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Coalfields Communities Hoping for Billions in Federal Money

Coalfields communities in Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee and Virginia are still holding out hope that Congress will include more than $10 billion for economic development in federal spending plans.

President Obama unveiled the “Power+ Plan” in his proposed budget in February. It includes millions of dollars for re-training former coal miners and workers at coal-fired power plants, economic development planning in Appalachia, brownfields remediation, tax credits for carbon capture technology and cleaning up legacy coal mine sites.

So far, more than two dozen cities and counties have endorsed the plan.

Congress hasn't approved a budget, though Obama announced last monththat he would bypass the process and give more than $14 million in grants to coalfields communities in what he called a “down payment” on Power+.

Thom Kay of Appalachian Voices said the group hopes most of the provisions of Power+ will make it into the appropriations process. But he said one of the plan’s most crucial elements can’t be addressed through appropriations. That’s the $1 billion in spending over five years from the unappropriated balance of the Abandoned Mine Lands Reclamation Fund, which would go to clean up legacy problems from abandoned coal mines.

“That has to be done legislatively, and we need a bill, and that is what we’ve been waiting on,” Kay said.

Meanwhile, organizers are still working to drum up more support for the plan. Tom Sexton is a former Whitesburg City Council member and a Sierra Club organizer. He said while Congress may be divided along party lines on the issue — and on federal spending in general — he’s seen support from both sides in the coalfields.

“I think it’s definitely been a bipartisan sort of initiative,” Sexton said. “On the local level, dyed-in-the-wool Republicans and dyed-in-the-wool Democrats have gotten behind it.”

The Appalachian Renaissance Initiative Student Senate is the next body to consider endorsing Power+. That group is made up of students from 17 school districts in the region; they’ll meet on Wednesday to vote on a resolution in support of the plan.

“We’re going to keep the energy going and hopefully find more folks that would be willing to put this on their docket and vote for it, and hopefully put the right kind of pressure on folks in D.C.,” Sexton said.


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