Clinton proposes plan to help coal workers transition to green economy

The $30B plan seeks to protect workers from coal-producing areas by finding them new jobs, providing health benefits

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Thursday proposed a $30 billion plan to help displaced workers in coal-producing areas find new jobs and continue receiving health benefits as the country shifts to using renewable energy and more natural gas.

Clinton's proposals expand on her earlier pledge to protect and build on President Barack Obama's Clean Power Plan. Republicans have criticized Obama's plan as a "war on coal" that will devastate producing regions.

The U.S. coal industry has suffered as a result of new policies aimed at curbing climate change and promoting renewable fuels. Emissions from coal-fired power plants are the nation's single largest source of carbon pollution.

A 2015 study by Duke University found the U.S. coal industry lost nearly 50,000 jobs since 2008. Coal now accounts for one-third of U.S. power generation, with consumption falling 25 percent over the past decade.

Beyond providing new economic incentives for revitalizing coal country, Clinton's plan would expand broadband Internet access, invest in new infrastructure projects and find ways to replace local revenue for schools that's lost when coal production plants disappear.

Clinton has said repeatedly that she will not forget the coal workers who "kept the lights on" and drove economic growth.

"We have to move away from coal, everybody understands that, there's no doubt about it. But that does not and should not mean we move away from coal miners, their families and their communities," Clinton said this week in New Hampshire.

Clinton has faced pressure from environmental activists and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, her chief rival for the Democratic nomination, to take a firm position on environmental issues. In September, Clinton said she did not support TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which before being axed by the Obama administration would have linked existing networks to let tar sands oil flow from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

Clinton has said fossil fuel extraction on public lands should be phased out and that she would not oppose lifting a long-standing ban on crude oil exports if it came with tradeoffs for clean energy.

Still, Clinton has said protecting the environment should not come at the expense of the economy and some of her pragmatic positions have drawn the ire of environmentalists. 

Sanders, who calls his longtime Keystone opposition a "no brainer," last week backed a proposal to halt new leases for fossil fuel extraction on public lands. He said he too would roll out an economic plan for coal workers in the coming days.

Clinton’s new proposals comes ahead of next month’s talks in Paris, where world leaders hope to strike a global climate accord on reductions in carbon emissions and the slow transition to renewable energy sources.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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