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West Virginia, Ohio senators pen letter to President Donald Trump; ask to preserve Appalachian Regional group


The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register

WHEELING, W.Va.  — President Donald Trump said his executive order overturning the Clean Power Plan will help coal miners return to work, but senators hope he will not eliminate a program that provided millions of dollars to retrain thousands of displaced miners across Appalachia.

U.S. Sens. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, are among several senators who wrote a letter to Trump urging the president to preserve the Appalachian Regional Commission.

Trump’s budget proposal aims to end this program, which officials said has directed $3.8 billion for 25,000 different projects in Appalachia since 1965.

“Eliminating this essential program would have devastating consequences for the more than 25 million Americans that live in the Appalachian region today, who need it now more than ever,” the letter Capito, Manchin, Brown and Portman signed states.

Just this week, commission officials granted $2.4 million in additional funds to diversify the economies of “Appalachia’s coal-impacted communities.” Officials said the commission’s total investment in this particular endeavor is $75.5 million in 236 counties in nine Appalachian states.

According to the commission, every one of West Virginia’s 55 counties received a portion of this funding, intended to help retrain out-of-work coal miners and to diversify the economy.

According to the ARC, Appalachia lost a total of 33,500 coal mining jobs between 2011 and 2016. Murray Energy Corp. Chairman, President and CEO Robert Murray said this week the average annual salary for one of his coal miners is $90,000.

If both numbers are accurate, this would mean about $3 billion worth of coal miner salaries were wiped out in Appalachia from 2011-16. To help avoid such economic catastrophe from occurring again, the commission has continued issuing grants to the affected areas in hopes of diversifying the areas.

“Each one of these investments is a catalyst for Appalachia’s economic future. Together, they are creating jobs, building economic momentum and proving that Appalachia is America’s next great investment opportunity,” commission Federal Co-Chair Earl F. Gohl said this week of the latest $2.4 million in grants.

Also, in August, the commission granted more than $1.4 million to Southwest Virginia Community College to support a Retraining Energy Displaced Individuals Center, specifically to benefit coal miners.

In addition to funds specifically designated to help coal miners, the commission has provided funding for highway construction, education, job training, entrepreneurial training, health care initiatives, water and sewer system construction and expansion of internet access to rural and impoverished areas.

From its 2016 budget, the commission granted:

$164,250 to the village of Woodsfield to help upgrade its water system;

$23,985 to Eastern Gateway Community College to purchase dental lab equipment;

$56,284 to the Belomar Regional Council;

$49,690 to the Brooke-Hancock-Jefferson Metropolitan Planning Commission; and

$20,000 for revitalization in downtown Wheeling.

Trump also wants to cut the Community Development Block Grant program, through which the city of Wheeling received about $1 million this year.

“Our Budget Blueprint insists on $54 billion in reductions to non-Defense programs. We are going to do more with less, and make the government lean and accountable to the people,” Trump states in his budget document.

However, area senators hope the president will preserve the commission, citing their belief that every $1 the commission invests leads to $6.40 of private-sector spending.

“Discontinuing programs such as ARC would undermine the progress we have witnessed in Appalachia over the few decades and have a detrimental impact on our constituents in the region. We urge you to reconsider your decision to eliminate this essential program and encourage you instead to consider ways in which the commission could be expanded to ensure continued progress in Appalachia,” the senators state in their letter to Trump.

Other signatories to the letter include Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, both D-Md., Robert Casey, D-Pa., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., along with Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, both D-Va.

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