy
shifts away from coal.

However, on the ground in Spain, there is suspicion about this
promised new future from workers who have watched an industry,
identity, and way of life dying around for them for some two
decades. More than a thousand miners and contractors will be laid
off around Christmas, a third of them in the northern region of
Castilla y León, home to Villablino, and there is concern over
whether new jobs will materialize.

“New jobs are a utopia in our country,” says Salvador
Osario, a 47-year-old miner from Castilla y León who took early
retirement after 20 years of digging coal. “The miners are alone.
No one wants to support us. Not the left- or the right-wing
parties. Even the unions are divided.”

Salvador Osario, 47, is a retired miner in the Castilla y León region of northern Spain.Salvador Osario, 47, is a
retired miner in the Castilla y León region of northern Spain.
Arthur Neslen / HuffPost

The valleys of Castilla y León once thrummed to the sound of
the coal industry, and relics from its retreat are everywhere. Pit
shafts litter the hillsides and monuments to miners are sprinkled
around town squares. Diner cafes have stickers of miners on the
doors, and coal train statuettes outside.

Coal workers here have a brave history of fighting fascism
during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. In the early 1960s,
miners in Villablino formed Spain’s
first clandestine union, the
Confederacion Sindical de Comisiones Obreras (CCOO), which continued the fight
against the dictator General Franco.

Spain’s coal industry employed more than 100,000 miners back
then. That number had fallen to 45,000 by the late 1980s — nearly
half of them in Castilla y León — and it continued to drop. More
than 5,000 still worked in the northwest mines of Castilla y León,
Asturias, Aragón, and Palencia at the start of this century. Next
year, there will be none.

A monument to coal miners in Villablino, SpainA monument to coal miners
in Villablino, Spain. Arthur Neslen / HuffPost

The dying embers of Spain’s coal industry may leave a sad
legacy for the miners, but coal needs to be phased out if we are to
keep temperature increases below the levels at which we’ll see
catastrophic climate change, climate scientists say. Coal emits more
carbon dioxide than any other fossil fuel, as well as deadly toxins
such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter,
which are responsible for more than 20,000 deaths each year in
Europe alone.

“The deal is a way forward for many problems that will appear
and we are committed to it,” said Mariano Sanz Lubeiro, CCOO’s
confederal secretary, from his Madrid office.

This sentiment is echoed by Teresa Ribera, Spain’s minister
for the ecological transition. “We have worked hard to restore
trust in regions that have suffered a long restructuring process,
negotiating and coming up with social protection measures that the
unions could accept,” she told HuffPost. “Now we have to
deliver. Climate ambition and social protection have to go hand in
hand if we want to succeed.”

“The objective we have is that the miners will be offered a
[green-collar] job. We will have to register all of them. Instead
of one year, it may take one year and three months, but that is
very much the plan,”Laura Martin-Murillo, a government
negotiator, said.

As well as work in solar or wind energy, she also believes there
will be jobs in biomass, making energy from organic matter such as
wood pellets or agricultural waste. They are also thinking about
labor-intensive work such as retrofitting buildings to be more
environmentally friendly.

But miners on eligible contracts will have to live on social
benefits until an environmental restoration plan kicks in next
autumn, at the earliest. Those who claim the retirement offer will
take home around $20,000 a year on average.

This community has been here before. When the last round of
closures happened 20 years ago, the miners affected felt it was not
a just transition.

Anxiety is clear in the bleary eyes of Rolando Prieto Perez, 43,
an electrician in the century-old La Escondida pit who has just
come off a night shift when I meet him in the Villablino CCOO
office.

“We’re suffering from depression,” he says wearily. “We
have the blues. The situation is unpredictable and our futures look
bleak. Sometimes we just feel confused.”

Rolando Prieto Perez, 43, a miner.Rolando Prieto Perez, 43, a
miner. Arthur Neslen / HuffPost

Prieto Perez is a few years too young to qualify for early
retirement, and while the government is registering all miners for
new jobs, these could arrive at any time between March 2019 and
March 2020: months, if not years, after the mine closures.

Stuck between the beneficiaries of the post-war boom and the
clean energy transition, Prieto Perez says he is part of “the
unlucky generation.”

Mining is “part of the DNA of this region and its people,”
says Sanz Lubeiro, CCOO’s confederal secretary. “That is why
its loss has been so traumatic for the community.”

