Coal production is on the decline in the U.S., and while that’s a good thing for the climate, it’s making finding a job difficult for many people in coal-heavy states, particularly in Appalachia. To help ease the immediate effects that coal’s decline is having in these regions, President Obama introduced a plan Monday to help coal country rebound from the decline of what has historically been its most valuable resource.
The plan, called POWER Plus and is part of the President’s proposed Fiscal Year 2016 Budget, provides more than $55 million in funding for job training, job creation, economic diversification, and other economic efforts in communities that have experienced layoffs due to the declining coal industry. According to the White House, that funding is “unprecedented” and will go toward improving the economic security of coal miners and their families, who have “helped keep the lights on in this nation for generations.”
Those investments include $20 million in funding for coal miners or coal plant workers who have lost their jobs in recent years. The money will go toward job transitioning services and programs for those who have lost their jobs in the coal industry. Another $25 million will go toward the Appalachian Regional Commission, which works to improve economic opportunities in Appalachia.
“Our point here is that while policymakers can disagree about the reasons why the coal industry is struggling, all Americans should be able to agree that these workers and communities, who are in some of the most economically distressed parts of the country, deserve help from the federal government,” Jason Walsh, a senior White House policy adviser told the Charleston Gazette.
The plan includes funding for environmental recovery, too. Under the plan, $5 million would be provided to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfields Program, which works to clean up land that’s been contaminated by harmful pollution, and in this case, the money would be going toward property that’s been affected by a recently-shuttered coal plant.
The federal government, along with state governments and local organizations, has grappled with ways to cope with the downturn of the coal industry over the last few years. In 2012, West Virginia received a Department of Labor grant to help with job training for out-of-work coal miners and their families. Last year, the Department of Labor also awarded $7.5 million to Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program Inc. (EKCEP), an organization that helps find new jobs for Kentuckians who used to work in the coal industry. Michael Cornett, director of agency expansion and public relations for EKCEP, told ThinkProgress in June that EKCEP has helped about 900 laid-off coal miners be placed in new jobs.
“It’s a variety of different jobs, but the common denominator is that these are really hard workers, they’re intelligent workers, and they’re some of the most loyal workers in the industry,” Cornett said. “They just need the right people to broker connections with different industries and employers in the region and state.”
Coal’s decline in the U.S. has been attributed partially to the increasing automation of the coal industry, which has created an environment in which fewer miners are needed to extract coal. Appalachia faces additional pressures: some of its coal basins are running low, and it’s hard for Appalachian coal to compete with cheaper coal from the Western United States.
Kentucky Gov. Steven Beshear praised the President’s proposed plan.
“With Appalachia experiencing job loss due to a steady decline in the mining sector, our region is especially supportive of the POWER+ Plan and the substantial investment it represents in building a more diversified economy, promoting entrepreneurship, and creating new jobs for our citizens,” he said in a statement. “We look forward to its approval by Congress and implementation in the coming months.”