Posts Tagged ‘abandoned mine lands’

Senate bill signals hope for economy in Appalachian coal communities

Thursday, December 15th, 2016 - posted by cat

Contact:
Adam Wells, Economic Diversification Program Manager, 804-240-4372, adam@appvoices.org
Cat McCue, Communications Director, 434-293-6373, cat@appvoices.org

A recent study from Appalachian Voices identifies more than a dozen old coal sites in Southwest Virginia prime for repurposing.

A recent study from Appalachian Voices identifies more than a dozen old coal sites in Southwest Virginia prime for repurposing.

NORTON, VA – A bill announced today by senators from four Appalachian states for $1 billion to repurpose abandoned coal strip mines for economic development projects marks a significant step in the ongoing effort to revitalize local communities in the region.

The bill was introduced last week by Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Mark Warner (D-VA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Bob Casey (D-PA). Called the RECLAIM Act, it mirrors a bipartisan bill introduced in the House earlier this year.

Local support for increased and expedited federal investment in the coal-bearing region of Central Appalachia has grown swiftly in the last two years as coal has continued to decline. Nearly 30 local government entities in Virginia, Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee have unanimously passed resolutions calling for increased funding for economic development.

Funding through a RECLAIM bill represents part of a greater effort to support coalfield communities. This year, $65 million has been allocated specifically for immediate implementation of economic development projects in the region through the Obama administration’s POWER initiative, including nearly $47 million from the Appalachian Regional Commission for 174 coal-impacted counties across nine states. Additionally, $90 million has been allocated to West Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania this year for pilot projects similar to RECLAIM’s intent of using old coal mine lands for economic development. The recent Continuing Resolution reauthorized that funding for the upcoming fiscal year.

A recent study from Appalachian Voices identified 14 abandoned coal mining sites in Southwest Virginia that would be ideal candidates for RECLAIM funding. The projects, including solar facilities, local parks and sustainable agriculture projects, represent well over $16 million in cleanup costs and $52 million in construction investments.

“This is great news. We’re grateful to Senators Kaine and Warner for taking leadership on introducing RECLAIM, and glad to know they recognize the urgent need for economic diversification and environmental cleanup we feel in our communities in far Southwest Virginia,” said Adam Wells, Economic Diversification Program Manager for Appalachian Voices. “The timing of this clearly shows that both chambers of Congress are committed to passing RECLAIM in 2017 and sets a strong path forward for that to happen.”

“I’m very glad to see our senators leading the way on RECLAIM,” said Adam Malle of Big Stone Gap, Va., and a board member of Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards. “Last year we worked with our localities to pass resolutions of support for federal investment for economic diversification and we’re glad Senators Kaine and Warner heard that clear message from our local communities.”

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Mine Reclamation Pilot Program Breaks Ground

Friday, October 7th, 2016 - posted by interns

By Eliza Laubach

Workers, including former coal miners, are cleaning up decades of coal waste at an abandoned mine in Pennsylvania, funded by special appropriations from Congress. In August, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell visited the Ehrenfield Abandoned Mine Reclamation Project to celebrate the pilot project of the $90 million Abandoned Mine Lands Economic Revitalization program.

At this particular site, 2.4 million yards of coal waste remains from past mining operations, endangering residents who live within 500 feet of the pile, according to the U.S. Department of Interior. The mine reclamation is part of a three-year project that will also enhance access to the “Path of the Flood” trail in an effort to increase ecotourism.

This program reflects the goals of the RECLAIM Act, a bipartisan bill now before Congress that aims to develop local economies while reclaiming abandoned mine lands. The Abandoned Mine Lands Economic Revitalization program is funding similar projects in West Virginia and Kentucky, which have yet to begin.

Revitalizing Appalachia from the ground up

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016 - posted by thom

Proposing grassroots principles for the RECLAIM Act

Citizens share ideas about diversifying the local economy at a public forum last fall in Wise County, Va., hosted by Appalachian Voices.

Citizens share ideas about diversifying the local economy at a public forum last fall in Wise County, Va., hosted by Appalachian Voices.

Back in February, a bill was introduced in Congress that would expedite funding to clean up old coal mining sites and redevelop them with a specific goal of fostering economic growth in surrounding communities.

It was a turning point in the unfolding narrative about the future of Appalachia, and we have been working ever since to pass the RECLAIM Act.

