Coal Communities Comeback Plan Gets Another Blow
The ‘Coal Communities Comeback’ is back.
The proposal to look at how to help West Virginia’s faltering communities thrive was changed to a coal-focused bill in the last legislative session – and then amended again.
Its legislative failure shocked delegates who saw the idea as a belated effort to focus on possible options to restore the economic strength of communities that were once hubs of coal activity.
Now the comeback plan is back. House Speaker Roger Hanshaw announced the creation of an informal working group to develop proposals to revitalize communities.
Hanshaw said the need is obvious and the task force could be established without having to pass a bill.
“These members will now have the authority and flexibility to go into the communities, communicate with leaders at all levels and really figure out what our coal communities need to be successful so they can come back to us with recommendations.” solids, then bring those solutions home. the entire Legislature when we return to the next session, ”said Hanshaw.
The working group is chaired by Delegate Mark Dean, R-Mingo. Members have already gathered to organize themselves in this week’s interim legislative meetings at the State Capitol.
The group plans to visit several communities from September. These include Logan, Beckley, Welch, Montgomery, Morgantown, and Moundsville.
“The return of the coal basin community is not about extracting more coal. It does not come back. We know that. It’s about revitalizing communities that were battered when companies left, ”said delegate Ed Evans, D-McDowell.
Emphasis will be placed on the opportunities that may be available through millions of dollars in federal funding. The US bailout has already inundated the state and local government of West Virginia with hundreds of millions, some of which must be invested in improving water, wastewater and broadband.
Another proposal, the American Jobs Plan, covers roads, bridges, airports, broadband, housing and utilities, and invests in job training as well as care for elderly and disabled Americans. The administration’s plan also includes funding for clean energy research and development. Projects would include funding for demonstration carbon capture and sequestration projects.
The full scope of the plan – and how to pay for it – has been the subject of lengthy debate in Washington.
And the Biden administration created an interagency White House task force on coal and power plant communities and economic revitalization that began by identifying $ 109.5 million in new funds to support job creation. in places affected by disruption of traditional energy markets.
In addition, the interagency task force identified nearly $ 38 billion in existing federal funding that energy communities could access for infrastructure, environmental remediation, union job creation, community revitalization and jobs well suited to support hard-hit energy communities.
Evans, who lives in Welch, said lawmakers need to be involved in connecting communities to all this federal money in a strategic, consistent and practical way.
“It’s going to happen here, and we really didn’t have a plan for it. I don’t know if we still have a plan for this, ”he said.
“The goal is to visit these communities and help with coordination. I guess we’re spending money that we don’t have yet, but to help coordinate with the locals.
The annual West Virginia Economic Outlook from the West Virginia University Bureau for Economic Research described a modest resurgence of coal, based on demand for metallurgical coal, the precursor to steel, and exports to India and Ukraine. A handful of new mining operations have been opened, the report notes.
But the report shows that in terms of broader economic indicators, some West Virginia counties have gone in the wrong direction. The counties of southern West Virginia, once hotbeds of coal mining, continue to experience losses in population, jobs and personal income.
Evans is well aware of this. He sees it every day.
“We need to look at our cities, our communities that are in dire need of healing. Every community in the coalfield, ”Evans said.
“We have the old Magic Mart building right next to the train tracks. You could bring in a factory and maybe make ATVs and ship them around the world. “
Evans realizes that Governor Jim Justice will be central in determining the priorities for the investment of federal money. He would like the governor to look at communities that need help.
“I would like him to come here and walk up to Elkhorn Creek and take a look at the white pipes that go out from the communities that go straight into the creek,” Evans said.
When lawmakers first passed and then rescinded a bill’s plan to return a bill at the end of the session, he delivered a speech while on the verge of tears.
“This week, Thursday, we closed Walgreens. Who is closing a Walgreens? We closed Walmart. We have closed Magic Mart. We shut it all down, ”Evans said. “You have no idea what my people are going through.”
Evans, who was the main sponsor of the amendment, described the “comeback plan” as a cry for help.
“Imagine if we had a comeback,” Evans said. “I’m trying. I’m trying. Help me.”
The original incarnation would have asked the Civil Service Commission to study the needs for water and wastewater, broadband and other infrastructure needed to revitalize communities. The study also reportedly looked for opportunities to maintain and increase jobs in coal mines, coal-fired power plants and other economic engines in these communities.
The return plan also reportedly established an advisory committee and called for three public hearings.
The new version of the plan is not as elaborate, but neither did it need a law to establish it.
As the 60-day regular session drew to a close, President Hanshaw told Evans he would create a targeted group of lawmakers to help find solutions to the problems facing coal communities.
“I know firsthand how hard our communities can be when coal-related economic activities dry up,” said Hanshaw. “I know Delegate Evans wanted to see this task force set up as part of a bill we passed regarding coal-fired power plants, and I knew we could separate that from the bill and do it without. create a new law. ”
Members include Evans, Mingo County President Mark Dean, Jordan Bridges, R-Logan; Nathan Brown, D-Mingo; Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio; Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia; Austin Haynes, R-Fayette; Josh Holstein, R-Boone; Margitta Mazzocchi, R-Logan; Tony Paynter, R-Wyoming; Charlie Reynolds, R-Marshall; Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha; Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha; Christopher Toney, R-Raleigh; and Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall.
“We will have legislation, legislation proposed for the next session. Hopefully it will do just that – match what is required of the federal government, ”Evans said.
There is money and attention to come.
U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm visited West Virginia last week with Senator Joe Manchin, DW.Va., Chairman of the Senate Energy Committee.
On MetroNews’ Talkline, Granholm spoke about efforts to help coal communities return.
“The Biden administration has put in place a whole-of-government effort to help the coal and power communities,” she said.
“We are determined to leave no one behind. But I hear what you say. People who feel like they’ve been left behind or made promises or not kept, I understand.
– MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) June 4, 2021