The Obama administration is offering coal country $14.5 million in federal funding for programs to retrain out of work coal miners and for economic development after imposing regulations to shrink the coal industry.
It’s been called a “grim solace” to coal workers who lost their jobs by the thousands in the past few years due to increased competition from natural gas and federal regulations aimed at decreasing coal use for electricity.
Thousands of coal plant and mine workers were let go under President Barack Obama. Now, critics are hammering the president for throwing money at coal miners his regulations put out of work.
“After years of working to fulfill his campaign promise to bankrupt the coal industry, the president has the audacity to claim he is ‘revitalizing’ these communities,” said Tom Pyle, president of the free-market American Energy Alliance.
“President Obama’s destructive agenda has robbed coal communities of their jobs and their livelihood. Now he wants to be commended for throwing taxpayer money at a problem he created,” Pyle said.
Coal mines shed some tens of thousands of jobs including 7,500 jobs in the last year alone, according to federal data, as coal prices fall due to shrinking demand and companies look to get in the financial black again. Appalachia has been one of the hardest hit regions of the country, with thousands more miners out of work and not a lot of job options for them.
Obama may be trying to buy back some goodwill after losing coal union support in 2012 by offering hard hit regions funding to retrain workers and diversify regional economies away from coal. In total, the White House has announced $14.5 million in funding for such programs and announced $10 million in Department of Commerce grants.
“The POWER Initiative awards funds that will be invested in local economic and workforce development initiatives to help build resilient regional economies amidst a changing power sector landscape,” the White house said in a statement.
But it’s unclear exactly how much funding will go towards retraining thousands of out-of-work coal miners. The Commerce Department is spending nearly $2 million of its funding on “strategic planning efforts” for economic development.
The rest of the department’s $8 million will go towards “existing economic development plans.” This tranche of funding will also go towards things like “electronic commerce” for eastern Kentucky and plans to “improve broadband access” in Tennessee.
But even with federal funding for retraining, it’s hard for lifelong coal miners to find work that pays as well.
“There’s just no alternative to coal in the South that pays as well,” Rob Turley, a 61-year-old former coal truck driver, told the Pittsburgh-Tribune Review last year. “In the South, it’s dismal right now.”
Turley was laid off in 2012 and went back to school to find a new career, but the job he had when interviewed paid “a little bit less” per hour than his coal trucking job.
Coal state lawmakers have also pushed to get federal funding to their districts for job retraining programs. Senate Majority Leader [crscore]Mitch McConnell[/crscore], a Kentucky Republican, directed $7.5 million in Department of Labor funding earlier this year for coal worker job training programs. Officials claim that such job training funding has helped some 1,100 former coal miners find new jobs.
“This funding will help … provide essential reemployment services – including for emerging information technology jobs – to approximately 700 Kentuckians who have lost jobs or businesses as a result of the decline in the coal industry,” McConnell said.
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