The bill is in committee and the language is expected to change a bit in the coming weeks. As Congress considers those changes, lawmakers should look to communities impacted by the coal industry, in Appalachia and across the country, whose perspective is vital to the RECLAIM Act’s success.

As it currently stands, the bill would distribute $1 billion over five years to states and tribes to clean up abandoned mine lands while promoting economic development. The funding comes from an existing pot of money, the Abandoned Mine Land Fund, comprised of coal company fees paid over the past 40 years.

Most coal mine sites that closed prior to the passage of the Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act in 1977 were never properly cleaned up, and present environmental and public health risks. The RECLAIM Act aims to create innovative economic opportunities by addressing historic environmental problems in communities with significant economic distress. The bill could put laid-off miners and other local residents to work reclaiming abandoned mines in ways that develop long-term economic opportunities in agriculture, recreational tourism, renewable energy and more.

The town of Coeburn in Wise County, Va.

The town of Coeburn in Wise County, Va.

It’s a “win-win-win” approach if ever there was one. And it’s just the right thing to do. The bill’s patron, Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky, agrees. “We decided that whatever we did would have to be sprung from within,” Rogers told The New York Times.

There are now nine Republicans, including Rogers, as well as six Democrats sponsoring the RECLAIM Act, which closely resembles a White House proposal that is unanimously supported by more than two dozen local governments in Central Appalachia. Appalachian Voices is working with regional allies, including Appalachian Citizens Law Center and Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, to pass the RECLAIM Act, as are national environmental organizations like the Sierra Club.

I won’t spend time explaining why some of these folks typically don’t get along; calling them “strange bedfellows” will have to do. Yet our differences have not been enough to stop our momentum, much of which is based on a shared belief that how RECLAIM Act funding is allocated, and what projects get funded, must come from the communities.

Appalachian coal producing states — West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Alabama — would each receive millions of dollars under the RECLAIM Act to clean up mine sites, but only some. The estimated funds needed to clean up all abandoned mine lands in those six states is well into the billions of dollars. So deciding which sites are chosen, and what economic development projects are pursued, is paramount.

As the House Natural Resources Committee starts markup on the bill this month, Appalachian Voices and other public interest groups offer these principles as the foundation for the bill’s language:

  • In order to be successful, the RECLAIM Act must improve the quality of life for people and communities affected by economic disruption, environmental damage and inequality.
  • The bill should foster inclusion, participation and collaboration, from the White House to communities directly affected by reclamation projects.
  • The goal of the bill should be to generate stable, family-sustaining, meaningful jobs and broad access to opportunities and benefits.
  • The bill should promote innovation, self-reliance and broadly held local wealth.
  • The bill should continue to meet the goals of the Abandoned Mine Lands program, which are to protect and restore public health and our environment.
  • With the RECLAIM Act, as with all of our economic diversification work, we must respect the past while also strengthening communities and culture.

(Read the full set of principles and criteria.)

It’s possible the bill will not live up to these principles. In the past, some state agencies have failed to seek out ideas and input from community members, or have done so after the fact, having already decided on important issues. And in the past, those decisions have sometimes been influenced by politics, and reclamation funding has gone to wealthier areas, and to out-of-state corporations, instead of where it is most needed.

The RECLAIM Act offers people who care about our region a critical opportunity to improve communities throughout Appalachia, and I believe it will. We will push every step of the way to ensure the bill is as strong as it should be so that when it passes, communities are in the strongest possible position to control their own future.

Federal Support for Clean Energy Financing and other shorts

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016 - posted by interns

Federal Support for Clean Energy Financing

A June ruling from the Federal Electric Regulatory Commission affirmed the right of rural electric cooperatives and municipal utilities to buy cost-competitive power from independent generators instead of conventional utilities. This bolsters the prospects of decentralized energy production — often solar power— in rural areas, says Utility Dive.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has made available a new low-cost energy efficiency financing program. The Rural Energy Savings Program provides funding to rural electric cooperatives to back loans to electric co-op members for weatherization upgrades.

— Eliza Laubach

Mine Drainage Emits Higher Level of Carbon Dioxide

More carbon dioxide is being released from coal mine drainage than expected.

In June, a West Virginia University study found that 140 coal mines across Pennsylvania are collectively releasing carbon dioxide equal to that of a small power plant. The greenhouse gas is released into the atmosphere when mine waters reach the land’s surface, a WVU press release explains.

Using a meter designed for measuring carbon dioxide in beverages, the research team discovered there is more carbon dioxide in the water than was measured using previous testing methods.

