Hillary Clinton’s Plan for Revitalizing Coal Communities

From Central Appalachia to the Powder River Basin, coal communities were an engine of US economic growth for more than a century.  Coal powered the industrial revolution, the 20th century expansion of the middle class, and supplied as much as half of US electricity for decades. The hard-working Americans who mine, move, and generate power from coal put their own health and safety at risk to keep our factories running and deliver the affordable and reliable electricity we take for granted.

But today we are in the midst of a global energy transition. The shale revolution, low-cost renewable energy, energy efficiency improvements, and pressing concerns about the impact of coal combustion on public health and the global climate are reducing coal demand both in the US and around the world. Coal now accounts for only one third of US power generation, with domestic consumption falling by 25% over the past ten years. In China, nuclear and renewable energy are growing three times faster than coal-fired power , with more wind and solar capacity added last year than the US and Europe combined.

Building a 21st century clean energy economy in the United States will create new jobs and industries, deliver important health benefits, and reduce carbon pollution. But we can’t ignore the impact this transition is already having on mining communities, or the threat it poses to the healthcare and retirement security of coalfield workers and their families. This is particularly true in Appalachia, where production has been declining for decades, but impacts are beginning to be felt in the Illinois Basin and Western coalfields as well. And it’s not limited to mining communities: reduced coal shipments impact barge and railroad workers, and power plant closures can contribute to local job loss and economic distress.

Hillary Clinton is committed to meeting the climate change challenge as President and making the United States a clean energy superpower. At the same time, she will not allow coal communities to be left behind—or left out of our economic future. That’s why Clinton announced a $30 billion plan to ensure that coal miners and their families get the benefits they’ve earned and respect they deserve, to invest in economic diversification and job creation, and to make coal communities an engine of US economic growth in the 21st century as they have been for generations.

Honoring Our Commitments

Clinton will ensure that we honor our commitments to the coal miners, transportation and power plant workers, their families and their communities, who have given so much to our country.

  • Ensure health and retirement security. Weak global coal demand and a sharp drop in global coal prices have pushed a number of mining companies into bankruptcy. Clinton has fought, and will continue to fight, against attempts by these companies to use bankruptcy proceedings to shirk the healthcare and pension commitments they’ve made to their retirees, many of whom suffer from black lung disease and other job-related illnesses. As part of this promise, Clinton will put in place a federal backstop that ensures retirees get the benefits they have earned and deserve, building on the bipartisan leadership of Senators Manchin, Capito, Casey and Brown, and will expand these protections to any power plant or transportation company retiree who loses his or her benefits due to a coal market-related bankruptcy.
  • Reform the black lung benefit program. Clinton supports sweeping reforms to the federal black lung benefit program to prevent coal company-funded doctors and lawyers from withholding evidence or willfully misdiagnosing patients in order to deny medical care to sick miners. She will empower those who have been wrongfully denied benefits to reopen their cases, help miners secure legal representation, and adjust black lung benefits to reflect cost of living changes.
  • Safeguard funding for local schools. Coal mining and power plants are a major source of public school revenue in many coal communities, and a decline in coal production or a power plant closure can leave local school districts with a significant funding gap. To address this, Clinton will establish the Secure Coal Community Schools (SCCS) program. Similar to the Secure Rural Schools program that helped offset lost local revenue from a decline in timber sales on federal lands, the SCCS will mitigate declines in coal-related revenue until alternative sources of local tax revenue arise through economic growth.

Investing for the Future

Coal is not the only resource mining and power plant communities possess. From Appalachia to the Uinta Basin, coal communities have rich human and cultural capital, diverse natural resources, and enormous economic potential.  Clinton will partner with the local entrepreneurs, community leaders, foundations and labor groups working to unleash that potential, making federal investments that help people to find good jobs without having to move and build a strong, diversified economic future.

  • Build infrastructure for the 21st century. The infrastructure in coal communities today was built to mine, ship, and burn coal. Unlocking new drivers of economic and employment growth in these communities will require new infrastructure that connects workers to new jobs and companies to new markets. Clinton’s infrastructure investment program will include a focus on economic diversification and revitalization in coal communities, building new roads, bridges, water systems, airports and transmission lines, including completion of the Appalachian Development Highway System. She will also work with the Department of Transportation and the railroad companies to develop a strategy for leveraging available rail capacity previously used to ship coal to support broader economic development in coal-producing regions.
  • Repurpose mine lands and power plant sites. With rich soil and abundant water, abandoned coal mines can provide prime real estate for new investment – whether in forestry, agriculture, or manufacturing. But significant remediation, site preparation, and infrastructure development is often required before this land can be successfully repurposed for new economic activity.  Clinton will unlock existing unappropriated resources from the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund to help finance this work. Clinton will provide similar support for redevelopment of retired coal power plant sites to attract new investment, such as Google’s plans to build a data center on the site of a recently closed coal plant in Alabama.
  • Expand broadband access. In the 21st century, reliable high-speed internet access is as economically vital as traditional infrastructure like roads, rail and bridges. Many coal communities lag far behind the rest of the nation in level of internet connectivity. Clinton will increase high-speed broadband access and adoption in coal communities, improving education and healthcare delivery and connecting local entrepreneurs and workers to the global economy.
  • Expand clean energy on federal lands and from existing dams. Most Western coal production takes place on federal lands, but coal is far from the only energy resource these lands possess. For example, Wyoming is the nation’s largest coal producer, but also has the richest wind resources in the Western electrical grid. Clinton will work to capture this potential by streamlining federal permitting both for the renewable energy projects themselves and the transmission lines required to get that renewable energy to market. Existing dams are another large source of clean energy potential. The Department of Energy estimates 12 gigawatts of generation capacity could be added to these dams, enough to power Alaska, Delaware, Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont combined. More than half of this potential is in large coal-producing states. Clinton will launch a major public works project aimed at electrifying existing dams in partnership with the Army Corp of Engineers, private hydropower developers, local utilities and labor unions.
  • Increase public investment in research and development. To help seed the next wave of innovation and industry creation, Clinton will increase public investment in research and development at universities, national labs and other institutions in coal-producing regions. Given the important role that carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology can play in meeting long-term global climate change objectives, Clinton will support CCS R&D and demonstration projects, both in the electric power sector and in industry.
  • Attract private investment through an improved New Markets Tax Credit and zero capital gains taxes. Complementing the public investments in infrastructure, land, energy, and innovation described above, Clinton will attract new private investment by extending and expanding the New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) program so all communities suffering from a decline in coal production or a coal plant closure qualify. The NMTC program has steered billions in investment to low income neighborhoods since it began in 2000. Clinton will also offer companies a chance to eliminate capital gains taxes on long-term investments in hard-hit coal communities.

