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Obama’s handout to coal country

The Obama administration Wednesday opened up the government’s checkbook in Appalachia. The White House announced awards totaling $38.8 million for 29 “economic and workforce development projects.”  About $16 million will be distributed in West Virginia.

State and local officials on hand for the ceremony were understandably grateful for the handouts through the President’s POWER Initiative, but there’s something unseemly about the deal.

Just consider the first line of the White House press release, specifying that the announcement is “part of President Obama’s ongoing efforts to assist those negatively impacted by the changes in the coal industry and the power sector.”  The irony is self-evident.

It’s this administration’s own policies as carried out by the EPA that constitute a significant portion of “the changes” that have wrecked coal.  No one denies the impact of cheap, plentiful natural gas on the energy market, but this administration’s unilateral schemes to make it virtually impossible to mine coal or build a new coal fired power plant have contributed heavily to coal’s downfall.

Notably, the grant announcement comes one day before the Mingo County Commission is scheduled to meet to consider layoffs and pay cuts for county employees because tax collections have collapsed.

“We are in uncharted water in West Virginia,” Commissioner Greg “Hootie” Smith was quoted in the Williamson Daily News as saying.  “We have never seen this before where the revenues are so low that the budgets are going to be missed so bad and the cash flow is nonexistent.”

The White House maintains these grants will create or retain 3,418 jobs, an oddly precise number that also sounds overly optimistic, but it’s doubtful anyone will go back a year or two from now to see if it was accurate.

Perhaps I should be less cynical. Some good will come from the money; job training programs, improved water service in Mercer and Mingo Counties, a new business center in Upshur County, improvements to the Hatfield McCoy Trail and more. The folks who will benefit from the taxpayer largess are appropriately thankful.

But there is also a “blood money” feel to it, a payoff from the Obama administration to ease consciences over the damage done, handouts spread throughout the region to tamp down the misery index the White House helped create.


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