Coal mine drainage contaminates drinking water, disrupts ecosystems and releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to the university.

— Otto Solberg

New Pollution Controls for Virginia Natural Gas Plant

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality imposed precedent-setting protections against air pollutants by requiring that Dominion Power employ the best available control technology in its proposed gas-fired power plant in Greensville County, Va. The move comes in response to extensive comments from citizens and organizations such as Appalachian Mountain Advocates, Appalachian Voices and the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club. The department also decreased allowable carbon dioxide emission limits by more than 10 percent compared to the original proposal, according to a press release from the organizations.

— Hannah Petersen

$30 Million for Pennsylvania Abandoned Mine Projects

In July, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf awarded $30 million for 14 projects to reclaim abandoned mine lands that were selected based on their potential to create long-term economic benefits. Funding for the projects comes from a federal pilot program passed by Congress in December. The program is structured similar to the RECLAIM Act, bipartisan legislation that, if passed, would distribute $1 billion over five years to support land restoration and economic development in communities across the country impacted by the coal industry’s decline.

— Brian Sewell

Pipeline Would Cross Hazardous Landscape

If constructed as proposed, the Mountain Valley Pipeline would encounter many geologic hazards as it carries natural gas from wellheads in West Virginia to Virginia, according to a recent study commissioned by Protect Our Water, Heritage, Rights (The POWHR Coalition). Because of its weak soil structure, the possibility of surface collapse and potential for seismic activity, the karst landscape along the West Virginia-Virginia state line makes this area a “‘no-build’ zone for the project,” according to Dr. Ernst H. Kastning, the study’s author.

Karst topography is formed when soluble rock layers such as limestone are dissolved, leaving behind underground caves and sinkholes.

— Elizabeth E. Payne

Renewable Energy Growing

Renewable energy sources supplied an estimated 23.7 percent of the world’s electricity in 2015, and that number is expected to rise as better funding enters the competitive market, according to a report from the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century.

The world added more renewable power capacity than fossil fuel capacity in 2015. Hydroelectric power added a trillion watts, wind added 63 billion watts and solar added 50 billion watts.

— Otto Solberg

Coal Production Drops

The first quarter of 2016 saw the lowest level of coal produced since 1981 and the largest quarter-over-quarter decline in coal production since 1984, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The EIA report shows that weaker demand due to above-normal winter temperatures, alongside complying with environmental regulations and competing with renewables and natural gas, have caused production to decline.

— Hannah Petersen

New SWVa project shows top spots for turning old coal mines into economic drivers

Monday, June 20th, 2016 - posted by cat

Screen Shot 2016-06-20 at 4.45.15 PM

Contact:
Adam Wells, Economic Diversification Program Coordinator
(o) 276-679 1691, (m) 804-240-4372, adam@appvoices.org

Norton, VA — Appalachian Voices today released preliminary findings in an ongoing review of abandoned coal mine lands in Southwest Virginia to identify the best potential sites for reclamation and redevelopment for positive economic benefit for the region.

The nonprofit organization partnered with two expert consulting firms, Coal Mining Engineering Services and Downstream Strategies, to design and implement the analysis of 500 sites officially designated as “abandoned mine lands” (AML) by federal and state regulators. The initial findings released today narrow down the field of eligible sites to 21, scattered across seven counties in Southwest Virginia.

“This project brings a new way of thinking to the old problem of what to do with our region’s abandoned mine lands,” says Adam Wells, Economic Diversification Program Coordinator with Appalachian Voices. “We’re using this study to connect existing ideas from communities across the area with new funding sources to create new economic activity while improving the environment.”

Among the potential projects the joint team is considering for the sites are solar farms, community parks, forestry operations and permaculture farms with closed-loop systems that integrate waste back into improving the soil for growing organic crops.

The team evaluated the hundreds of AML sites based on a variety of criteria. It reached out to local planners to find sites that are already earmarked for some level of redevelopment activity. The team also assessed sites for proximity to population centers, transportation, and utilities infrastructure and markets. Finally, the team evaluated sites based on potential eligibility specifically for funding from the RECLAIM Act, bipartisan legislation introduced this year by Kentucky Congressman Hal Rogers and co-sponsored by Virginia Congressman Morgan Griffith, along with several other Appalachian lawmakers. The bill would expedite expenditure of $1 billion from the existing Abandoned Mine Lands Fund, which would be in addition to the fund’s annual allotment already coming to Southwest Virginia for mine reclamation.

