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$1 billion proposed to make up for lost Appalachia coal jobs

Eastern Kentucky and other areas of Appalachia hit hard by a sharp drop in coal jobs could get a $1 billion lifeline under the budget proposal put forth Monday by President Barack Obama, though the budget faces difficult prospects in Congress.

The White House budget includes a proposal for the release of $1 billion from the abandoned mine land fund over five years for redevelopment projects aimed at improving the economy of distressed coal communities.

One example would be planting trees on old, non-productive sites that were surface-mined before 1977.

That work could create a significant number of jobs relatively quickly, while also restoring the environment and building the base for an improved wood-products industry in the long term, said Justin Maxson, president of the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, who took part in a White House briefing on Obama’s proposal.

“I think it’s a huge opportunity for Appalachia,” Maxson said of the budget proposal.

The White House said the budget also proposes $20 million in additional spending for programs such as training to help laid-off miners get back to work; an additional $25 million for the Appalachian Regional Commission to help entrepreneurs in areas affected by the wrenching transition in the coal economy; and $97 million in grants or loans for infrastructure projects calculated to create jobs in those areas.

In addition, the proposal would pump money into the United Mine Workers of America health and pension funds that are underfunded. The plans cover 100,000 mine workers or their families, many of them in Appalachia, according to the White House.

And finally, the proposal includes billions in tax credits to push the use of technology at coal-fired power plants to capture carbon-dioxide and store it underground or use it.

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