Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Obama's proposed budget includes $1 billion in funding to aid distressed coal country

President Obama's proposed fiscal year 2016 budget, announced on Monday, proposes "$1 billion in new spending over the next five years to clean up abandoned strip mines and $2 million in tax credits aimed at spurring innovation on technology to capture carbon pollution from power plants," Ken Ward reports for the Charleston Gazette. "Obama’s proposal also includes $3.9 billion over 10 years to protect health and retirement benefits for retired coal miners, officials said."

"Obama is also asking the Republican-controlled Congress to provide $56 million in new money for existing programs at the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Department of Labor and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to help laid-off workers and to assist coalfield communities with economic development," Ward writes. The White House said the effort, “Power Plus Plan,” was created "to invest in workers and jobs, address important 'legacy costs' in coal communities and drive development of new technologies."

Distribution of funds "would be based on factors such as unemployment rates and the potential to link reclamation of land and polluted water to job-creating strategies, according to the White House," Bill Estep reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. "One example people in the region cited Monday would be planting trees on sites left largely barren by surface mining that happened before 1977."

Justin Maxson, president of the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, said 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." Speaking of the budget Maxson told Estep, "I think it's a huge opportunity for Appalachia."

One issue avoided during the release of the budget was Obama's comments during the landmark 2013 climate-change speech at Georgetown University, in which he said, "We’re going to need to give special care to people and communities that are unsettled by this transition—not just here in the United States but around the world. And those of us in positions of responsibility, we’ll need to be less concerned with the judgment of special interests and well-connected donors and more concerned with the judgment of posterity. Because you and your children—and your children’s children—will have to live with the consequences of our decisions."

Perhaps the White House didn't want to acknowledge partial blame for the loss of coal jobs, giving opponents a chance to take that as an admission of a "war on coal." Obama, though, has been a champion of cleaner energy and is fully aware that switching to clean energy hurts coal jobs, with the White House saying in a fact sheet, “The United States is undergoing a rapid energy transformation, particularly in the power sector,” Mark Drajem reports for Bloomberg. "But that is also hurting 'workers and communities who have relied on the coal industry as a source of good jobs and economic prosperity, particularly in Appalachia.'”

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