The work group West Virginia legislators formed to come up with proposals to economically revitalize struggling coal communities has announced a four-stop listening tour.
The House of Delegates Coal Communities Workgroup, created in the spring to help communities reeling from coal plant and mine closures, will hold public community listening sessions in Marshall, Monongalia, Logan and Raleigh counties later this month.
“The workgroup’s goal is to go into communities and talk with local residents as well as local community and business leaders, to determine what our coal communities specifically need to succeed and what tools are already available,” House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, and House Minority Leader Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, said in a joint news release Wednesday.
Skaff is the president of HD Media, parent company of the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
Tour stops include the Marshall County Fairgrounds, in Moundsville, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 19; the Shack Neighborhood House, in Pursglove, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 20; the Word of Life Church gymnasium, in Logan, from 6 to 8 p.m. Oct. 25; and the Woodrow Wilson High School cafeteria, in Beckley, at 6 p.m. Oct. 27.
Hanshaw and Skaff said members of the workgroup already have hosted initial virtual meetings with the federal Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization.
Co-chaired by National Economic Council Director Brian Deese, national climate adviser Gina McCarthy and administered by Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, the interagency work group in April highlighted the 25 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics areas of the country most affected by coal-related declines.
Five are in West Virginia: Southern West Virginia nonmetropolitan (No. 1); Wheeling (No. 3); Northern West Virginia nonmetropolitan (No. 11); Beckley (No. 23); and Charleston (No. 24).
The group has recommended prioritizing these areas in the near-term for investment using existing federal agency programs and funding from the fiscal year 2021 budget and federal COVID-19 stimulus package that President Joe Biden signed into law in March.
Existing federal programs, with potentially available funding totaling nearly $38 billion, could be used to provide immediate investments in those areas, the group noted in a report published in April.
The state House’s work group has met virtually with local economic development representatives, James Hoyer, state interagency task force director, Appalachian Regional Commission Co-Chair Gayle Manchin, and representatives from the U.S. Economic Development Administration and West Virginia’s congressional representatives, Hanshaw and Skaff said.
The Economic Development Administration has allocated $300 million of its $3 billion appropriation under the COVID-19 relief package signed into law in March to support coal communities.
An Oct. 19 deadline looms for regional coalitions to file concept proposals with the Economic Development Administration’s Build Back Better Regional Challenge, a competition for $1 billion in grants to help boost local economies.
The EDA, a bureau of the Department of Commerce, has promised $100 million for coal communities. Another $200 million for coal communities would come through a grant program for public or private nonprofit groups and institutions of higher education as well as states, counties and cities.
Hanshaw and Skaff announced the House work group in June, two months after the Legislature failed to pass a measure that would have established an advisory committee to come up with a “Coal Community Comeback Plan.”
The plan would have aimed to create opportunities to increase jobs in coal and other industries, defining affected communities as counties in which a coal mine or coal-fired plant has closed since 2000 and caused a loss of at least 200 jobs.
Hanshaw appointed Delegate Mark Dean, R-Mingo, to lead the work group.
The other work group members are Delegates Jordan Bridges, R-Logan; Nathan Brown, D-Mingo; Ed Evans, D-McDowell; Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio; Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia; Austin Haynes, R-Fayette; Josh Holstein, R-Boone; Margitta Mazzocchi, R-Logan; Tony Paynter, R-Wyoming; Charlie Reynolds, R-Marshall; Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha; Christopher Toney, R-Raleigh; and Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall.