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Coal country advocates continue to turn deaf ear to talk of federal assistance

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Coal country advocates continue to turn deaf ear to talk of federal assistance

Furthercalls for investment and retraining efforts in coal communities most impacted bythe sector downturn continue to fall flat with industry advocates, with criticscalling the efforts the equivalent of endorsing federal regulations often citedas detrimental to U.S. coal.

Lastweek, U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said that the federal government shoulddo more to assist those coal communities most impacted by the downturn in coal demandand pricing over the last several years.

to science educator andclimate change action advocate Bill Nye, McCarthy said that as energy consumerswere moving away from coal-fired generation, the federal government had a role toplay in providing financial and development assistance to producing regions of thecountry or risk them being "left behind."

"Onthe whole, what's happened is jobs continue to grow," McCarthy said, accordingto a media report. "What happens, though, is some communities may get leftbehind."

Her commentscome as both the Obama administration and the presidential campaign of Democraticfrontrunner Hillary Clinton have continued to push for increased funding for jobretraining and new investment in impacted coal communities.

In additionto broader regional funding,the Obama administration released $65.8 million in funds intended to support Appalachia's efforts to diversify theireconomies to ease their dependence on coal, as well as providing retraining forsector workers to help qualify for employment in other industries.

In thecase of Clinton, assistanceis intended to come in the form of a $30 billion aid package to affected communities.

However,like most proposals now emerging from the federal level and those aligned with theObama administration, Clinton's proposal was met largely with resistance with theindustry advocates in producing states like West Virginia and Kentucky.

Thatsentiment arose once again in response to McCarthy's comments last week, with NationalMine Association spokesman Luke Popovich calling the push for assistance a cynicalsolution to a real problem facing coal communities.

"Anyoneinterested in why Americans are frustrated and furious at Washington bureaucratsneed only examine her farcical statement," Popovich said. "She cynicallybewails the plight of coal communities while her agency has largely been responsiblefor their devastation.

"Theadministration boasts at the climate conference in Paris how it's effectively shutdown the coal industry, then returns to the U.S. and blames the destruction allon natural gas," he said. "Maybe these communities wouldn't need taxpayeraid to put families and businesses back on their feet if her agency hadn't triedso hard to destroy them. Think of the Vietnam era statement: She has to destroythese communities in order to save them. Is it any wonder why millions are supportingSanders and Trump?"

Earlierthis month, Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association that he worried that supportingsuch efforts could be seen as "transactional," suggesting the acceptanceof federal policies is seen as detrimental to the industry as a whole.

However,Popovich added that criticism of the administration's approach did not mean thecommunities are not in need of assistance.

"Areasof the country ravaged in part by government policies deliberately aimed at destroyingthe industry that sustains them are not in a position to reject aid," Popovichsaid. "They are merely acknowledging they need help. We've already seen theirviews on the administration's regulations expressed in West Virginia last week.Didn't sound as if they were forgiving anything."

Bissettalso said assistance was needed, but only with caution and context.

"I'dsupport any assistance to the region, but we're not going to forget who caused theseproblems in the first place," Bissett said.

Federalassistance for coal communities does have some fans in coal-producing states, West Virginia state Sen.Jeff Kessler, who is also running for governor as a Democrat. In October of lastyear, Kessler stated his support for new investment and training programs in thestate, arguing that it would be counterproductive not to accept them.

"Tosay we won't take the money because it's a federal handout or that it's an indicationthat we've given up on the war on coal or that we're bowing down and being boughtout by the Obama administration — that's the sort of the message I hear," Kesslersaid. "We're not going to be bribed into accepting a bunch of free federalmoney to give up the war on coal, but I think it should be beyond that. The truthof the matter is, these are programs that can help people, communities and citizens,to help displaced workers find productive work."