“If the transition is not done right,” he added, “we are
preparing the ground for populism which blames climate action or
technology or migrant workers,” he says.

There are signs that this may already be beginning in
Villablino. “I don’t support this climate change idea,”Prieto
Perez says. “I consider this news very manipulated. The
government only speaks about global warming, but they want to close
the mine for [economic] reasons.”

Omar Garcia Alvarez, a local miners leader, claims that if every
miner were guaranteed a job in clean energy, there would be no
problem with closing the mines. But “there is no ecological
transition,” he says. “We don’t believe in the deal because
we don’t trust the government.”

Miners Salvador Osario and Omar Garcia Alvarez look through a window in derelict mine.Miners Salvador Osario and
Omar Garcia Alvarez look through a window in derelict mine. Arthur
Neslen / HuffPost

He notes that the $285 million will have to be split between
four regions over 10 years — giving Castilla y León only 6
million euros (or $6.8 million) a year with which to heal its
wounds.

Just 39 years old, Garcia Alvarez was forced to quit his pit job
last August by spinal injuries caused by his job. He now speaks
with a sense of romanticism about the industry and the solidarity
it produced.

“All people have a right to defend their jobs,” he says when
asked what he thinks about U.S. coal miners, who are facing their
own struggle. “I don’t agree with Donald Trump’s politics,
but if he supports the miners, it is very good news for them.”
Appalachia’s miners are widely thought to have helped Donald Trump
win
in Kentucky.

Yet Trump’s promises to bring back coal
haven’t been fulfilled. “Across the USA you can see the
devastation already caused in communities that have lost
livelihoods that were dependent on [fossil fuel] corporations who
made the decision to exit,” said
Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union
Confederation, the world’s largest trade union confederation.

Burrow said Spain’s scheme should be a model for countries
such as the U.S. to achieve their own just transition away from
fossil fuels. “We need urgent climate ambition to save the planet
— and humanity itself,” she said. “But if you don’t
negotiate with working people, if plans are not transparent and
communities don’t have trust in their futures, then resistance to
climate action is absolutely a risk.”

Clean air and a climate-safe future mean little when you can’t
put food on the table right now, says Brad Markell, the executive
director of the industrial union council of AFL-CIO, the largest
federation of unions in the U.S.

“There is no question that people in coal mining regions and
around coal-fired generation plants thought that Trump was going to
save them. He said he would and they thought it was worth taking a
chance on him,” he said.

Markell would not comment on the gamble’s wisdom, despite
mounting evidence that miners are now suffering from it. But he
questioned whether a deal like Spain’s would translate to the
more cutthroat U.S. labor market, where it could involve a 50
percent pay cut on a fossil fuel worker’s hourly rate. Starting
pay in the U.S. solar sector can be as low as $15 an hour.

“It would be to everyone’s benefit if the new jobs created
in the clean energy sector were high paying — and made available
to people losing their jobs — but they won’t be, because in the
USA, you’re on your own. That’s how things work here. We have a
general deficit of working-class power and until we are able to
reclaim that, it will be difficult to achieve economic
justice.”

The Spanish government will this month outline how its just
transition strategy will be rolled out nationally across all
industries, including the car industry.

The issue is also taking center stage at the U.N. climate summit
in Katowice which started this week, with Poland trumpeting
just transition for weaning countries off
fossil fuels
. Critics, however, say the aim is to mask
international divisions over emissions-cutting obligations and
targets, and divert attention from Poland’s own lack of climate
ambition
.

In Villablino, Eduardo Gonzalez Menazas, 60, a retired miner
turned environmental activist, agrees that a just transition is
“fundamental, very necessary, but at the moment too slow.”

He estimates only around 30 percent of his fellow miners believe
that global warming is a problem and that saddens him, he said. In
his spare time he plants trees around deserted mines. Menazas has
noticed that the valley’s climate is already warming, with less
snow and bird species such as the capercaillie nesting higher
up.

“All people in Spain are responsible for this disaster,” he
said.

“The energy transition has to be just because miners also need
help from the government,” Gonzalez Menazas said. “In this
area, there are no choices for people and that is also a problem.
The transition has to be for everyone.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline
Trump wants to ramp up coal. Spain has found a way to quit it.

on Dec 6, 2018.

Source: FS – All – Ecology – News 2
Trump wants to ramp up coal. Spain has found a way to quit it.