Thursday, June 25, 2015

Aid Package for Coal Country Goes Ignored by Congress

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) addresses reporters at the U.S. Capitol in Washington June 16, 2015. (Credit: Reuters/Jonathan Ernst) Click to Enlarge.
A massive $3 billion package to help struggling coal communities transition to a new economy is sitting unappropriated in the Republican-led Congress.  And lawmakers are saying little—at least publicly—about if and how they ever plan to support it.

As part of the budget proposal released in February, the White House rolled out the POWER+ plan to support towns and communities struggling to cope with the decline in coal production and use.  The initiative provides coal country with an influx of cash to reclaim abandoned mines, provide job training to miners, reform health and pension funds and invest in carbon capture technology.

But in the four months since the White House announced the plan, leaders in Congress have not addressed it in any detail.
Long the backbone of Appalachia, coal has been in a steady decline since 2000, with the dwindling supplies of easy-to-access coal, a surge in natural gas production and a slew of environmental regulations.

In recent years, coal mines and coal-burning power plants have shuttered, leaving thousands out of work.  Since 2008 coal employment in the country has decreased by about 12,000 jobs, a 13 percent decline.  At the same time, poverty rates in parts of Appalachia are some of the highest in the country, leading the Appalachian Regional Commission, an economic development agency, to declare almost a tenth of all counties in the area distressed this year.

"Part of the problem we have is we had very little economic diversification.  In coal communities it’s been a mono economy of coal and not a lot else," said Chris Porter at Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, a non-profit based in Kentucky. "Having an influx of several billion dollars to really work to build a lot of diverse development strategies would be an enormous boost to take our region into the post coal economy."

In order to move the money from federal coffers to the states and counties, Congress must allocate the money from the federal budget through appropriations bills.  Since the POWER+ proposal includes legislative reforms and fund allocations, executing the White House’s plan will require a high level of coordination in Congress.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Congressman Hal Rogers, who chairs the House appropriations committee, are perhaps best positioned to lead the effort in ensuring the proposal becomes law.  Both McConnell and Rogers are from Kentucky and have constituents who desperately need relief.  But their comments on the proposal are hardly a ringing endorsement. 
Both legislators agreed that the proposal should be seriously considered.  Since then, however, only a sliver of the POWER+ proposal has been included in the appropriations bills revealed so far, leaving constituents in the lurch.

Read more at Aid Package for Coal Country Goes Ignored by Congress

No comments:

Post a Comment