KIRTLAND, N.M. (AP) — The noise of second-graders dropping out of class to line up for lunch has become quieter in rural New Mexico, where families losing their coal jobs are being forced to pack up and leave. looking for a job.

Judy Nelson Elementary School has had one in 4 students drop out since the decision was made five years ago to close the coal-fired power plant and mine down the road from the school in the predominantly Navajo community. The plant and mine provided electricity to millions of people in the American Southwest for nearly half a century.

The San Juan power plant burned the last bit of coal on Thursday. The rest of the workers will spend the coming weeks draining water from the plant, removing chemicals and preparing to demolish what has long been a fixture on the high desert skyline.

It’s part of the latest wave of coal-fired plants to be shut down as New Mexico and other states try to combat climate change by requiring more carbon-free sources of electricity. President Joe Biden has also pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030.

Just a few weeks ago, the last coal-fired power plant in Hawaii closed after 30 years, and more retirements are planned for the next decade in the US.

The realities of closing the San Juan plant are echoing in surrounding communities, including the Navajo Nation, where poverty and unemployment rates are already exponentially higher than the national average. Hundreds of jobs disappear along with tens of millions of dollars in annual tax revenue used to fund schools and colleges.

“A lot of Native American families have multiple generations living in the house, so it’s not just the husband and wife that are affected. It affects their children and their grandchildren,” said Arlene Franklin, who teaches second grade at Judy Nelson. Her husband is purchasing equipment for a coal mine that feeds another power plant slated to close in 2031.

Denise Piero, a reading teacher at Judy Nelson, said it’s stressful for parents to lose a stable income. Pierre’s husband, who was the general manager of the plant’s mine in San Juan, is among those forced to take early retirement.

“The rug was pulled out from under our feet,” she said.

Local power plants, mines and related businesses account for 80% of the property tax revenue that funds the Central Consolidated School District, which covers an area the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined. Almost 93% of students are Navajo.

It is rural and remote. Some students take the school bus three hours round trip, arriving home after sunset. Internet services are poor or nonexistent, and many homes have no electricity or plumbing. The level of poverty in the district is four times higher than the national level. The median annual household income is about $20,000 and the unemployment rate hovers around 70%.

New Mexico’s Democratic Party leaders celebrated the plant’s closure while touting a landmark 2019 law that pushes for a renewable energy economy. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is running for re-election, said the law promises a cleaner environment and new job opportunities for future generations.

Environmentalists said the closure would reduce air and water pollution in the region, which some call an industrial donation zone. They claim that emissions from power plants and methane from oil fields have caused health problems for residents.

Joe Ramon, a 69-year-old pipe welder who worked in San Juan, lives in a Navajo community not far from the Four Corners plant. He said when the wind blows just right, his community gets hit with ash and coal dust.

Still, he said his priority is to provide jobs for the Navajo.

“I don’t want to see anyone out of a job and I’m not in any way advocating for these businesses to close.” But there is room for improvement,” he said, suggesting that more investment could be made.

The loss of the San Juan plant and mine is affecting every aspect of life, from fewer lunch orders at Kirtland’s coffee shop to dwindling ash supplies for concrete manufacturers. Meanwhile, prices have skyrocketed for everything from Navajo staple lamb to wicker baskets and other materials needed for healing ceremonies.

Public Service Co. of New Mexico, which operates the plant, is providing $11 million in severance pay to the roughly 200 displaced workers. About 240 workers of the mine receive severance payments of 9 million dollars. Another $3 million went to training.

A state fund created by the energy law also includes $12 million for injured workers.

The solar and battery storage projects are intended to eventually replace the capacity lost with the San Juan shutdown and provide jobs during construction. But some of those projects have been delayed by supply chain issues, while others are on hold indefinitely due to historic inflation and other economic constraints.

Having just finished a night shift as an electrician at the nearby Four Corners Power Plant, Christine Aspaas, a member of the Central Consolidated School Board, said even if those “green” jobs existed now, they would be temporary. And to make up for the lost property tax, she said, some families would have to pay up to seven times more.

“Many Navajos were worse off thinking about leaving home,” Aspaas said.

“That’s something that other people don’t understand,” she said. “There is a culture, there are traditions, and therefore it is not easy.”