Yesterday, President Obama announced in his proposed budget a significant monetary lifeline for eastern Kentucky and all of Central Appalachia’s coalfields. He’s proposing $1 billion in Abandoned Mine Lands Funds for reclamation efforts that would create local jobs, a $55 million injection into rural development programs through federal entities like the Appalachian Regional Commission and USDA, and supports for UMWA pension and healthcare funds to help the more than 100,000 retired miners and their families who are beneficiaries of said funds.
This is a huge deal. Whether or not the President’s budget goes anywhere in the Republican-controlled Congress, this announcement signals the administration’s dedication to reinvestment in areas hardest hit by the nation’s shifting energy landscape that sees booming natural gas and increasing affordability of renewable energy as taking up more of its future than coal. It also shows the administration is making an effort to mitigate the impact that strengthening environmental regulations has had on areas where extraction of fossil fuels takes place.
We’re certainly excited about this announcement and about the conversation it’s started in the region. Here’s a breakdown of some of the abundance of coverage about it from around the region:
From the Lexington Herald-Leader: “I hope that Congress will review the proposal without making it this week’s target practice for partisan bickering and gridlock,” Governor Steve Beshear said. “For an issue as important as Appalachian development and support, party-line antics do nothing but delay or even eliminate needed investments.”
The Herald-Leader editorial board: “Coal mined out of Kentucky’s mountains powered the industrial expansion and centers of commerce that made the United States’ the world’s largest economy. Now that the coal industry is leaving, it’s simple justice to help the region get on its feet.”
The Daily Yonder: “More [abandoned mine reclamation] funding in this region, like the increase proposed today, could put miners back to work and lay a foundation for economic growth in the region,” said Evan Smith, a staff attorney at Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center in Whitesburg, Kentucky. “Unemployed miners and others have the skills necessary to do reclamation work on AML projects.”
The Independent in Ashland, Ky.: The proposals were greeted enthusiastically by some environmentalists, economic analysts and advocates in the region but got a reserved, even grudging response from U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the Senate Majority Leader.
The Charleston Gazette in Charleston, W.V.: “We are in the midst of a pretty dramatic energy transition in this country that is producing a lot of very good things, from cleaner air to healthier communities to new jobs and new industries,” said Jason Walsh, a senior policy adviser at the White House. “At the same time, it is impacting workers and communities who have relied on the coal economy as a source of good jobs for a whole lot of years. … while policymakers can disagree about the reasons why the coal industry is struggling, all Americans should be able to agree that these workers and communities, who are in some of the most economically distressed parts of the country, deserve help from the federal government.”
Bloomberg News: The plan is a “hopeful sign that brings with it much opportunity for coalfield communities,” Justin Maxson, president of Mountain Association for Community Economic Development in Kentucky, said in an e-mail. It “is a major boost to regional economic transition initiatives already taking place.”