Local support for POWER+ Plan growing like wildfire

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Downtown Whitesburg. Photo by: Art of the Rural

Support for the POWER+ Plan is picking up steam in Central Appalachia, as several localities have now passed resolutions in support of the plan.

The Norton, Va., City Council became the first in the nation to pass a resolution supporting the POWER+ Plan in July. They were joined shortly after by the Cumberland Plateau Planning District Commission and the Wise County Board of Supervisors in Virginia. City Councils in Whitesburg and Benham, Ky., passed similar resolutions last week, and have been followed this week by the Kentucky Fiscal Courts of Letcher and Harlan Counties, and the Campbell County Commission in Tennessee.

In each case, the resolutions passed unanimously, which goes to show that local leaders have no qualms about accepting assistance for their communities when it is desperately needed. They live with the reality of coal’s collapse surrounding them every day, and they know the billions of dollars being offered to Central Appalachia through the POWER+ Plan would be an enormous help in bolstering their local economies. Mountain people might be prideful, but they also aren’t too proud to accept help when it comes, no matter from where it derives.

The resolutions being passed are worth quoting:

“The POWER+ Plan includes programs that would disburse $1 billion in funding for Abandoned Mine Land (AML) projects that create long-term business and economic opportunities; would invest millions in workforce development and job training programs in communities impacted by the decline of the coal industry; and would strengthen the health and pension plans of 100,000 retired coal miners and their families.” – Whitesburg City Commission

“The POWER+ Plan could reactivate idle equipment and put laid off miners and other local residents to work reclaiming abandoned mine lands . . . the County of Wise desires to invest resources to adapt to new economic circumstances facing our region and the increased federal funding targeting our region that would help to leverage local efforts.” – Wise County Board of Supervisors

“Now Therefore Be It Resolved, that the Cumberland Plateau Planning District Commission Board of Directors strongly supports full funding for the proposed POWER Plus program included in the current Administration’s 2016 Budget as a means to target much needed federal funding to the Cumberland Plateau Planning District and other economically distressed communities throughout Central Appalachia for needed economic diversification efforts.” – Cumberland Plateau Planning District Commission

The passing of these resolutions of support for the POWER+ Plan is becoming a movement to urge Central Appalachia’s U.S. Congressional contingent to throw their support behind the plan and get it passed through Congress as quickly as possible. Rep. Hal Rogers, who represents the 5th Congressional District in eastern Kentucky, is the House Appropriations Chair; Mitch McConnell is the Senate Majority Leader. Both are well-suited to help the POWER+ Plan along.

Times are hard in Central Appalachia. With the recent bankruptcy announcement by Alpha Natural Resources – one of the largest coal companies in the region – it will absolutely get worse for Central Appalachian communities before it gets better.

Thankfully, local leaders are looking toward the “better.” They are aiming at what the future holds for their communities – communities to which they have chosen to dedicate their work and lives through public service. They are trying to do whatever it takes to salvage their places and turn them into thriving communities once more. But they need help, and the POWER+ Plan would certainly provide it.

Briefly, the plan would (from the Charleston Gazette-Mail, of Charleston, W.Va.):

  • Pump $200 million per year for five years to clean up abandoned strip mines, which could create multitudes of jobs for laid-off miners.
  • Add $5 million for “brownfields” work cleaning up pollution at coal-fired power plants.
  • Give $20 million to retrain ex-miners and help them find new jobs.
  • Grant $25 million to the Appalachian Regional Commission for efforts to create new businesses and upgrade water, sewer and telecommunications infrastructure.
  • Add $6 million more for “place-based regional innovation efforts” to spur jobs in distressed coal communities.
  • Award $3.9 billion over a decade to shore up pensions and medical care of retired miners.

If you tally all those numbers up, that amounts to a lot of federal help for struggling coalfield communities.

Of course, politics plays a huge role in whether or not our region’s federal leaders will publicly support POWER+. But as former Whitesburg City Commissioner Tom Sexton said: “We’re reeling down here. Whatever your politics are, there’s no wrong reason to bring a billion dollars to create jobs for the region.”

It’s time for the POWER+ Plan to pass through Congress. It’s time for that funding to ease some of the hurt and grief our communities have felt for decades, and most acutely, in the past 10 years. It’s time – long past time – for our national leaders to support the plan, and by proxy, support us.

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