Congress

Spending bill includes assistance for struggling coal regions

Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky is the Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and the senior member of the state’s congressional delegation. Rogers pushed for funding in a $1.1 trillion spending bill Congress approved Friday to help distressed coal regions reclaim abandoned mine sites.
Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky is the Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and the senior member of the state’s congressional delegation. Rogers pushed for funding in a $1.1 trillion spending bill Congress approved Friday to help distressed coal regions reclaim abandoned mine sites. AP

The $1.1 trillion spending package passed by both houses of Congress on Friday includes $30 million for Kentucky’s coal producing regions to redevelop abandoned mine sites.

The provision was pushed by Kentucky Rep. Hal Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and is part of a $90 million pilot program that also helps coal communities in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

In a statement after the House voted 316-113 to approve the bill, Rogers called it “a solid package that reflects the priorities of the American people.” The Senate later approved the measure 65-33.

The spending bill containing the funds didn’t have unanimous support in the Kentucky delegation, though: Republican Reps. Thomas Massie and Ed Whitfield voted against it, as did Sen. Rand Paul, a Republican presidential candidate.

The spending package also contains $10 million in Appalachian Regional Commission funding to increase broadband access in Appalachian counties and $15 million in Economic Development Assistance funds for areas affected by the downturn in the coal business. The bill also supports grants for job training programs for laid-off mine workers.

That money is going to get some things going here in Kentucky.

Eric Dixon of the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center

Eric Dixon, who is with the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center in Whitesburg, Ky., said the $30 million appropriation to reclaim abandoned mine lands is a “great first step” in helping eastern Kentucky coal communities reconstruct the region’s tattered economy.

“That money is going to get some things going here in Kentucky,” Dixon said.

Dixon said he still supports President Barack Obama’s proposal to speed up the release of $1 billion over five years to help communities hurt by the sharp drop in coal jobs.

Kentucky will get more money in one year under the pilot program included in the budget than it would have gotten in any year under Obama’s proposal, called the Power Plus plan. It was part of the president’s fiscal year 2016 budget request but was not included in the legislation Congress approved Friday.

The state would have been set to receive a total of about $100 million over five years under Obama’s plan, said Dixon, who has worked to line up support from local governments for it.

Dixon said 26 cities, counties or local groups in four Appalachian states, including 12 in Kentucky, have approved resolutions supporting the Power Plus plan since late summer.

Supporters hope the money for the pilot program will pave the way to approval for Obama’s proposal.

“We can do better,” Dixon said.

Estep, of the Lexington Herald-Leader, reported from Somerset, Ky.

Curtis Tate: 202-383-6018, @tatecurtis

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