Nearly $70 million in federal funds is now available for coal mining communities across the country.
The Appalachian Regional Commission and the U.S. Economic Development Administration announced the funding on Thursday. It’s part of the Obama administration’s POWER initiative, which is a broad set of investments meant to help communities dependent on coal mining or coal-fired power plants transition their economies. This $70 million chunk came from the appropriations bill approved by Congress last year.
“Policymakers can and certainly will disagree about the reasons why the coal industry is struggling,” said White House Senior Policy Adviser Jason Walsh. “But it’s our sense that all Americans should be able to agree that the communities and workers in coal country who are facing economic distress and who have helped keep the lights on in this nation for generations deserve help from the federal government.”
Communities can apply for funding for functions like developing new industries and creating jobs, training workers in new skills and obtaining technical assistance. Appalachian Regional Commission co-chair Earl Gohl said he sees the region as the country’s next great investment opportunity, and this funding is an investment in future generations.
“From the ARC’s point of view, this program is really an investment in the leadership of the next generation of Appalachians,” Gohl said. “It’s an investment in organizations and individuals like Coalfield Development, like SOAR, like the Williamson Health and Wellness Center. It’s an investment in places like Harlan County that are led by young Appalachians, and Whitesburg and Princeton, West Virginia.”
In response to the partisan conversation that’s been going on for the past week, after Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was quoted as saying she would put “a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business,” Walsh reiterated that he believes the POWER program should rise above political bickering.
“It has been our premise all along that we can find some common ground here,” Walsh said. “And we feel like we have done that and we feel like some of the bipartisan legislation that’s moving in Congress is a testament to that fact.”
President Barack Obama’s 2017 budget also contains a number of related initiatives designed to drive federal funding to coalfields communities.