Obama gives $14.5M for coal country development

The Obama administration is giving $14.5 million to 36 programs designed to help coal country communities cope with the economic hardships from the coal industry’s decline.

The grants come from the Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) Initiative, a program led by the Commerce Department with the goal of spurring economic development and workforce training to bring coal communities into the 21st century and away from coal reliance.

The funded projects range from installing high-speech fiber optic broadband in Kentucky to studying whether food can be grown on former surface mines in West Virginia and training Colorado workers in cutting-edge industries.

“In recent years, parts of our country have come to rely on a wide variety of new sources of power, due to booming natural gas production, declining costs for renewable energy, increases in energy efficiency, flattening electricity demand and updated clean air standards,” Commerce Secretary Penny PritzkerPenny PritzkerArmani, Batali among guests at White House state dinner ICANN is already under foreign government influence: the proof is in the pudding Obama administration officials ramp up push for Pacific pact MORE told reporters Thursday.

“These trends are impacting individuals and communities who have traditionally relied on the coal industry as a source of good jobs and economic prosperity.”

It is the first set of awards under POWER, which is led mostly by the Economic Development Administration to deal with changes that the industry and Republicans largely blame on Obama’s own regulations, particularly from the Environmental Protection Agency.

“In cities and counties, rural regions and urban communities throughout our country, the POWER program, with EDA at the helm, will work to turn challenges into economic opportunity and prosperity,” Pritzker said.

But while the administration celebrated the POWER grants, they also continued their push for POWER Plus, which Obama proposed last year to pump $10 billion into coal communities, workers and technology, including carbon capture and sequestration.

“We’ve made some progress in some of the requests for discretionary dollars in the POWER Plus plan,” White House adviser Jason Walsh said, pointing to economic diversification projects as a bright spot.

“But some of the bigger investments in the plan — in particular, those to address some of the legacy costs of coal mining on workers themselves and on land and communities, and also our proposed investments in new tax credits for carbon capture and sequestration technology — have not been addressed,” he said.

“And so we are waiting for Congress to act.”

Walsh said the Obama administration wants any major action on POWER Plus to be bipartisan, something he noted takes significant time.