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Fund to assist communities that have traditionally relied on the coal industry for employment 

Kentucky Press News Service

A new bipartisan bill aims to accelerate $1 billion in available funding in the Abandoned Mine Reclamation (AML) Fund to revitalize coal communities hardest hit by the downturn of the coal industry, according to a news release from Congressman Hal Rogers.

The RECLAIM (Revitalizing the Economy of Coal Communities by Leveraging Local Activities and Investing More) Act, was filed Wednesday by Congressmen Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), Evan Jenkins (R-WV.), Don Beyer (D-Va.), and Morgan Griffith (R-Va.). 

Coal communities throughout the United States have been struggling to cope with significant job losses after a decrease in nation-wide coal production in recent years, and the RECLAIM Act aims to support economic and community development projects in these areas, Rogers announced. Specifically, the legislation releases $1 billion from the existing balance in the AML Fund to assist communities that have traditionally relied on the coal industry for employment or have recently experienced significant coal job losses.

Under the plan, $200 million will be distributed to participating states annually for five years, and the legislation empowers States and Indian tribes to work with local communities to identify and fund economic development projects on AML sites.

 

"In Kentucky alone, we've lost more than 11,000 coal mining jobs since 2009. Instead of allowing those funds to go unused, now is the time to help our coal producing states reinvest in the coalfields with projects that can create new jobs and reinvigorate our economy," said Rep. Rogers. "Many coal communities in Appalachia simply do not have the resources to reclaim the abandoned mine sites within their borders. This bill allows these communities to be proactive in restoring these sites and utilize them to put our people back to work."

 

Passage of this legislation will compliment other congressional efforts that have aimed to support economic development in coal communities, such as increased and targeted funding for the Economic Development Administration and the Appalachian Regional Commission. The RECLAIM Act mirrors a section of the White House’s POWER+ proposal that requires a statutory change to the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA).

“Appalachian states continue to face the combined calamity of a collapsing coal industry and the environmental legacy of over a century of mining. For the families that depended on mining jobs, benefits, and pensions that have disappeared as coal companies have closed their operations, we must act to provide new opportunities,” said Rep. Cartwright. “Additionally, we must address the environmental legacy left by abandoned mines. Across northeastern Pennsylvania, there are thousands of miles of streams impacted by mine drainage, many of which are totally devoid of aquatic life. It’s time to actually spend the money we have been collecting for decades in the trust fund. We must clean up our region and help rejuvenate small communities across Appalachia.”

The majority of the funding will be directly distributed by the Secretary of the Interior to states with unmet reclamation needs. Meanwhile, $5 million each year will be provided through grants for coal-producing states that no longer have abandoned mine lands. 

“Regrettably, recent years in the coalfields of Southwest Virginia and throughout Appalachia have been difficult,” said Rep. Griffith. “After all, life above ground is impacted when work stops underground as the result of a regulatory onslaught on coal regions, the low cost of competitive fuel, and a sluggish world economy. The RECLAIM Act is an imperative effort to help reinvigorate our hard-hit communities through economic and community development. I will continue fighting along with Congressman Rogers and others to advance economic development strategies such as this which would help keep and grow jobs in Appalachia.”

After two years, each state will have the opportunity to apply for bonus payments for any remaining AML funds that have not been utilized. 

“As Lieutenant Governor and gubernatorial candidate, I spent nine years touring Virginia’s coal counties. I witnessed the harsh effects of an economic downturn as well as the degradation of the land,” said Rep. Beyer. “By reinvesting this money in these communities, we will provide access to much needed jobs and help to restore unused and abandoned mines.”

The RECLAIM Act also comes on the heels of a similar AML Pilot Project included in the 2016 Omnibus bill. The $90 million pilot – which will be implemented in Kentucky, Pennsylvania and West Virginia – will provide coal communities with grants to reclaim abandoned mine lands with economic development purposes in mind, create new job opportunities and stimulate the local economy.

“Thousands of West Virginia coal miners have lost their jobs in the past five years, and our communities have been decimated by the struggling coal market. Nowhere is this problem more critical than Appalachia, especially in my district in Southern West Virginia," said Rep. Jenkins. "Our small towns and families need the resources to rebuild, attract new employers, create jobs, and give hope to the people who call Appalachia home. I commend Chairman Rogers and my fellow cosponsors for their passion for this issue and their belief that we must get our economy moving again.”

Fiber Outside Plant Rodney Perkins participated in the first Outside Plant and Cabling certification class delivered on the Pikeville campus of Big Sandy Community and Technical College. 

 

PIKEVILLE, Ky. – Big Sandy Community and Technical College’s (BSCTC) Workforce Solutions division has launched the state’s first Outside Plant Cabling certification through its Fiber Optics program.

The two-day, 16-hour course complements an extensive Fiber Optics curriculum already delivered by the college which includes Certified Fiber Optic Technician, Certified Fiber Optic Specialist in Testing and Training and Certified Fiber Optic Specialist in Splicing.

BDI DataLync, and internationally recognized fiber optic training firm, is teaching the courses, which are sanctioned by the Fiber Optics Association (FOA).

“There’s a future in fiber, and we understand that the successful implementation and maintenance of the Kentucky Information Highway will be contingent on a highly-trained workforce,” said Dr. Devin Stephenson, president of BSCTC. “We are thrilled to be leading the charge in this effort.”

