This case study examines whether attitudes toward the U.S. energy transition and just transitions changed following the bankruptcy and closure of two large coal mines in 2019 in the Powder River Basin (PRB) in Wyoming. PBR, the largest coal-mining region in the United States, is home to highly productive and environmentally sustainable mechanized mining and lucrative mining jobs.
The author sets out to empirically determine whether conditions exist that allow for decreased opposition to the transition and increased support for government intervention. The analysis relies on interviews from 13 local individuals, including elected officials, advocates, government officials, a local reporter, and coal industry professionals—but no coal industry workers, as they declined to be interviewed.
The interviews suggest the sudden closure of two mines reinforced negative perceptions toward the energy transition. In fact, there is strong support for continuing to develop the coal mining industry, with advocates claiming that the less invasive mechanized mining used in the region means that PRB coal is an environmentally sustainable option. The transition remains heavily contested in the area because of the strong economic impact of the coal industry on the PRB and the deep cultural ties to mining in the area. Additionally, because of its remoteness and distance from transportation hubs, there is little impetus for economic diversification in the PRB.