The next step of the analysis will be a deeper assessment of each of the sites for its suitability for a variety of economic activities such as recreation and parks, renewable energy production, agroforestry, agriculture, and business or industrial park development.

The study was launched earlier this year, and the team expects to complete the final report this fall, which will be distributed to local, regional, state and federal entities to help further the growing conversation around economic diversification in Southwest Virginia.

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RECLAIMing Central Appalachia

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016 - posted by molly

RECLAIMing Central Appalachia

Tuesday, April 19th, 2016 - posted by molly

Federal efforts could boost local economies, repair environmental damages

By Molly Moore

A rare bipartisan proposal aims to tackle two pressing issues related to the flailing coal industry — the need for new economic opportunities in central Appalachia and repairing environmental damage from decades of mining.

In March, nine grassroots advocates from Appalachia traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with congressional representatives and staff from the White House and federal agencies. The week’s events were coordinated by The Alliance For Appalachia, a coalition of 15 environmental and community organizations including Appalachian Voices, the publisher of this newspaper.

The top priority was to inform regional legislators about the RECLAIM Act — a bill that intends to breathe new life into struggling central Appalachian economies while remediating land and water polluted by decades-old abandoned mines.


    The map shows counties that have abandoned mine lands on the federal inventory. Dark red counties have the most reclamation costs; the lightest shade of red has the least. Source: Daily Yonder from the federal Abandoned Mine Land Inventory System. Map courtesy Daily Yonder

Congressional Cooperation

In February of this year, Rep. Hal Rogers, a Republican from eastern Kentucky, introduced the RECLAIM Act with the support of congressmen from both parties — Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA), Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV) and Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA). The RECLAIM Act would accelerate payments from the existing federal Abandoned Mine Lands fund, dispersing $1 billion over five years to projects that would reclaim former mining sites while boosting local economic development.

Representatives of The Alliance For Appalachia during a March trip to Washington, D.C.[/caption]Jack Kennedy, clerk of Circuit Court for Wise County and Norton, Va., and a former member of the Virginia General Assembly, says that the RECLAIM Act could lead to solar utility projects on abandoned mines and other endeavors.

“The RECLAIM Act passage would provide Appalachian community jobs immediately working to ameliorate brownfield real estate into a productive state for commercial or agricultural or other productive purposes over a period of time,” he wrote in an email.

The bill’s support from legislators like Rogers and Griffith — staunch opponents of environmental regulation, which they allege is responsible for Appalachia’s poor coal market — signals a willingness to cooperate with the administration to provide economic and community development in areas that have depended on the coal industry.

Under the RECLAIM Act, $1 billion from the federal Abandoned Mine Lands fund would be directed to qualifying states and tribes over a five-year period starting in 2017. The AML fund was established in 1977 to restore land and water contaminated by coal mines that were abandoned before the federal surface mining law took effect that year. The AML program is funded by a per-ton fee on coal production, and the money is distributed based on a state or tribe’s current coal production rather than the amount of damaged land and water.

Protect Our Water, Reclaim Our Future

Join The Alliance for Appalachia in Washington, D.C., to speak with legislators and decision-makers June 5-8. For more information, email Alannah@TheAllianceForAppalachia.org.


Presently, the AML fund holds $2.5 billion that is not dedicated toward specific projects, though the interest helps support a pension fund for roughly 100,000 retired union miners. This $2.5 billion was intended as a reserve fund for states to use after 2021, when the AML program is set to expire — the RECLAIM Act would expedite the disbursal of $1 billion from that pot.

According to a July 2015 report by the AML Policy Priorities Group, directing $200 million annually to abandoned mine lands projects for five years would bring national economic benefits of 3,117 jobs and contribute close to $500 million to the United States economy. The researchers, affiliated with Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center and The Alliance for Appalachia, estimated that central Appalachia would see about 35 percent of those benefits. They called for allocating the $1 billion in a way that differs from the RECLAIM Act by also considering economic distress. Such a formula would further boost the benefits for the area.

Even enacting RECLAIM with the current formula could be a powerful catalyst. “By expanding the scope of the AML program to consider economic benefits, Rogers and his colleagues have introduced a forward-thinking solution to one of the biggest challenges facing our region today,” Kennedy wrote in a March op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “The fact that the bill continues to gain bipartisan support is noteworthy and speaks to the urgent need for creative approaches to the economic woes of our coal regions.”

