WASHINGTON – A small but growing number of Appalachian coal communities are urging Republicans in Congress to support a proposed $1 billion federal aid program from the Obama administration to save local economies ravaged by the decline of the coal industry.
Nearly a dozen Appalachian coal mining communities have passed resolutions over the past few weeks supporting President Barack Obama’s Power + program, which was outlined in his 2016 budget. It will be considered in the fall when Congress returns from recess.
From towns such as Norton, Virginia, to Letcher County, Kentucky, local officials have called on their Washington representatives to back the proposal that would provide public funds for new economic activities around reclaimed coal mines in the Appalachian Mountains.
“This isn’t a partisan issue here,” said Eric Dixon, policy coordinator for the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center in Whitesburg, Kentucky, which has helped push the resolutions across the region. “We have Republicans and Democrats in the mountains who support this plan.”
In Washington, however, Republican lawmakers have been reluctant to support Power +. They contend that the administration’s energy policies, including regulations forcing power plants to reduce carbon emissions tied to burning coal, have caused a contraction in the industry that has seen some of the country’s biggest coal companies go into bankruptcy.
WAR ON COAL?
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who represents Kentucky and has accused the Obama administration of waging a “war on coal,” has balked at endorsing Power +.
“Senator McConnell thinks that any bill introduced in the Senate that seeks to help coal miner’s suffering under this Administration’s war on coal should be carefully considered, but that no amount of federal relief can paper over the devastating damage this president and his policies have had on coal country,” the senator’s spokesman Don Stewart said.
Funding for the Power + plan would come from the government’s Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) program, which has nearly $2.5 billion in unused funds from fees on coal companies. The AML funds are allocated to states to clean up mines.
The Obama administration wants to tap $1 billion of that money for states to use for economic redevelopment projects at old mine sites. The money is currently intended to be distributed after 2021.
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