A story of resilience.
For decades, Craig, Colorado has been a coal town. The nearby coal plant and coal mines provide hundreds of well-paying jobs in this tight-knit community located in the state's rural northwestern corner. Many of the workers there have spent their entire careers in coal, like their fathers and grandfathers did before them. They take pride in producing electricity that we use every day.
But the state's energy landscape is changing rapidly. Wind, solar, and natural gas have all become more affordable. And burning coal emits significant amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the air, contributing to climate change. In recent years, Colorado policymakers have made it clear: the state is moving on from fossil fuels.
So on that winter day in 2020, when the electrical co-op Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association announced that its Craig coal assets would close by decade's end, it was the news that some had expected and many had feared. Coal's time was finally coming to an end.
Now, the community faces one big question: What's next?
The Institute for Science & Policy was created to foster productive conversations around complex societal problems, like energy. Science lives in uncertainty. It's always evolving, with new data and information. And the road to scientific thinking is fraught with hurdles like biases, values, and self-interests. We have to consider the role of human nature in our decision-making. We think a lot about the tradeoffs and hard choices inherent in any policy.
Craig's story epitomizes all of those challenges. On one hand, we want the reliable, affordable electricity that coal provides and we don't want communities to suffer. On the other, climate change is very real, and the best available science tells us that we urgently need to stop burning coal in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions before it's too late.
How do we -- as individuals, as a state, and as a nation -- pursue a truly just energy transition that ensures no one gets left behind?
This seismic change has arrived for Craig just like it did for so many other coal communities across America. Some of those other towns survived. Many more didn't.
Social science tells us that change is hard in any walk of life. As humans, we’re wired to form opinions and stick to them. We build our lives around what we know, or at least, what we think we know. What will the residents of Craig do now that the life many of them envisioned is going away?
What would you do?
We wanted to know what the people of Craig thought about their post-coal future. And we wanted to understand their experience in the context of a clean energy transition that's underway all across the country. Maybe we would find some insights that could point to a way forward, an approach that protects the planet as well as livelihoods in our rural communities.
Over the course of 2021, we interviewed dozens of people from Craig and beyond. Lawmakers. Scientists. Coal workers. Business owners. Educators. All of them helped fill in a rich picture of Craig's past, present, and potential futures. They generously shared their hopes and dreams and vulnerabilities with us. It was clear that they care passionately, even when they may disagree with one another.
Our motivations and attitudes are complex and contradictory at times. We have to lean into that uncomfortable friction in order to have any chance of bridging divides and making lasting progress.
We hope you will listen to all eight episodes of Coal at Sunset and come away at times surprised, moved, informed, challenged, and perhaps inspired to engage with this issue in a new and different way. After all, Craig's fate is not yet written. This is only the beginning of the conversation.
Director, The Institute for Science & Policy
Managing Editor, The Institute for Science & Policy