Community Support

The premise of the RECLAIM bill is based on one of the components of the president’s POWER-Plus Plan. The plan was first introduced as part of the president’s 2016 budget proposal and was reintroduced for the 2017 budget.

POWER-Plus received a warm welcome from local governments and community groups in the region, many of which were already working to diversify the historically coal-dependent economy. Twenty-eight local governments and organizations passed resolutions supporting the economic revitalization package, including 12 entities in Rogers’ home district.

Representatives of The Alliance For Appalachia during a March trip to Washington, D.C.

Representatives of The Alliance For Appalachia during a March trip to Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy The Alliance for Appalachia

Among those were the Benham Town Council and the Benham Power Board, a municipally owned utility. In early 2016, Carl Shoupe, a retired coal miner in Harlan County, Ky., and member of the Benham Power Board, wrote to Rogers and asked the congressman to help secure the funding needed to implement the POWER-Plus Plan. Citing the local declarations of support, he wrote, “As the resolutions say, we believe our transition should be one that ‘celebrates culture; invests in communities; generates good, stable and meaningful jobs; is just and equitable; and protects and restores the land, air and water.’”

Lawmakers incorporated some of the president’s plan in their one-year federal budget for 2016 including a proposal by Rogers to direct $90 million in AML funding to projects with economic potential in Pennsylvania, Kentucky and West Virginia, the three states with the highest remaining costs for cleaning up abandoned mines.

As of early April, the RECLAIM Act — which would go a step further with its $1 billion allocation — had an equal number of Republican and Democratic co-sponsors. As the bill picks up more backers, a number of regional stakeholders are paying attention to how the bill is structured, and how the federal funds would be distributed.

“The Alliance [for Appalachia] is working to ensure that a strong public engagement process is included in RECLAIM,” Economic Transition Coordinator Lyndsay Tarus wrote in an email. “If the intent of the legislation is to boost economic transition, then communities most in need of the funding need their voices heard.”

During their March trip to Washington, D.C., the Alliance representatives also spoke with federal agency staff about the need for reliable oversight of clean water regulations, including a strong Stream Protection Rule to protect waterways from mining damage.

“The Alliance understands that meaningful and sustainable economic transition is just not possible when the basic necessity of clean water isn’t available,” Tarus states.

A POWERful Big Picture

The expedited release of abandoned mine lands dollars is one piece of a broader effort to assist central Appalachia and other communities around the country experiencing economic hardships due to coal’s decline.

In addition to the abandoned mine lands proposal, President Obama’s POWER-Plus Plan would strengthen the healthcare and pension plans for approximately 100,000 retired coal miners and their families. The Miners Protection Act, a bill to enact the pension change, is currently in the Senate. The POWER-Plus Plan also calls for two new tax credits for power plants that use carbon-capture technology.

Another core component of the plan is the proposed Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization initiative, which would grant $75 million in economic development funding to the region. These funds would provide more support for former coal workers through programs such as the Appalachian Regional Commission and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program. An additional $5 million to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfields Program would also clean up contaminated lands that have economic potential in formerly coal-dependent communities.

This POWER funding would help these agencies provide workforce training and bolster economic developments such as broadband access to attract new business.

In fall 2015, the Obama administration announced what it called a “down payment” on the plan — nearly $15 million in grants to kick-start some of these initiatives. So far, the grants have been allocated to strengthen Kentucky’s local food supply chain, bring agriculture to reclaimed mines in West Virginia, provide job training in fields such as technology and local food, develop community-specific economic diversification plans, create a substance abuse treatment center, and help new and existing industries capitalize on an expanding broadband network. Read more at right.

Kennedy waxes enthusiastically about the prospect for economic revitalization embodied in the RECLAIM Act and the POWER-Plus Plan. “Restoring Appalachian opportunity is essential,” he states. “We need to be among the first providing multiple 20 to 80 megawatts of small commercial-scale solar utility farms to learn and culturally accept the energy transition underway in our nation and around the globe.”

“Change is hard, but it is the only constant even for us in the more isolated mountains,” he continues. “We must adapt, improvise and overcome multiple challenges.”

As legislators, agency administrators and regional advocates work to pass these various federal economic proposals, one of the challenges for local supporters will be to make sure citizen input and priorities are reflected in the implementation of these programs.

