Commentary: Sierra Club director says coal can’t keep up in this economy

Camilla Feibelman
Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter
Camilla Feibelman

The Daily Times Article titled "Sierra Club, local leaders face off in PRC case" (Dec. 5, 2018) misses the most pressing part of the economic situation that the Four Corners area and coal communities around the country are facing.  

Gas is so cheap and plentiful that coal can't keep up economically. Not only that, but renewables are cheaper than ever – already cheaper than gas in many cases — and don't have ongoing fuel costs. This is basic free-market economics that we can’t ignored.

Wind and solar employ more than three times as many people as coal in New Mexico (NASEO, 2018).  There is pretty big variation in renewables job types from sales to policy to engineering. But according to Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual mean wage for solar photovoltaic installers in New Mexico (as of May 2017) is $42,920.  And annual mean wage for wind turbine service technicians in NM is $45,160. 

Communities have to figure out how they can adjust. I know that's not easy and that it hurts and not ever idea will work. But what will hurt even more is not taking strategic action in time.The reality is that not even the president can stop the global macro-economic forces that are forcing communities to change.  

We need to face this major economic bump in the road now or later. We can get caught on our heels five years from now or we can take this bull by the horns and make the solutions together. 

Here are some ideas:

1. Negotiate reclamation jobs for all current San Juan employees. 

2. Negotiate early retirement packages for everyone within 10 years of retirement. 

3. Require Journeyman apprenticeship positions for all industrial electric production in the state. 

4. Pass a comprehensive workforce-development package in the upcoming legislative session. 

5. Pass legislation that creates a transition fund for communities facing energy-related economic transition. 

Maybe you're thinking "What does the director of the Sierra Club know or care about all this?"  Well, like you, I'm not just an organization or a title. I'm a New Mexican, born and raised. I want a future for my 2-year-old son and 6-year-old stepdaughter here. My family cares about your family, and we can't just sit by watching the same old Band-Aid solutions that don't acknowledge reality or the opportunity we have if we work together to invest in the Four Corners and plan for a better future. 

As a last point, I will say that it's frustrating to see an article that implies that the Sierra Club's filing on the PNM's Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) was because we don't care about the economy. You can see from this letter that this is not the case. Even San Juan County's lawyers had to agree that the scope of the IRP is to identify the most cost-effective resource portfolio. 

Let's work together innovate solutions.

Camilla Feibelman is the director of the Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter.