How Environmental and Infrastructure Spending Can Support Fossil Fuel Communities in Transition

The latest report in RFF and EDF’s Fairness for Workers and Communities series examines the potential for environmental remediation and infrastructure spending to help communities transition to sustainable economies.


Sept. 15, 2020

News Type

Press Release

Over the past decade, regions dependent on coal have lost a key source of employment and economic prosperity as other energy sources have grown more competitive. In a new report, researchers from Resources for the Future (RFF) and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) examine existing environmental remediation and infrastructure programs to determine how they could support coal and other fossil fuel communities as the economy transitions toward clean energy. These programs include constructing highways, improving water infrastructure, and remediating abandoned mines.

“For many communities where the production and use of fossil fuels provides the foundation of the local economy, there is considerable need to clean up the land and water, as well as develop new infrastructure,” says Daniel Raimi, senior research associate at RFF and the report’s author. “Existing federal policies could play a substantial role in achieving those goals, providing near-term jobs and laying the groundwork for future prosperity.”

Susanne Brooks, senior director for US Climate Policy and Analysis at EDF, says, “This report highlights how federal investment in environmental remediation and infrastructure can provide jobs and economic support for communities in transition. Federal policymakers have a range of tools at their disposal to support fossil fuel workers and their families, while restoring communities impacted by pollution and aging infrastructure.”

Raimi examines contemporary research and develops big-picture insights into how environmental remediation and infrastructure programs and policies may help to create an equitable transition for fossil fuel workers and communities:

Environmental remediation

  • Millions of sites in the United States—many of which are in regions that have historically depended on fossil fuel production—need environmental remediation.
  • The federal government plays a large role in reducing pollution across the United States. Remediation programs could be enhanced and targeted toward workers and communities negatively affected by an energy transition.
  • Remediating polluted sites typically increases local property values and can temporarily increase employment.
  • Remediation projects may especially benefit low-income people and people of color, though there is some concern that these projects can lead to “environmental gentrification.”

Broad infrastructure programs

  • For communities where fossil fuels provide a large share of the local tax base, a transition could reduce tax revenues, making water system maintenance more difficult—which is especially concerning given that these communities may be at greater risk of pollution. Water infrastructure programs could address this issue.
  • Transportation infrastructure projects create short-term jobs and induce long-term economic development by making transportation easier and cheaper. This could be particularly important for fossil energy regions currently underserved by transportation infrastructure.
  • The design, implementation, and enforcement of policies will shape whether, and to what extent, future infrastructure spending will affect socioeconomic inequity.

To learn more about these findings, read the report, Environmental Remediation and Infrastructure Policies Supporting Workers and Communities in Transition, by RFF Senior Research Associate Daniel Raimi.

RFF and EDF’s Fairness for Workers and Communities series is designed to help policymakers assess strategies to address social and economic challenges associated with a shift to a clean-energy economy. Many of these challenges are being brought into focus by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has accelerated job loss in the energy sector, especially in regions already struggling. Future reports in the series will focus on workforce development, clean energy deployment, and public benefit programs and policies.

Resources for the Future (RFF) is an independent, nonprofit research institution in Washington, DC. Its mission is to improve environmental, energy, and natural resource decisions through impartial economic research and policy engagement. RFF is committed to being the most widely trusted source of research insights and policy solutions leading to a healthy environment and a thriving economy.

Unless otherwise stated, the views expressed here are those of the individual authors and may differ from those of other RFF experts, its officers, or its directors. RFF does not take positions on specific legislative proposals.

For more information, please refer to our media resources page or contact Media Relations Associate Anne McDarris.

Related Content