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Dollars Wanted for Diversifying KY's Coalfields Economy

Ideas for economic diversification flow in as coal production dips. Credit: Greg Stotelmyer.
Ideas for economic diversification flow in as coal production dips. Credit: Greg Stotelmyer.
August 20, 2015

HARLAN, Ky. - U.S. Representative Matt Cartwright (D-PA 17th District) says "coal built this country" and now it's time to help those regions diversify their economies.

The congressman from northeast Pennsylvania has filed the Coal Royalty Fairness and Communities Investment Act, which proposes pumping $100 million into struggling coal communities across Appalachia, including Kentucky.

"To help build economic resilience, diversify industries and promote new job creation opportunities," says Cartwright. "As well as job training and reemployment for displaced workers."

Cartwright wants to funnel the money through competitive grants from economic and employment based agencies such as Economic Development Agency, Employment and Training Administration, Small Business Administration and the Appalachian Regional Commission.

The coal royalty portion of his legislation mirrors a Senate bill that would ensure the federal government receives fair compensation for coal extracted from federal lands. That issue revolves around mining in western states.

Harlan County Judge Executive Dan Mosley says economic transition in eastern Kentucky is not an overnight fix because it's a massive region with geographical obstacles. He says the state's broadband initiative will bring the infrastructure backbone to the coal region, but ...

"Getting it to the businesses and getting to the places we need to get it to from that point is not funded at this point," says Mosley. "A big portion of that money could be very well invested in this broadband initiative to help get us through the middle mile. "

President Barack Obama has faced an intense backlash from many Kentucky leaders over his efforts to clean up dirty power plants, but he says his administration is ready to help revitalize coal communities with a nearly ten billion dollar investment. Whether it's Obama's POWER+ Plan, or Cartwright's much more modest bill, Mosley wants to believe there's a bright future for Harlan and Kentucky's other coal counties.

"We've got to wipe away our tears over the situation that the coal industry's in and just try to find a way to put these people back to work," says Mosley. "People haven't left, they're waiting on something to come here so they can stay."

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY