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A group created by the Biden administration via executive order to revitalize coal and power plant communities wants to learn how it can better help them.

The Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization is taking public comments to help it achieve its stated goal of prioritizing aid to coal, oil and gas, and power plant communities.

The group has identified glaring needs in West Virginia, producing a report last year that included five Mountain State areas among its 25 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics areas of the country most affected by coal-related declines.

Those five areas are Southern West Virginia nonmetropolitan (No. 1 on the list); Wheeling (No. 3); Northern West Virginia nonmetropolitan (No. 11); Beckley (No. 23); and Charleston (No. 24).

Comments may be submitted by Aug. 9 at https://energycommunities.gov/comment.

The form asks commenters what the primary challenge to economic revitalization is in their region, what their region’s strongest asset is and what the federal government’s top priority for economic revitalization in energy communities should be.

The Biden administration has committed funding geared toward shoring up West Virginia’s economy in recent weeks.

Last month, the Department of Commerce announced a $6.5 million grant for the McDowell County Public Service District for water infrastructure upgrades to be matched with $1.6 million in state funds.

Another $1.2 million in grant funding was awarded to Princeton-based Regional Optimal Communications Inc. for a statewide high-speed internet implementation development plan, to be matched with $300,000 in Appalachian Regional Commission funds.

Citing grantee estimates, the Commerce Department said the projects would create a combined 168 jobs and $14.4 million in private investment.

The $7.7 million committed in grants came via American Rescue Plan funds from the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration, which gives financial aid to economically distressed communities.

The Environmental Protection Agency will focus on water infrastructure and pollution cleanup funding during a webinar later this month on how energy communities can take advantage of federal infrastructure funding.

The webinar will focus on $50 billion to the Environmental Protection Agency to better the nation’s drinking water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure and $5.4 billion to clean up legacy pollution at Superfund and brownfield sites.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund program cleans up uncontrolled or abandoned releases of contamination at polluted sites, forcing parties responsible for the contamination to clean it up or pay for its remediation.

The webinar will feature agency officials and be hosted by the Interagency Working Group’s executive director, National Energy Technology Laboratory director and West Virginia native Brian J. Anderson.

The webinar is scheduled for Thursday, June 30 from 3 to 4 p.m. Interested parties may register for the webinar at https://mailchi.mp/energy communities.gov/epa-bil -energy-communities.

The Biden administration’s focus on water infrastructure resources supported by congressional spending comes as a West Virginia-prompted U.S. Supreme Court case looms that could limit efforts by President Joe Biden’s White House and future administrations to more directly protect energy communities’ water.

A decision from the court is expected in the coming days in West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency, which experts say could be one of the most consequential environmental and administrative law debates ever decided by the court.

Last year, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey filed a petition on behalf of 18 states won by Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election urging the court to limit the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority.

The coalition wants to cut the agency’s regulation of greenhouse gases from power plants.

A decision in the coalition’s favor could limit Congress’ ability to delegate authority not just to the Environmental Protection Agency but all federal agencies, potentially throwing out their rulemaking discretion.

Morrisey has said the case raises a “fundamental question of who decides the major issues of the day,” resting his side’s argument on the principle that federal agencies don’t have the right to exercise regulatory authority to settle “major questions” without clear instruction from Congress.

Critics of Morrisey’s argument fear that the court ruling in West Virginia’s favor could leave federal regulators virtually powerless to issue meaningful directions for not only reducing emissions but all key safety measures in the environment, the workplace and throughout all corners of American life.

That could include maximum levels of contaminants in drinking water, an area highlighted by the Environmental Protection Agency’s updated drinking water advisory levels for PFAS, a class of industrial chemicals including substances linked to cancer and other health risks.

Patrick Parenteau, a law professor at the Environmental Advocacy Clinic at Vermont Law School, said prior to the oral argument that the court held for the case in February that a ruling striking down executive authority could hamstring regulation of PFAS, known as “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down easily in the environment or the blood of people and animals that ingest them through water and air.

Parenteau noted that PFAS weren’t a regulatory priority when the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water acts were enacted in the 1970s.

There is no federal drinking water regulation for PFAS. The Environmental Protection Agency plans to propose one this fall.

Parenteau said that, if the Supreme Court’s conservative majority takes the position that an agency lacks the ability to address new and emerging threats unless Congress has explicitly authorized it, Congress will have to continually move quickly to reach consensus on scientific and technological developments to protect the nation’s health and economy.

“We do not have a Congress capable of doing that at the moment, and it is unclear whether our democracy can deliver that anytime soon,” Parenteau said in an email.

That possibility could heighten the importance of making the most of the federal COVID-19 relief and infrastructure funding approved last year — and the efforts of the Interagency Working Group to direct them to communities struggling amid the energy transition.

“We are seeking information specifically on the challenges facing energy communities, measures to address those needs, and any additional recommendations for the Energy Communities IWG [Interagency Working Group] and federal government to consider,” Anderson said in a statement Wednesday.

Mike Tony covers energy and the environment. He can be reached at 304-348-1236 or mtony@hdmediallc

.com. Follow @Mike__Tony on Twitter.

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