Originally posted by Appalachian Citizens' Law Center, December 18, 2015
Over the past months, support for the the proposed POWER+ Plan has blossomed across Appalachia, and another step was taken today in making the Plan—and the vision of a just economic transition that it represents—a reality.
The POWER+ Plan is a proposed multi-billion dollar investment in communities struggling with the decline of the coal industry to help diversify and strengthen their economies. 26 localities and groups across four Appalachian states have passed resolutions supporting the POWER+ Plan (see list here). The Plan was put forth in the Administration’s FY2016 budget.
The Omnibus bill signed by the President today does not fund the POWER+ Plan in full, but it does include some projects similar to those proposed in the Plan.
“Developing a $90 million pilot project for economic development on reclaimed mines is a great first step. That money will get some things going here in the region, but it’s only a pilot project, it’s only for three states, and it’s only for one year,” said Eric Dixon, Coordinator of Policy and Community Engagement at Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center.*
The Abandoned Mine Land (AML) pilot project included in this budget can pave the way to the full POWER+ Plan, which includes an investment in mine reclamation that is more than ten times larger than $90 million for AML included in this budget. We hope to see Congressman Rogers use the momentum from this pilot project to spearhead legislation in 2016 that would make a longer-term, $1 billion investment in putting laid off miners and others to work reclaiming mines.
The budget also includes provisions that will deliver $50 million to the Appalachian Regional Commission and $15 million to the Economic Development Administration for projects and grants under the POWER+ Plan.** This funding is a win for communities with struggling economies who will now see increased opportunities for economic development and workforce retraining money. Notably, though, the budget only partially funds or altogether leaves out POWER+ funding for USDA, EPA brownfield grants, and the DOL.
In a disappointing move, Congress also will not take any action on the UMWA portion of the POWER+ Plan, which would help strengthen a fund that provides crucial healthcare and pension payments for more than 100,000 retired miners and their families. If action is not taken early in 2016, thousands of people throughout the region who spent their lives working in the mines could lose the benefits they need and deserve.
According to an August article in Reuters, working through AML funding with Wyoming may have been a political obstacle to passage of the POWER+ Plan, but the FAST Act that passed earlier this month includes a provision that will deliver $242 million to Wyoming through the AML program.***
With potential political concerns with Wyoming out of the way and with robust local support for the Plan, Congressman Rogers and Senator McConnell now have all they need to take the momentum gained from this AML pilot project and make the full POWER+ Plan a reality early in the new year.
*The $90 million provision for AML projects that create economic or community development opportunities can be found on pages 734-5 of the bill here.
** According to page 99 of this PDF of an accompanying report on the omnibus budget, within the Appalachian Regional Commission’s $146 million budget “$50,000,000 is provided for the POWER Plus Plan.”
***The provision that delivers the $242 million payment to Wyoming can be found on pages 451-2 of the the FAST Act here.