Locally-Driven Economic Development

Every coal community is different and successful economic diversification and revitalization must be locally driven and comprehensive in scope. Promising community-based initiatives have begun to take shape, including SOAR in Southeastern Kentucky and Reconnect McDowell in West Virginia. Unfortunately most existing federal economic development programs available to coal communities are complex, fragmented, and overly prescriptive. Those that are the most successful, like the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), are severely underfunded. Clinton will improve coordination across existing federal programs and establish a Coal Communities Challenge Fund that awards new competitive grants in the following areas through qualified local entities with integrated economic development strategies:

  • Entrepreneurship and small business development. Nationally, small businesses are the leading source of new job creation, and that holds true for coal communities as well. Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) and other federal programs have a vital role to play in providing the capital small businesses need to grow, but many new entrepreneurs first need support in preparing their business for that growth. Clinton will increase funding for technical assistance for entrepreneurs and small businesses in impacted coal communities, through programs like the Innovation Center at Ohio University in Athens.
  • Education and training. Job training programs are of little use if they are not paired with job creation. That’s why the Coal Communities Challenge Fund is focused on both. Community colleges play a critical role in providing marketable skills, and under Clinton’s New College Compact, students will be able to attend tuition-free. Clinton will also increase federal support for local education and training programs designed as part of a comprehensive economic development strategy, expand successful models like Coalfield Development Corporation’s “33-6-3” program in West Virginia, and offer businesses a tax credit for every apprentice they hire.
  • Health and wellness. Building strong communities starts with supporting healthy families. Coal communities have higher than average rates of diabetes, addiction and other diseases. In addition to her national plans to provide high-quality and affordable health care and address the quiet epidemic of substance abuse, Clinton will award competitive grants to community health centers that develop holistic public health and economic development strategies like the Williamson Health and Wellness Center in West Virginia. Clinton will also support the growing number of local food and agriculture businesses in Central Appalachia and other coal communities that are improving public health and strengthening local economies.
  • Arts and culture. A community’s artistic and cultural capital can be as important in attracting new jobs and investment as its roads, rail lines and bridges. The rich cultural history in Appalachia and other coal communities is a unique asset that can be leveraged for economic growth.  Clinton will increase funding for the local arts and culture programs that are designed to support broader economic development, like the Crooked Road project in Southwestern Virginia.
  • Housing. Attracting new jobs and investment to America’s coal communities will require upgrading local housing stock. Energy efficiency improvements are particularly important given the high share of household income many families in coal communities spend on their electricity and natural gas bills. Housing upgrades can also be an important source of job creation and economic growth in and of themselves. Clinton will award competitive grants to programs that improve the quality and energy efficiency of local housing, building on and expanding successful models like the How$mart program in Eastern Kentucky.

Clinton’s plan for revitalizing coal communities is just one pillar of her comprehensive energy and climate agenda, which includes major initiatives in the following areas:

  1. Clean Energy Challenge. Develop, defend and implement smart federal energy and climate standards. Provide states, cities and rural communities ready to lead on clean energy and exceed these standards with the flexibility, tools and resources they need to succeed.
  2. Modernizing North American Infrastructure. Improve the safety and security of existing energy infrastructure and align new infrastructure we build with the clean energy economy we are seeking to create.
  3. Safe and Responsible Production. Ensure that fossil fuel production taking place today is safe and responsible, that taxpayers get a fair deal for development on public lands, and that areas that are too sensitive for energy production are taken off the table.
  4. Energy and Climate Security. Reduce the amount of oil consumed in the United States and around the world, guard against energy supply disruptions, and make our communities, our infrastructure, and our financial markets more resilient to climate-related risks.
  5. Collaborative Stewardship. Renew our shared commitment to the conservation of our disappearing lands, waters, and wildlife, to the preservation of our history and culture, and to expanding access to the outdoors for all Americans.

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