President proposes major new investments in Appalachian transition

The budget proposed by President Obama today calls for significant new investments in economic transition in Central Appalachia. The President's ideas for the region are being called the "Power + Plan." 

Among the highlights of the President's plan are the following:

  • $1 billion over five years to restore lands and waters degraded by decades-old mining and support related sustainable development projects.

  • $56 million to invest in job training for laid-off miners and to support economic development efforts in Central Appalachian mining communities. This figure includes an additional $20 million in job training for miners and power plant workers; an increase of $25 million for the Appalachian Regional Commission's annual budget, to be directed at "communities most impracted by coal economic transition"; $6 million more to the Department of Commerce for "place-based regional innovation efforts," including grants to economically distressed communities; and $5 million more for the EPA's brownfields program to help communities deal with the closure of coal-fired power plants.

  • $3.9 billion over 10 years to shore up health and retirement benefits for many retired miners.

According to an article in the Charleston Gazette written by Ken Ward, Jr., the White House said in a prepared statement that the plan is meant to "invest in workers and jobs, address important 'legacy costs' in coal communities, and drive the development of new technologies." 

While the details of the President's proposal are still being gathered and considered, KFTC members welcomed the news enthusiastically.  

“This is great news. A federal investment like this can be a big part of a just transition here in the mountains,” said Elizabeth Sanders of Letcher County who is a member of KFTC's board. “It can also be a great help to the work that is already happening here on the ground to create the new, next economy.”

“This announcement is encouraging to our efforts to rebuild our economy,” said Harlan County retired coal miner and KFTC board member Carl Shoupe. “We have been working hard to improve our economy here in eastern Kentucky. If and when these funds move forward, we would just ask that they’re rolled out in a way that includes an open public process and transparency in deciding where the money is going.”

“This opens a huge opportunity for the upcoming SOAR Summit to convene a conversation among eastern Kentuckians as to how these federal dollars can bolster and support our efforts to build a bright future in Central Appalachia,” noted Sanders.

Members of KFTC have been working for the past few years to broaden and deepen the conversation around Appalachian transition and building a strong, diverse, local economy in the mountains. We believe it’s essential that the transition to a new economy is a just transition—one that celebrates the culture and invests in communities and workers that depended on the old economy. KFTC believes that such a transition must:

  • improve the quality of life for people and communities affected by economic disruption, environmental damage and inequality
  • foster inclusion, participation and collaboration
  • generate good, stable, meaningful jobs and broad access to opportunities and benefits
  • promote innovation, self-reliance, and broadly held local wealth
  • protect and restore public health and our environment
  • respect the past while also strengthening communities and culture
  • consider the effects of decisions on future generations

While the president’s proposal would not provide all the solutions for a just transition, it marks a big step along the way and can provide a needed boost for the next economy.

The upcoming SOAR Summit will be an excellent opportunity to learn more about the President's budget plan and join the public conversation about it. SOAR stands for Shaping Our Appalachian Region. SOAR is an initative hosted by Governor Steve Beshear and Congressman Hal Rogers aimed at lifting up strategies and ideas for builidng a healthier and more sustainable economy in eastern Kentucky. The second annual SOAR Summit will take place on Monday, February 16th from 8 am to 5 pm at the Pikeville Expo Center.

To attend the SOAR Summit, there is a $10 pre-registration fee (and a February 11th pre-registration deadline), or a $15 fee at the door. KFTC is able to cover the registration costs for community members who would like to attend. Please contact Sara Pennington at sara@kftc.org or 606-276-9933 for more information. Or you may register for the event directly at www.soar-ky.org.

Kentuckians are also invited to attend I Love Mountains Day, held this year on Thursday, February 12th in Frankfort. A march to the state capitol will begin at 12 pm at the Kentucky River, followed by a rally on the Capitol Steps. More information about the day can be found here.

UPDATE: Links to recent media stories can be found below.

Erica Petersen of WFPL-FM quotes KFTC's Carl Shoupe and Evan Smith of Appalachian Citizens' Law Center

Ronnie Ellis of CNHI News Service quotes KFTC's Carl Shoupe

Ken Ward, Jr. of the Charleston Gazette provides important context

Bill Estep of the Lexington Herald Leader quotes MACED's Justin Maxson and Dee Davis of the Center for Rural Strategies

The Associated Press story quotes KFTC's Carl Shoupe

James Carroll of the Courier-Journal quotes Steve Sanders of Appalachian Citizens' Law Center and Cecil Roberts of United Mine Workers of America