NEW YORK—(ENEWSPF)—November 13, 2015.
By: Hillary Clinton – Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail
For more than a century, the coalfields of Appalachia, the Midwest, and the Rocky Mountains have kept America’s lights on and our factories humming. Coal powered the Industrial Revolution and the 20th-century expansion of the middle class, and created jobs and steady incomes for generations of miners and power plant workers. These hardworking men and women deserve the health and retirement benefits they earned. Their communities deserve the new investments that will help build thriving local economies for the future. And they all deserve our respect.
For several decades, coal employment has been declining. Coal now accounts for only one-third of energy generation in the United States. The 20th century energy system is not coming back — because of the shale boom, because of low-cost renewable energy, and because of the growing imperative to combat climate change. But I believe that we can forge a 21st century energy future for the United States that provides a clean and secure engine for economic growth — without leaving out or leaving behind our coal communities.
As President, I will make sure our country honors our commitments to coal miners and their families, who gave their careers, their health, and in some cases their lives to powering America’s economy. And I will invest for the future, by increasing federal investment to revitalize coal communities and partnering with the private sector to promote locally-driven business development and job creation.
We must start by fighting the shameful and craven attempts by coal companies to use bankruptcy proceedings to shirk the health care and pension commitments they’ve made to retirees and their families. These workers dedicated decades of their lives to these companies, and in many cases sacrificed their health in the process. Just last week, Alpha Natural Resources made a move to erase their health and life insurance obligations to 4,500 retirees, disabled former workers, and their families. As President, I won’t stand for these bankruptcy gimmicks.
I will create a federal backstop to ensure retirees get the benefits they have earned, as has been proposed by Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito. And I will reform the black lung benefit program to stop coal company-funded doctors and lawyers from withholding evidence or misdiagnosing patients to deny them benefits, and I will empower those miners who have been wrongfully denied to reopen their cases.
But it’s not enough to secure our obligations to mineworkers and their families. We need to build a prosperous future for coal country, and help these communities grapple with the challenges they face in education, job creation, and health, including the quiet epidemic of substance abuse.
That starts with increasing federal investment—in infrastructure, in hydropower and clean energy, and in research and development at public universities and national labs in coal states. And coal communities have a lot of existing infrastructure, from abandoned mines to shuttered power plants, that can be repurposed and revitalized. I will accelerate mine land restorations through the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund, and seek ways to attract new private investment, like Google’s decision to build a data center in a recently closed coal plant in Alabama.
I will expand and make permanent the New Markets Tax Credit, which has steered billions in investment to low-income neighborhoods, and create new credits within the program targeted at coal mine and power plant communities. And I will eliminate capital gains taxes on long-term investments in coal country, encouraging more real estate and economic development.
And I will support coal country entrepreneurs and partner with local communities. I will create a new Coal Communities Challenge Fund to award new competitive grants in small business development, education and training, health care, and housing. I will give all children a strong start in life by making universal preschool a reality at last, from West Virginia to the Powder River Basin. And I will help the 23 million Americans struggling with drug and alcohol addiction get the help they need and the treatment they deserve.
We need to lift up models like Eastern Kentucky’s How$mart program, which improves rural housing stock, reduces families’ energy bills, and creates jobs by financing energy efficiency improvements. To invest in community health centers as engines of local economic growth, like Williamson Health Center in Williamson, West Virginia. The health center doesn’t just treat diabetes, cavities, and substance abuse — though they do all of those things — they also serve as a regional incubator for innovators and small businesses.
We have some hard work ahead. But America’s coal communities have never shied away from hard work—and neither have I. I will do what it takes to protect retired mineworkers and their families and to forge a bright future for coal country. Because I believe when our families and our communities are strong, America is strong.
Hillary Clinton is a Democratic candidate for president.
This commentary first appeared at: http://www.wvgazettemail.com/article/20151113/GZ04/151119847/1455