Much of the blowback from Trump’s 2019 budget, released earlier this week, was centered on his proposed cuts to social safety net programs. But, equally devastating was the fact that Trump intends to ax economic development programs that could alleviate suffering throughout coal mining country. A high number of voters turned out for Trump in Appalachian coal communities during the 2016 election, but it appears that having failed on his promise to “bring back coal,” the President is now calling it quits on the people of coal country. He is cutting the last lifeline that exists to stem the economic decline of Appalachia.
The Appalachia Regional Commission (ARC) has been one such lifeline, funding grant proposals to re-train and revitalize the communities that once relied on coal mining. Since 2015, ARC has awarded $94 million in funds to economic and workforce development projects. Congress has responded by allocating higher funding levels to ARC than it has received in decades. But Trump’s budget seeks to eliminate funding to the regional program altogether in the coming year.
ARC is just one of many economic development programs funded by an umbrella federal organization called the Economic Development Administration (EDA), which helps American manufacturers remain competitive amid changing global industries. Trump has likewise proposed to scrap this entire agency in his newly released budget, calling it “unnecessary” and “duplicative.”
Meanwhile, according to government data, more states lost coal mining jobs than gained them in 2017, as coal plants around the country continue to shutter.
The downward trend of coal does not surprise energy industry experts. During the 2016 campaign, Trump’s assurances that he would revive the coal industry were dismissed by experts as a complete scam. The rapid decline of the coal industry was not the result of bad policy-making, but rather of changing economic winds. Cheap natural gas and more robust renewable energy infrastructure limited the demand for coal.
Trump’s plan to restore coal jobs was doomed before it began. But his campaign promise won the hearts and minds of coal workers and resulted in the votes he needed.
And now, agencies like ARC are left to fight against what Reuter’s commentator Josh Walsh terms “the inertia encouraged by political double-talk,” which continues to stoke a belief in the future salvation of the coal industry among Appalachian communities, and results in low turnout rates at retraining programs.
Thankfully, it appears that Congress is aware that more funding for economic development initiatives is the answer to Appalachia’s situation. Despite Trump’s efforts to target these programs as inefficient and strip them from the 2019 budget, it is likely that Congress will not approve such a cruel plan.