The coal industry is dying a slow death in many parts of the world. But in Spain, the end was swift — and government-mandated. The country's version of a "Green New Deal" for coal included a compensation package for miners, which has received international praise from unions and environmental groups as other countries are looking to quit the fossil fuel.
Through a deal struck between the Spanish government and coal mining companies and unions, almost all the country’s mines closed by the end of 2018, and around 1,500 miners were laid off. The phase-out agreement set aside 250 million euros for funding retirement packages, retraining and environmental restoration.
The deal spurred protests around Spain in December. But outside the country, Spain’s handling of the coal phase-out has been praised. It’s an example of what progressive politicians are calling a “fair transition” — funds and policies to help workers who are laid off when the government cracks down on fossil fuels. In the U.S., supporters of a “Green New Deal” have already called for a similar fair transition package aimed at American coal workers.
Antonio Gomez Souto, a 43-year-old miner who’s worked at the La Escondida coal mine since he was 17, said that for him at least, the deal was adequate. “I'm part of a pre-retirement plan for this year,” he said after his last Monday shift at the mine. “Pre-retirement packages are enough to get by and stop worrying about it.”
But many of his coworkers aren’t eligible for retirement — which means they’ll have to find new jobs in new industries, which could mean moving to more urban areas, or leaving the country.
“There's no other way than packing up, going somewhere else,” says Enrique Fernandez Daganzo, a temporary contractor at the famous La Escondida mine in northern Spain, who won’t see any benefits. For him, the prospect of never being able to mine coal again has been especially hard to swallow because Spain will continue to import coal from other countries, for a transitional period of time while it closes coal-fired plants. “It makes no sense. They're rubbing your back, but they're kicking you in the ass.”
VICE News went to northern Spain to document the end of Spain’s coal mining industry.
This segment originally aired February 12, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.