“The key thing is citizen involvement,” says Mary Love, a Kentucky resident and member of The Alliance For Appalachia’s federal strategy team who met with legislators about the RECLAIM Act. “They have to show that they have citizen involvement in deciding what projects to fund. You can bet that we’ll be all over that.”

Grants Power Area Projects

➤ In southeast Kentucky, the POWER Initiative provided funding for the nonprofit media institution Appalshop to work with Southeast Community & Technical College and ten local employers to develop a one-year certificate program in technology. The three-track program would offer classes geared towards web coding, graphic and web design, and network infrastructure and security services. According to Ada Smith, Appalshop’s institutional development director, a formal certificate in technology would provide “a marked signifier to others that this person is interested, available and ready to work.” Smith hopes that courses will begin in fall 2017, and is optimistic that the program could be replicated at other community colleges.

➤ The Southern Appalachian Labor School in Robson, W.Va., received a planning grant to evaluate how both abandoned and reclaimed surface mines in the area might be used to provide economic benefits. “Right now we’re going to try to scope post-mining sites in the county, see what’s available, do a solar site analysis and see if it’s feasible to put in a solar farm,” says Director John David. The team will be looking at issues such as grid connectivity and cost, in addition to considering other projects like orchards and a senior living complex.

➤ The organization Friends of Southwest Virginia received a POWER Initiative grant to advance ongoing tourism, recreation and entrepreneurship projects. Among the endeavors is a new ecological education center near the Clinch River that will serve as both an educational and entrepreneurial hub. Another project will improve riverfront access from the New River to five downtown centers in Giles County. In Wise County, local tourism partners plan to create a visitors center in Norton to provide information about the region’s assets.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the ecological education center supported by Friends of Southwest Virginia would be on the Guest River. Instead, the proposed center would be on the Clinch River near St. Paul. We regret the error.

Bill Aims to Boost Local Appalachian Economies

Wednesday, February 17th, 2016 - posted by Elizabeth E. Payne

A bipartisan bill led by members of Congress from four Appalachian states aims to revitalize local economies in the region through the restoration of previously mined lands.

Introduced in early February by Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY), the RECLAIM Act would amend the primary federal law regulating surface coal mining to accelerate the release of $1 billion from the Abandoned Mine Lands Fund over the next five years.

Projects that could be funded under the bill include land restoration for industrial, commercial, agricultural or recreational purposes that would benefit areas heavily impacted by the coal industry’s decline.

Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA), another lead sponsor, called the legislation an “imperative effort to help reinvigorate” Appalachian communities.

— Brian Sewell

Appalachians Look to Branch Out from Coal-Based Economy

Thursday, November 12th, 2015 - posted by cat
Citizens of Wise County, Va., participate in a community forum hosted by Appalachian Voices to share their vision for a diversified economic future.

Citizens of Wise County, Va., participate in a community forum hosted by Appalachian Voices to share their vision for a diversified economic future.

Contact:
Adam Wells, Appalachian Voices, (276) 679-1691, adam@appvoices.org
Gabby Gillespie, The Alliance for Appalachia, (276) 220-5048, gabby.gillespie@sierraclub.org
Eric Dixon, Appalachian Citizens Law Center, (865) 202-8688, eric@appalachianlawcenter.org

Two dozen local government entities in the heart of Central Appalachia’s coalfields have passed resolutions calling for major federal investment to revive the region’s economy, which is struggling in the midst of the coal industry decline. Most have referred specifically to the White House budget proposal called the “POWER+ Plan.” All have passed unopposed.

Starting in July with the community of Norton, Va. —the first in the country to pass such a resolution—a groundswell of support has spread across the region for the plan, a $10 billion proposal to help coal-impacted communities across the country, including more than $1 billion for a range of economic initiatives in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. President Obama announced the plan in February as part of his proposed 2016 budget, but congressional representatives from the coal region have been slow to warm up to the plan.

The resolutions, and a variety of other public and private efforts in recent years, show the huge disconnect between what local citizens see as a necessary way forward to bolster the region’s economy and the politically motivated “war on coal” rhetoric of industry leaders and their allies.

“The benefits of the POWER+ Plan to the people of Eastern Kentucky, both in the short-term creation of jobs and business opportunities, as well as the long-term economic development of the region, are essential to overcome the devastating effects of our current economic difficulties as we transition to a post-coal economy,” wrote Pike County Executive William Deskins in a letter to Rep. Hal Rogers, on September 28, which he included with a copy of the resolution passed by the Pike County Fiscal Court.

