It’s an article of faith among many on the right that President Barack Obama is waging a war on coal. I’ll not argue here on anthropogenic climate change, the merits or demerits of coal, or America’s energy future.
What I will argue is that no matter where you stand on coal, the people of coal country deserve a future beyond coal. The Obama administration is keenly aware of that, and is investing in a new future for the Appalachian region.
The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) and the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration announced last week a $38.8 million investment to grow the economy in the nation’s coal–impacted communities.
These 29 awards were made as a part of the Obama Administration’s Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) Initiative to stimulate economic growth and opportunity in communities that have historically relied on the coal economy for economic stability. With this announcement, communities and regions that have been negatively affected by changes in the coal economy are able to strengthen their economies and workforces.
“The projects and awards we are here to celebrate today help communities persevere and flourish as they deal with the challenges presented by the coal economy,” said Jay Williams, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development. “POWER invests in jobs and workers, and develops and implements strategies and projects that can help transform these respective regions, states, and our nation.”
With these investments, over 3,400 jobs are anticipated to be created and/or retained in agriculture, technology, entrepreneurship, manufacturing, and other diverse sectors in Appalachia’s coal-impacted communities. These awards have also attracted an additional $66.9 million in leveraged investments from other public and private partners.
“Appalachian communities are actively engaged in creating diverse local economies that are resilient, sustainable and strong,” said ARC Federal Co-Chair Earl Gohl. “Local leaders and entrepreneurs will use these investments to develop, direct, and implement economic diversification initiatives which will have long-lasting impact.”
The POWER Initiative is a multi-agency effort aligning and targeting federal economic and workforce development resources to communities and workers that have been affected by job losses in coal mining, coal power plant operations, and coal-related supply chain industries due to the changing economics of America’s energy production.
The POWER Initiative is part of President Obama’s POWER+ Plan, a broader set of investments in coal-impacted communities, workers, and coal technology proposed in the President’s FY 2017 budget. Last week’s awards were granted from the $65.8 million in POWER funding announced by ARC and EDA in March, 2016.
As part of the awards, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown announced $2 million in federal funding from the ARC for Ohio University to provide facilities, equipment, and design and engineering expertise to local entrepreneurs in Athens County.
“Local entrepreneurs are key to the economic success of Ohio communities,” said Brown. “This award will support entrepreneurs in Athens and across southern Ohio so they can help diversify the local economy and create jobs.”
The project, titled the Leveraging Innovation Gateways and Hubs Toward Sustainability (LIGHTS) project, is affiliated with the POWER initiative.
A press release from Brown said the funding from ARC will strengthen southern Ohio entrepreneurs by leveraging the capacity of four strategically located “Innovation Hubs” – which provide facilities, equipment and design/engineering expertise to entrepreneurs – and five regional “Gateway Centers” that link local entrepreneurs to a broad array of support services throughout the ecosystem.
The “war on coal” is not a war on coal country, it’s a war on the past, on America’s dirty energy past, and it’s being wage for Appalachia’s future.