Environment

President Obama released his proposed budget today, and for the first time, the plan includes funding explicitly to help coal communities transition away from economies based on fossil fuels.

In a fact sheet, Obama’s administration said the “Power+ Plan” is specifically designed to help workers and communities—particularly in Appalachia—that have become casualties of the nation’s shift away from coal. Among the plan’s highlights:

  • $20 million for re-employment, training, and support for workers who have been laid off from coal mines and coal-fired power plants.
  • $25 million to the Appalachian Regional Commission to go toward economic development planning in the Appalachian counties hit hardest by coal’s decline;
  • $5 million in brownfields remediation funding earmarked for communities with retired coal-fired power plants;
  • $1 billion, over five years, from the unappropriated balance of the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund. The money will be divvied up based on economic factors, and address legacy problems from abandoned coal mines.
  • Legislative reform to strengthen health care and pension plans administered by the United Mine Workers of America for union coal miners
  • $2 billion in refundable investment tax credits to power plants that use carbon capture technology to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Obama’s Power+ Plan was greeted with enthusiasm by state groups working on transitioning Eastern Kentucky’s economy away from coal.

From Harlan County resident Carl Shoupe of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth:

“This announcement is encouraging to our efforts to rebuild our economy. We have been working hard to improve our economy here in eastern Kentucky. If and when these funds move forward, we would just ask that they’re rolled out in a way that includes an open public process and transparency in deciding where the money is going.”

https://wfpl.org/obamas-budget-proposal-lifts-2013-caps-adds-billions-spending/The Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center praised the additional Abandoned Mine Lands funding. In a statement, staff attorney Evan Smith said cleaning up pollution from abandoned mines could also be leveraged into more jobs in the region.

“Since 1977, the AML program has cleaned up thousands of hazards to people and the environment throughout the coalfields. From 2012 to 2013, Central Appalachia lost over 6,000 coal-mining jobs. Unemployed miners and others have the skills necessary to do reclamation work on AML projects. More AML funding in this region, like the increase proposed today, could put miners back to work and lay a foundation for economic growth in the region.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wasn’t impressed with the Power+ Plan, but said he’d consider the measure. In a statement released today, he said:

“It is cold comfort for the Obama Administration to suddenly propose easing the pain they’ve helped inflict on so many Kentucky coal families, but anything aimed at aiding these communities should be seriously considered. Meanwhile, I will continue to offer ways to help Kentucky’s struggling communities under the Obama economy, particularly those in coal country. The best way to help these Kentuckians is to prevent anti-coal efforts in the first place, which is one reason I’ve joined the Senate subcommittee charged with overseeing spending at the anti-coal EPA.”

One of McConnell’s targets will likely be the $239 million in EPA funding to “address climate change through commonsense standards, guidelines, and voluntary programs.” $25 million of that will go to help individual states develop their plans to comply with the upcoming carbon regulations for new and existing power plants. There’s also an allocation of $4 billion to go toward states that exceed the minimum requirements laid out in the plan and achieve greater greenhouse gas reductions.

Erica Peterson is WFPL's Director of News and Programming.