32 Organizations from Across Coal Country Warn Reckless Cuts Could Undermine Recent Progress, Threaten Jobs & Health
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 24, 2023
COAL COUNTRY — Leaders and advocates from across coal country sounded the alarm today, warning Congress that harsh cuts in proposed appropriations legislation would dramatically undercut economic development in coal-impacted communities and threaten efforts to safeguard miner health and restore abandoned mine lands. In a letter sent today, 32 groups urged Congress to reject five appropriations bills that are slated for consideration before the House in the coming weeks, pushing leaders to reverse cuts and “revise the appropriations bills to better protect and uplift the people in the communities that have powered our nation for decades.”
“People in coal country have stared down numerous challenges and fought tooth and nail for the progress we’ve made in recent years securing investments to grow our economy and help our communities,” said Chelsea Barnes, Director of Government Affairs and Strategy at Appalachian Voices. “These dangerous bills threaten to undermine this important start just to score a few political points and give more favors to big corporations. Congress needs to go back to the drawing board and focus on securing the investments and programs that will build upon the foundation that is being laid, not tear it to the ground.”
In May, many of the same groups speaking out today laid out a roadmap for investments and programs that could actually benefit coal-impacted communities if Congress supported them in the appropriations process. These proposals built on major progress secured in recent legislation such as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Inflation Reduction Act, and the CHIPS and Science Act.
Instead, appropriations legislation pending in Congress takes aim at all this progress and slashes essential resources that provide a significant boost to the people and places navigating the coal industry’s decline. The organizations highlighted five House bills and four Senate bills for the 2024 fiscal year, all of which are either awaiting a committee vote or final votes on the floor. Each bill has harmful cuts to key agencies and programs and fails to provide funding for investments that support jobs, public health, and economic development in coal communities.
“It’s as if the authors of these bills looked closely at what our communities needed and decided to do the exact opposite,” said Dana Kuhnline, Program Manager for ReImagine Appalachia. “We’re asking members of Congress to do their job, listen to our communities, reject these reckless cuts, and instead advance investments that help us as we grow again — not stand in our way.”
“With all of the economic, climate, and health challenges our communities face — a black lung epidemic, unprecedented flooding, unaffordable utilities, and a transitioning economy – we need investments in programs and capacity to address these ills. These bills, at best, stall progress and, at worse, take us backwards. We’re asking Congress to listen to us and ensure that they’re making decisions that help us move forward,” said Rebecca Shelton, Director of Policy for Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center.
Below are just some of the destructive cuts and omissions in each bill highlighted by the letter sent to Congress today:
- FY 2024 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriation Act (H.R. 4368, S. 2131)
- H.R. 4368 cuts $1 billion from the Empowering Rural America Program and $500 million from the Rural Energy for America Program, both of which support new energy infrastructure and jobs in rural communities.
- There is no funding for the USDA Rural Partners Network in H.R. 4358, and only $3 million in S. 2131 — which would stall progress on an extremely successful initiative active in 10 states that provides much needed capacity and support to help coal communities access federal resources.
- FY 2024 Commerce and Justice, Science Appropriations Act (H.R. ___, S. 2321)
- The House bill includes a devastating 49% cut to the Economic Development Administration — a hub for dedicated programs for coal communities that support infrastructure projects, planning, and technical assistance. The EDA has been a major asset to many efforts supporting the transition to new, diverse economies that can withstand the booms and busts of the coal industry.
- There is no funding for the Distressed Area Recompete Pilot Program — a new initiative under the CHIPS Act that will provide economic development opportunities in communities impacted by the decline of the coal industry. House legislation ignores this program even as a first round of grant applications are coming due on October 5.
- FY 2024 Energy and Water Appropriations Act (H.R. 4394)
- No funding for the Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization, which was established in 2021 to foster economic revitalization of coal communities and coordinate federal resources to these communities.
- FY 2024 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (H.R. ___, S. 2605)
- Both bills include damaging cuts to the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement’s operating budget — a cut that would significantly hamper efforts to administer major new investments in the Abandoned Mine Land clean-up and restoration programs and reduce the agency’s ability to enforce regulations at modern-era mines, putting coal communities in danger of mine-related disasters such as landslides and polluted waterways.
- No funding for the Appalachian Regional Reforestation Initiative, a beneficial program which supports efforts to scale up reforestation and revegetation on coal mined lands, helping safeguard against flooding and landslides.
- FY 2024 Labor, Health and Human Services and Related Agencies (H.R. ___, S. 2624)
- Both bills fail to reauthorize the Low Income Household Water Assistance Program, putting many low-income households at risk of losing their access to water through water shutoffs because they cannot afford to pay their water bills.
- The House bill includes a 16% decrease to the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s budget weakening the agency’s ability to enforce laws that protect miners amid a surge in black lung cases in central Appalachia and the implementation of a new silica dust standard.
- The House bill includes a 50% cut to the budget for the AmeriCorps program.
Congress must pass new budget legislation — either in the form of appropriations bills or a continuing resolution — by October 1 to avoid a government shutdown.