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Help for unemployed coal workers lags, despite state and federal programs

San Juan Citizens Alliance/EcoFlight
Creative Commons

Officials, entrepreneurs and local people gathered Tuesday at the Nenahnezad Chapter house of the Navajo Nation, and online, to discuss how to help the community affected by the closure of the San Juan Generating Station in the Four Corners area.

In 2019, New Mexico passed the Energy Transition Act which was meant to assign resources to create new industry and a trained workforce for a post-coal economy.

As the Act's community advisory commission met for the first time in nearly two years, convener Jason Sandel said that the law was meant to put millions of dollars directly into the community to promote development and retraining.

"Unfortunately, I think we can all say, unfortunately, it didn't work out. Here we are years later, the San Juan Generating Station has now closed. And many workers are either on unemployment, or have left the community and found something else to do," he said.

At the meeting about a dozen projects seeking support were presented, ranging from a multi-million dollar green energy storage company to a community farming project, led by Duane "Chili" Yazzie from Shiprock who said young people have been returning to traditional farming on the Navajo Nation as jobs in the energy industry have dried up.

"Many of our young people are beginning to see the value of working the farm and making production of the land and the water," he said.

Since the state law was passed, the federal government has launched initiatives including a Rapid Response Team led by the Los Alamos National Laboratory designed to channel federal resources into helping communities transition to a clean energy economy.

Alice Fordham joined the news team in 2022 after a career as an international correspondent, reporting for NPR from the Middle East and later Latin America and Europe. She also worked as a podcast producer for The Economist among other outlets, and tries to meld a love of sound and storytelling with solid reporting on the community. She grew up in the U.K. and has a small jar of Marmite in her kitchen for emergencies.
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