Environment

President Barack Obama is asking for more money for economic and community development in Appalachia in his fiscal year 2017 budget request to Congress.

The proposal, released Tuesday, includes $70 million for the Appalachian Regional Commission’s base economic development programs, as well as an additional $50 million for grants through the POWER initiative.

The budget also includes another $20 million for job training for unemployed coal workers, money for coal-related brownfields remediation and new tax incentives for coal plants that use carbon capture and sequestration technology.

The president proposed the POWER plan in his budget last year, laying out millions in spending to go toward coalfields communities suffering as coal production declines and coal-fired power plants shut down or transition to natural gas.

ARC federal co-chair Earl Gohl said the funding in Obama’s budget is the largest requested increase for the commission by a president in 30 years. And he said the work the ARC would be able to do with that kind of money is significant.

“We’ll be in a position to make investments in strengthening the workforce, in developing entrepreneurial activities, in expanding and making broadband more available and to create and support the development of industry clusters throughout the region,” Gohl said.

Over the past year, large amounts of federal money have begun flowing to Appalachia. The budget approved by Congress at the end of last year sent $146 million to the ARC and millions more to the region, while another bill pending would expedite a billion dollars from the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund to go to environmental projects and economic development in coal-producing areas.

Gohl said this budget request is responding to those changes going on in the country’s energy landscape.

“And while many of those changes really provide a great deal of hope and improvement in our lives, there are also some of those changes that have very negative impacts on communities and workers,” he said. “And what these funds are an attempt to do is provide a pathway to help support that economic transition in those communities.”

Gohl said he’s confident that federal investment in the area will end up paying off for the country’s taxpayers.

“Appalachia is the next great investment opportunity in America,” he said.