Investments in Energy Communities
In 2021, Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, now known as the BIL. The law contained major investments in environmental remediation while encouraging new private investment in coal communities.
Opportunities on Former Coal Mines
The Abandoned Mine Land program, originally established in 1977 to reclaim and remediate coal mines abandoned prior to that year, was appropriated $11 billion for annual formula grants over 15 years to state and Indian Tribes. These abandoned coal mines are dangerous, polluting, and hinder economic well-being. Reclamation projects clean up pollution, create thousands of direct reclamation jobs, and—when paired with economic development strategies—provide a basis for long-term economic opportunity in coal communities. States are also required to prioritize the hiring of former coal workers for reclamation jobs and pay prevailing wage. While the $11 billion appropriation in BIL is expected to sufficiently fund the majority of the remaining reclamation needs in the United States, experts estimate almost $20 billion more will be required to clean up the rest. Fortunately, the law also included a much needed extension of the Abandoned Mine Land fee on coal companies to help reclaim remaining sites.
The BIL also designates $500 million for clean energy demonstration projects on current or former mine land. These grants are not limited to coal mines or to the Abandoned Mine Lands described above. As directed by Congress, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) will fund up to five total projects. At least two of them must be solar energy production sites. Priority will be given to projects that create jobs in low-income areas and communities with dislocated energy workers.
Economic Development in the Appalachian Region
The BIL also reauthorizes and provides $1 billion for the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC). The ARC is a federal-state partnership spanning 13 Appalachian states that provides opportunities for some of the most coal-dependent economies in the United States. The commission provides grants for job and entrepreneurship training, economic development planning, business incubation and industry hub strategies, infrastructure development, and other services that are critical to revitalize and diversify local and regional economies.
The ARC’s Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) Initiative is focused on supporting communities that have been affected by job losses related to the coal industry. Since 2015, ARC has invested over $368 million in Appalachian communities through the POWER Initiative.
This new source of funding through the BIL boosts the ARC’s ability to provide resources to leverage regional partnerships and support efforts, and create and sustain a better economic future for communities in Appalachia—particularly those affected by our nation’s energy transition.
Manufacturing Jobs in Coal Communities
The BIL also created the Advanced Energy Manufacturing and Recycling Grants Program, funded at $750 million. The grant program is for clean technology manufacturing and industrial emissions reduction targeted exclusively to coal communities (see “What is an “Energy Community?”).
This program focuses on enabling small- and medium-sized manufacturers to build new—or retrofit existing—facilities to produce or recycle advanced energy products in communities where coal mines or coal power plants have closed. This investment will help establish, expand, or retool clean and advanced energy, vehicle, and technology factories. Priority will be given to low-income areas, and minority-owned businesses. The goal of the program is to bring good-paying manufacturing jobs directly into coal communities.