By Brian Sewell
A broad set of initiatives included in the Obama administration’s proposed budget for 2016 would support economic development projects in Central Appalachian communities burdened by the coal industry’s continued decline.
The funding proposals in the president’s budget, collectively called the POWER+ Plan, aim to expand workforce training and other employment services. The plan would also create new job opportunities in regional mining communities by boosting the budgets of agencies including the Appalachian Regional Commission and the U.S. Economic Development Administration.
Regional advocates applauded the ways the POWER+ Plan would address legacy costs of mountaintop removal coal mining by reforming the Abandoned Mine Lands reclamation fund. In Appalachia alone, the federal fund, administered by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, currently faces a multi-billion dollar backlog of unreclaimed mines. Under the new plan, the agency, which currently has about $2.5 billion, would receive an additional $200 million a year for each of the next five years.
On March 27, the White House announced it is making a “down payment” on the POWER+ Plan by designating between $28 and $38 million for grants to community organizations already engaged in advancing economic development in Appalachia.