Obama offers Appalachia lifeline

AREAS of the Appalachia hit hard by plummeting coal jobs are set to share a $US1 billion lifeline bounty under a budget proposal US President Barack Obama put forward on Monday – but Republicans suspect a hidden agenda.
Obama offers Appalachia lifeline Obama offers Appalachia lifeline Obama offers Appalachia lifeline Obama offers Appalachia lifeline Obama offers Appalachia lifeline

Courtesy Workforce West Virginia.

Anthony Barich

The White House said Obama’s proposal also included an additional $20 million for programs to help laid-off miners, $25 million for the Appalachian Regional Commission to help entrepreneurs in areas hit by coal-job losses, $5 million for communities affected by shut-downs at coal-fired power plants and $97 million in grants or loans for infrastructure projects in places where changes in the coal industry were causing economic hardship.

Republican Hal Rogers, who represents eastern and southern Kentucky and chairs the Appropriations Committee, said Obama knew his tax increases and budget gimmicks would “never be enacted into law”

Despite this, both Rogers and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said Obama’s ideas to help Appalachia deserved full consideration.

The central proposal is to release $1 billion from the federal abandoned mine land fund over five years for reclamation projects that could improve the economies of coal communities that are under the pump.

The White House said that financial distribution would be based on factors including unemployment rates and the potential to link reclamation of land and polluted water to job-creating strategies.

Mountain Association for Community Economic Development president Justin Maxson, who took part in a White House briefing on Obama's proposal, said people in the region cited one example on Monday whereby trees could be planted on sites left largely barren by surface mining that occurred before 1977.

That work could create a significant number of jobs relatively quickly while also restoring the environment and building the base for an improved wood-products industry in the long term, Kentucky.com reported.

“I think it's a huge opportunity for Appalachia,” Maxson said of the budget proposal.

Eastern Kentucky coal production has dropped dramatically in recent years due to a perfect storm of competition from natural gas and cheaper coal mined elsewhere in the US, as well as tougher Environmental Protection Agency rules to protect air and water quality and the depletion of easy to reach reserves which push up costs.

Since early 2012, over half the coal jobs in eastern Kentucky withered away and the losses have spread through the coal-dependent economy. Those in support of Obama’s plan for the region are hopeful that by distributing $200 million annually from the abandoned mine land fund, among state and tribal areas, many job opportunities can be created.

The Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program has reported that the labour force in a 23-county area dropped by 18,295 people from August 2013 through to September last year.