Bipartisan Support in Appalachia for New Investment

first_img FacebookTwitterLinkedInEmailPrint分享Devin Henry for lawmakers in both parties are pushing a bill called the Reclaim Act, which would release $1 billion in federal funding for distressed coal communities.The money, to be appropriated over five years, would help communities diversify their economies.“The communities are not giving up on coal, the people haven’t, and I’m not, either. But … we are desperate for jobs,” said Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-W.Va.), a member of the bipartisan group.“They’re survivors, and they’ve been through tough conditions before. Now, this one’s about as tough as we’ve ever seen, and the causes are different than what we’ve seen. But people are fighters … we want to do what we can to create job opportunities.”The legislation is backed by the White House and dozens of local communities. It has a powerful sponsor in House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), whose state — along with Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania — would receive several million dollars under the bill.Money would come from the Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) fund, a pool of $2.8 billion meant to help clean up mine sites.Rogers said his bill is designed to expand the scope of that fund, giving cities and local governments the chance to use federal funding to also invest in public infrastructure needed to attract new industries.Local communities have clamored for assistance, said Aaron Wells, who works on economic diversification for the group Appalachian Voices. More than two dozen county commissions in Appalachian states have endorsed either the Reclaim proposal or the Power Plus Plan.“What Power Plus has done — by offering all this federal funding to coal communities — it’s forced our local leaders to engage in a conversation about moving our economies forward,” he said.But political problems have already doomed parts of the proposal.Republicans and the energy industry view Obama’s Clean Power Plan as a major stumbling block for the American coal sector, and anger over that has fueled skepticism about federal efforts to help workers.Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has floated a plan similar to Power Plus, but a recent gaffe  — “We’re going to put a lot of coal companies and coal miners out of business,” she said in March — illustrates the lack of trust coal country has toward Washington.Democrat Jeff Kessler, the minority leader in the West Virginia Senate, said he’s been flummoxed by efforts of his state leaders to deal with the crisis. This session, they passed a plan to lower severance tax rates on coal producers but did little to address the question of modernizing local economies.“I would like to [undertake those efforts], but I’m in the minority,” said Kessler, a gubernatorial candidate.“I would embrace it in a heartbeat, and if I become governor, I will cooperate with it absolutely and entirely. … You can’t just sit back and wring your hands. You have to figure out where you go from here.”Full article: Coal country rages against fall Bipartisan Support in Appalachia for New Investmentlast_img

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