WASHINGTON (Reuters) - 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, which also include expanding broadband Internet access and establishing a fund that would award competitive grants to small businesses, begin to detail her pledge to protect and build on President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which Republicans have criticized as a “war on coal” that will devastate producing regions.
Clinton, facing pressure from environmental activists and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, her chief rival for the Democratic nomination, has tacked left on environmental issues, saying in September she did not support TransCanada’s (TRP.TO) proposed Keystone XL pipeline to let oil flow from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.
Still, Clinton has said protecting the environment should not come at the expense of the economy. She has said fossil fuel extraction on public lands should be phased out gradually and that she would not oppose lifting a long-standing ban on crude oil exports if it came with tradeoffs for clean energy, drawing criticism from environmentalists.
Clinton has said that transitioning to renewable energy “should not mean we move away from coal miners, their families and their communities,” which have “kept the lights on” and driven economic growth.
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.
“It’s essential that all regions and communities, especially those who have helped power this country, experience the benefits of our transition to clean energy,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement praising Clinton’s plan.
The national Republican Party called Clinton “Public Enemy No. 1 for coal miners” given her support for Obama’s environmental agenda.
Declining demand for coal has pushed several companies into insolvency. Clinton last month took aim at Patriot Coal Corp and Peabody Energy Corp, which had sought to discharge their obligations to pay the health benefits of their retired mine workers in bankruptcy.
Clinton backs a Democratic proposal in the U.S. Congress that would provide what her campaign called a “federal backstop” for retired mine workers. Clinton would also expand that program to cover power plant and transportation company retirees who lose benefits in coal bankruptcies.
Additional reporting by Valerie Volcovici and Timothy Gardner; Editing by James Dalgleish and Phil Berlowitz