Coalfields React to Part of Obama's Budget

Feb 5, 2015

President Barack Obama's new budget proposal includes more than $3 billion worth of tax credits and other spending to help the Appalachian region recover from the declining coal industry. People across the coalfields are responding with mixed feelings.

In southern West Virginia, many people see initiatives from the Obama administration and the federal Environmental Protection Agency to reduce carbon emissions as an attack on their livelihoods.

So it’s not surprising to hear skepticism and doubt from the coalfields when the president announces intentions to throw a financial lifeline to Appalachia.

Eighteen year-old Brock Harris of Princeton, is glad to hear that Washington is paying attention to the struggles of the region.  But he remains skeptical if this part of the budget will remain a priority on Capitol Hill.

“We would be able to get all the miners who lost their jobs, who have a grudge about it, that’s angry about losing their jobs, kind of getting back on their feet,” Harris said.

So far this announcement hasn’t changed feelings of resentment from some coal miners. On Facebook one coal miner even said Obama’s plan gives “... the state money to remodel and cover up the poverty he created.”

A part of Obama’s proposed tax credits for the Appalachian region includes $25 million to help coal communities create economic development plans.

As of now, Harris doesn’t plan to stay in West Virginia after college. But he says an economic development plan that includes a diversified economy, might change his future.

“If it works out I would stay," he said. "I mean if it has a better economy and it has what I’m going to school for I wouldn’t mind staying because you know it is my home and if they have a better economy by that time it would be a good thing to be able to stay and stay in my hometown."

Betsy Taylor is a cultural anthropologist who’s worked for 30 years at Virginia Tech in Appalachian studies. She says she hopes that more economic development will invest in Appalachia’s vast cultural wealth.

“For this to work it’s really important that people in the community are able to help design what happens. And nurture the local culture, the local music. You’ve got to have local creativity involved. We need to reallyvalue what we’ve got.”

Another portion of the budget includes a $20 million investment into retraining laid off miners for other professions.

A similar program was created in 2012 called the Coal Mining National Emergency Grant. The grant provides up to $5,000 per participant for in demand jobs, such as Commercial Driver's License or (CDL), Welding, Electrical Engineering, and more.

In West Virginia the latest count tallied 513 people that have enrolled in this training program and 321 have completed.

Funds are still available to miners that have lost their jobs through Workforce West Virginia.

Hear more on Inside Appalachia, February 8.

Laid off workers explore new options.
Credit Jessica Lilly / West Virginia Public Broadcasting