The POWER+ Plan would provide $1 billion over five years to coal states and tribal lands to clean up abandoned mines that continue to pollute waterways and pose health and safety hazards, including almost $340 million for the four states of Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. It would also provide $25 million to the Appalachian Regional Commission to support local food systems, health care, energy efficiency and other sectors in the agency’s 13-state region. Additionally, the plan earmarks $128 million to support worker retraining and other economic development initiatives in coal-impacted communities, and would ensure the solvency of the United Mine Workers of America’s health care and pension plans.

“The POWER+ Plan will provide funding to put local people to work building the broadband and municipal water and sewer infrastructure that is urgently needed in our mountain communities. We urge our West Virginia congressional delegation to support this funding proposal,” says Carey Jo Grace, a member of the Alliance for Appalachia from Charleston.

At the August meeting of the Wise County Board of Supervisors in southwest Virginia, citizens told officials the plan would help develop the region’s tourism assets, retrain laid-off miners, and support health and pension plans for retired miners. In response, board member Ron Shortt said: “We’re behind you 100 percent on this. We realize how important it is to southwest Virginia and Wise County.”

“There’s a strong sense of excitement and energy these days about the potential for the region, for expanding the opportunities for jobs and more sustainable businesses that are good for workers, communities and the environment,” says Adam Wells, in the Wise County office of Appalachian Voices. This fall, Wells led a project to host eight forums around southwest Virginia to get input from ordinary citizens about their vision for the future. More than 130 people attended, including many younger people who planned to stay involved, he said.

Andrianah Kilgore, 25, was one of them. “I want to see Wise County reach its full potential and I want to work for a better tomorrow, not only to benefit us now, but to benefit the future generations that love Wise and plan to reside here, just as I have chosen to do,” she says.

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KENTUCKY
Whitesburg City Council
Benham City Council
Benham Power Board
Harlan County Fiscal Court
City of Evarts
City of Vicco
Letcher County Fiscal Court
Pike County Fiscal Court
Bell County
Perry County
Floyd County

TENNESSEE
Campbell County Commission

VIRGINIA
City of Norton
Wise County Board of Supervisors
Cumberland Plateau Planning District
Town of Appalachia
Town Of Wise
Town of Dungannon
Town of Cleveland

WEST VIRGINIA
Fayette County
Lincoln County
City of Morgantown
Wyoming County
Kanawha County

Report Analyzes Economic Impact of Abandoned Mine Lands Program

Thursday, July 30th, 2015 - posted by Laura Marion

By Eliza Laubach

Central Appalachia, which hosts an estimated 25 percent of the country’s abandoned mine lands, is disproportionately burdened with 65 percent of the total economic impacts associated with the decline of coal mining, according to a landmark July report by the Abandoned Mine Lands Policy Priorities Group.

The policy group, which formed last year, obtained data on the Abandoned Mine Lands program through Freedom of Information Act requests.

Congress established the AML program in 1977 to address post-production mine lands abandoned by coal companies prior to that year. Since then, the program has spent more than $5.7 billion to reclaim nearly 800,000 acres of abandoned mines across the country. But the remaining 6.2 million acres “ravaged by abandoned coal mine problems” will require nearly twice that investment, the authors report. The program is also facing declining revenue and is set to expire in 2021.

The policy analysis describes how a formula based on recent coal production currently determines distribution of funds, which are sourced partly from a tax on each ton of coal a company produces and partly from the federal treasury. The authors suggest replacing that formula with one that is based on need. Determining that need should be guided by an updated inventory of AMLs, the report states.

Currently, the remaining $2.5 billion in the AML fund is being invested in treasury securities, with the interest supporting the United Mine Workers Association’s health and pension plans. Distribution of these funds should be accelerated, especially in communities with economies that are hardest hit by coal’s decline, the report’s authors suggest. The report also calls on Congress to find an alternative financial support for UMWA pensions.

The POWER+ Plan, a part of the Obama administration’s 2016 budget proposal, seeks to reform the AML program and encourage sustainable redevelopment of unreclaimed mines across the country, a revitalization effort that could create an estimated 3,117 jobs nationwide.

But although the POWER+ Plan would base funding on historic coal production, it does not go far enough, the report’s authors say, because it “ignores any factor of economic distress,” and central Appalachia is experiencing “unprecedented economic decline, environmental damage and inequality.”