May 1, 2023 - Local, regional and national leaders representing 35 organizations sent a letter (READ THE LETTERS HERE: Senate Letter and House Letter) to congressional leaders today urging them to back key investments in community and economic development as well as the reduction of occupational and environmental hazards for coal-impacted communities during the FY24 appropriations process. As massive cuts to community investments in the federal budget are proposed by some in Congress, the letter to the House and Senate appropriations committee leaders notes that continued support for key programs is essential to sustain momentum for coal country and to properly handle the influx of federal funding allocated in the last two years.
“Recent laws enacted by Congress such as the bipartisan infrastructure law, Inflation Reduction Act, CHIPS and Science Act have greatly improved the landscape of opportunities as coal mining communities seek to transform their economies and recover from the loss of their economic foundations,” said Chelsea Barnes, Director of Government Affairs and Strategy for Appalachian Voices. “We must continue to build upon these investments and support essential programs so this momentum isn’t lost.”
According to the White House, at least $14 billion in federal funding has been invested in energy communities during the Biden Administration. Many of these new investments are implemented and allocated to states, localities and tribes by federal agencies with limited staff and resources that are already being targeted for cuts by some in Congress. The letter points to the Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement (OSMRE) as an example of an agency that needs full funding “to enable […] the successful implementation of expanded reclamation funding.” In addition, advocates pointed to the need for more support for the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to protect coal miners and miners in metal and nonmetal mines, noting the number of MSHA staff has declined as the black lung epidemic has grown worse, noting “[a] decrease in funding for enforcement in conjunction with an increase of cases of this deadly disease is unconscionable.”
“Funding for solutions like these is critical if we’re to see a true and just transition for the people and land of Appalachia,” said Lyndsay Tarus, Engagement Coordinator for the Alliance for Appalachia.
Other investments that the advocates’ letter recommends for more support to help revitalize coal community economies and improve community health and safety include:
In addition to backing OSMRE’s full FY24 budget, the letter highlights the pressing need to provide investments for the agency’ Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative, which was designed to fund revegetation on abandoned mine land in order to help mitigate flood risk. Urging a $5 million appropriation to ARRI, the letter notes that funding “must be scaled up given recent concerns regarding flooding,” including devastation in Eastern Kentucky in July 2022 that killed 45 people and displaced thousands more.
“Living in a mining community in Southeastern Kentucky is a challenge on so many levels,” said Elaine Tanner, of Friends For Environmental Justice. “The severe flooding our area experienced on July 28, 2022, was no surprise to those living in the mountains. It’s those predictable spring rains we fear the most.”
“Coal mining communities are working to build a bright economic future as we cope with the realities of a changing energy landscape. Despite the current challenges, these communities are home to rich assets — including our land, water, heritage and people — and many of our organizations and local governments are working to leverage these assets as we diversify and strengthen our local economies. Coal communities and workers have powered America for more than a century, and they and their families deserve our support as America’s energy landscape changes,” the letter concludes.