The United States is undergoing a rapid energy production shift, changing the way electricity is generated and used across the country. Due to booming natural gas production, declining costs of renewable energy, increases in energy efficiency, and the flattening of electricity demands, these trends are producing cleaner air, healthier communities, and spurring new jobs and industries nationwide. This change comes at a cost in places like the Appalachian Region, where workers and communities rely on the coal industry as a source of steady employment and economic prosperity. President Barack Obama has proposed the POWER Plus (POWER+) Plan to help communities adapt to the changing energy landscape. The POWER+ Plan invests in job training, job creation, economic diversification, and other economic efforts in communities that have experienced the impact of the declining coal industry.
According to The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), Appalachia is a 205,000-square-mile region that follows the spine of the Appalachian Mountains from southern New York to northern Mississippi. It includes all of West Virginia and parts of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Virginia. The region does not have a specific or legal boundary, but is united through shared history, culture, and the environment within and surrounding the mountains of eastern North America.
New York's Appalachian Region
New York's Appalachian region encompasses the entire Southern Tier of the state. These 14 counties include Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, and Allegany County in the Western Region, Steuben, Schuyler, and Chemung County in the Central Region, and Tompkins, Tioga, Cortland, Broome, Chenango, Otsego, Delaware, and Schoharie County in the Eastern Region.
The Appalachian Region's economy, once highly dependent on mining, forestry, agriculture, and chemical and heavy industries, has increasingly become diversified in recent years. Its poverty rate decreased from 31% in 1960 to 17% over the 2009–2013 period and the number of high-poverty counties in the region (those with poverty rates more than 1.5 times the U.S. average) declined from 295 in 1960 to 90 over the 2009–2013 period. The coal industry of the region has been on a steady decline since the early 1980s, especially in central Appalachia. Kentucky had an estimated 1,000 jobs in the coal industry in 1983 while in 2012 had only 24,100. Similarly in West Virginia, where in 1983 there were 38,000 jobs compared to 2012 with only 16,900.
In 2010 there were seven coal plants in New York State, three of which were located within New York's Appalachian Region. These plants included the Cayuga Power Station in Tompkins County, the Dunkirk Generating Station in Chautauqua County, and the Westover Power Station in Broome County. The Cayuga Power Station is the only currently active plant while the Westover Power Station retired in 2011 and the Dunkirk Generating Station has been idle indefinitely since December 31, 2015. In 2013, only 3.5% of the generated electricity of the state came from coal while the majority came from natural gas (39.2%), nuclear (33.1%), and hydroelectric (18.6%) production. In comparison to the rest of the Appalachian Region, New York's Appalachian municipalities experience greater economic prosperity and job diversification due to the state's overall strong and diverse job market.
Federal Funding for POWER+
President Obama's POWER+ Plan includes unprecedented investments in health and retirement security for mineworkers and their families and the accelerated clean-up of hazardous coal abandoned mine lands. The Plan also provides new tax incentives to support continued technological evelopment and deployment of carbon capture, utilization and sequestration technologies.
The FY 2016 Federal Budget provides $20 million specifically to support workers dislocated from coal mines and coal-fired power plants, funded through grants provided by the Department of Labor (DOL) and the Dislocated Workers National Reserve. The budget also provides $25 million for the ARC, which will be directed specifically to those Appalachian communities most affected by the coal economy transition and will support a range of economic development planning and implementation activities. This includes developing entrepreneurial ecosystems, facilitate access to capital investments and new markets, and will address barriers related to adequate water, sewer, and telecommunication infrastructure. USDA Rural Development is provided $12 million for Rural Economic Development (RED) grants through the budget, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be provided $5 million designated exclusively for AWP grants targeted to communities affected by the retirement of coal-fired power plants.
In order to address the influx of abandoned coal mines in communities with previously coal-driven economies, the budget makes $1 billion (available to States and Tribes), over 5 years, from the unappropriated balance of the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund, administered by the Department of Interior's Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE). The funding would be used for the reclamation of abandoned coal mine land sites and associated polluted waters in a manner that promotes sustainable redevelopment in economically distressed coal country communities. Another $2 billion will be provided by the budget in refundable investment tax credits to new and retrofitted electric generating units (EGUs) that eploy carbon capture technology.
These are only a few of the initiatives included in the POWER+ Plan to offset the issues created in areas transitioning away from coal economies. To see a detailed list with all agencies involved, please read “Investing in Coal Communities, Workers, and Technology: The POWER+ Plan” section of the President's Budget: Fiscal Year 2016. The Appalachian Region has, and will continue to be, affected by the transition and it is necessary to provide communities with the proper resources and funding to stay afloat. New York State counties in Appalachia could potentially benefit from the POWER+ Plan, especially those who have seen closures of power stations that powered New York for generations.