Popular discussions of environmentally-motivated policies include much talk about job loss that can be confusing. Does the potential for job loss in a polluting industry mean that others should endure dirty air? I make sense of the issue by drawing concepts from research on international trade and its effects and applying them to recent job loss in the coal mining industry. The coal case study illustrates the economic adjustment that could plausibly stem from environmental policy as well as the equity, efficiency, and political issues that adjustment raises. Each mining job lost reduced earnings in the county by nearly $100,000, and one third of those who lost jobs did not move and remained unemployed. The losses fell upon counties that already had low median household income and caused them to shift towards pro-coal Trump in 2016 presidential election, a shift that arguably allowed him to win Pennsylvania. More broadly, a type of environmental adjustment assistance may improve the equity and political feasibility of environmental policies that benefit many but harm some. The how and when of assistance is unclear, but one case ripe for study is the recent Assistance to Coal Communities initiative.
A working paper of this talk can be obtained by contacting Beth Tamminga at email@example.com.