Washington, D.C. – Today, the Center for American Progress released an analysis of the recently announced Labor Department grants that will help Appalachian coal communities and coal industry workers pivot to a new energy future. Last week, the U.S. Department of Labor announced that it is committing $7.5 million in National Emergency Grant, or NEG, funding for re-employment assistance for Kentucky workers affected by coal-mining layoffs.
“This support for Appalachia’s coal country is important and will benefit hard-hit working families and coal-mining communities in some of the poorest counties in America as they pursue new opportunities and seek to diversify local economic development,” said Gov. Ted Strickland, Counselor to the Center for American Progress and President of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Jobs in the coal industry have been steadily contracting in recent decades for several reasons. For one, mining companies have actively pursued technology and operations that require fewer employees. Furthermore, slow economic growth and rising energy efficiency across the economy have slowed demand for electricity overall. Meanwhile, dozens of aging and inefficient coal-fired power plants have been retired. Going hand in hand with these factors is the dramatic rise in abundant and cheap natural gas from the hydraulic fracturing boom and the increasing commercial viability of renewable energy, which for the first time has created real competition for coal in generating base-load energy.
Last week’s National Emergency Grant offers much-needed assistance to coal communities as they navigate a changing industry and prepare for a deep and fundamental shift in how America powers economic growth. The grant is an initiative of the Workforce Investment Act, or WIA—America’s landmark job training bill. The WIA allows discretionary grants to assist workers experiencing mass layoffs or industrywide contraction, whether due to regional economic distress, major bankruptcies, military base closures, or natural disasters.
The arrival of a new, cleaner, more efficient, and innovation-led energy economy will bring new jobs, competitiveness, and growth to the United States. As this evolution unfolds, however, many of the very workers and communities that fueled America’s historic growth and prosperity will need transition assistance in order to participate fully in this emerging new energy future. The action taken by Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez in announcing the grant represents an important step in moving all Americans toward greater opportunity through economic development and diversification. This is a commitment that our nation owes to the workers of Kentucky.