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Federal Spending Bill Includes Millions for Coalfields Economic Development

coal

The massive omnibus spending billpassed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama last week is more than 2,000 pages long and lays out the next year of government spending.

And it also contains some unexpected Christmas presents for the hard-hit coalfields of Appalachia.

The bill includes $19 million for the Department of Labor specifically to provide training and job assistance for workers laid off from coal mines and coal-fired power plants. There’s as much as $2 billion for new or existing power plants that install carbon capture and sequestration systems. And there’s $90 million for environmental remediation and economic development of abandoned mine lands in Kentucky, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Thom Kay of the non-profit Appalachian Voices said that abandoned mine lands money is intended as a pilot program, and hopefully more money will follow in the future.

“It’s really just a first step in trying to push through economic transition in coal-impacted areas of Central Appalachia,” he said. “So, it is an exciting step, but it is also a relatively small amount of money compared to what is going to be needed in the long term.”

A number of these initiatives were included in Obama’s proposed budget as part of the “Power+ Plan.” Since those measures were introduced, communities throughout Appalachia endorsed the plan, and the spending it promised.

As part of Power+, Congress approved an increase to the Appalachian Regional Commission’s budget. Obama requested $95 million for the regional economic development agency; ARC ended up with $146 million. That pot of money includes $16 million for workforce development in southern Appalachia focusing on automotive and aviation industries, $10 million for high speed broadband development in Central Appalachia, and $50 million for Power+ grants.

ARC Federal Co-Chair Earl Gohl said the organization’s goal is to work with local communities to identify where the money will be best spent.

“It’s important for us to work with local government districts, local governors, counties, economic development folks, and in particular the private sector to look at ways to create new job opportunities with a strong competitive workforce, to help extend the reach of broadband within the Appalachian region, to work to develop and support entrepreneurs who have ideas of how they want to grow their businesses,” he said.

Gohl said the grants will be competitively awarded.

“But what’s important is that these are not one-and-done grants,” he said. “These are projects using investments that are sustainable and that provide for long-term economic growth.”

The omnibus bill passed with bipartisan support.

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