The college was awarded more than $3.2 million in grants to construct the state’s first Broadband Technology Center on its Pikeville campus. Construction is set to begin later this year.

“We are committed to technology and its role in building an innovative economy across the region,” added Dr. Stephenson. “Our Fiber Optic courses have attracted the attention of companies across the southeastern part of the United States. They are investing in our program, because our commitment to student success is unmatched.”

Kelli Hall, interim dean of career education and workforce development, said the college’s strong partnership with BDI DataLynk, has placed the college on the cutting edge of delivering Fiber Optic training.

“It’s a remarkable program that gives students an industry-leading skill that leads to sustainable employment,” said Hall. “At Big Sandy Community and Technical College, it’s about opportunity, hope and transforming our region one student at a time.”

The new Outside Plant Cabling certification introduces students to industry standards governing the installation, testing and troubleshooting of Outside Plant cable used in rugged environments.

To learn more about BSCTC’s Fiber Optics program, contact Sally Porter at (606) 218-1276 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

JANUARY 25, 2016

Report suggests that natural gas overtook coal as top power source in U.S. in 2015

Natural gas in 2015, for the first time, appears to have overtaken coal as the top power source for electricity in the U.S., Scott DiSavino reports for Reuters. Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration through October 2015 shows that power plants used more gas than coal to produce electricity in five of the 10 months, including the last four—July, August, September and October—that data was available. Analysts credit the change to the "cheapest gas prices in 16 years and a record number of coal-fired plants retired from service because of the high cost of meeting environmental regulations."

"While EIA does not forecast that gas produced more electricity than coal in 2015, some analysts conclude it did because gas in November and December traded at the lowest levels for the entire year, prompting more substitution in what was already an unrivaled year for coal-to-gas switching," DiSavino writes. "Coal has been the primary source of fuel for U.S. power plants for the last century, but its use has been declining since peaking in 2007, which is expected to continue as the federal government imposes rules to limit carbon emissions."

"EIA said gas produced a record high 37 million megawatt hours per day of electricity on average during the first ten months of 2015," DiSavino writes. "Coal, meanwhile, produced about 39 MWh per day. One megawatt is enough to power about 1,000 U.S. homes." (Read more)

Written by Tim Mandell Posted at 1/25/2016 01:45:00 PM

 

McGuire to make run against York in 96th 

McGuire with his mom and dad and Ky. Sec. of State Allison Grimes when he signed up to run

Candidate Filing Window Closes for May Primary Election

FRANKFORT, Ky. (Jan. 26, 2016) – The window for candidates who must run in a Primary Election to file candidacy paperwork with the Office of Secretary of State officially closed today. Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes received and filed paperwork until the 4 p.m. deadline today, including several filings just seconds before the cut-off.

More than 300 candidates filed for various offices on the May 17, 2016, Primary Election ballot, including 220 candidates for seats in the Kentucky House of Representatives.

“I am encouraged by the number of people who have filed to run for office this year,” said Grimes. “Our democracy is at its best when more people are involved in the process – not just voting, but giving of themselves to serve the public in office.”

Offices on the Kentucky ballot in 2016 include:

President of the United States (Primary for the Democratic Party only)

United States Senator

United States Representative

State Senator

State Representative

One Kentucky Supreme Court Justice race is also on the ballot, as well a handful of judicial races for unexpired terms. 

Grimes will certify the candidates’ names for printing of the ballots on Feb. 8

 

Democrat to oppose GOP incumbent for seat in Ky. House of Representatives

Racecar driver will face Republican Jill York in General Election in November

GRAYSON, KY. -- With Republicans needing to hold on to all their seats in the Kentucky House of Representatives and win three districts currently held by Democrats in order to control all three branches of Kentucky government for the first time in modern history, the race in Lawrence and Carter County looms large.

 

Here is Democrat candidate Josh McGuire's introduction:

Josh McGuire starts race for 96th District seat in the Kentucky House of Representatives

Frankfort, KY (Jan. 22, 2016) – Josh McGuire announced today that he is seeking election to the Kentucky House of Representatives in the 96th House District. A Grayson, Kentucky resident and professional racecar driver, McGuire is committed to running an aggressive fully-funded campaign that mirrors his wins on the track.

McGuire is making his first run for a state office.“I’m running to make life better for the people here. There’s so much to be proud of in our community and the wonderful people that make it home. I know that together we can build a brighter tomorrow for the people of the 96th District,” McGuire said.

A life-long Eastern Kentucky resident, McGuire is a graduate of the University of Kentucky Gatton College of Business and Economics. He has built a successful racing career and small business following graduation from the University of Kentucky. He even proposed to his wife, Tracy, in victory lane of Willard Speedway.

“It’s been great to be able to build a life doing what I love in the place I love, my hometown. More people should be able to say that in Eastern Kentucky. We need to diversify the opportunities here, and work to build our economy. That will be my number one goal in Frankfort,” McGuire said.

Members of House Majority Leadership joined McGuire as he filed his papers this week to officially put his name in the running.

“Josh is a great candidate, and part of a family with deep roots in the community. I’m excited for his enthusiasm and dedication to making life better for folks here in Eastern Kentucky,” Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins said.

McGuire has already begun his efforts by meeting community leaders and holding informal meetings with constituents looking forward to the campaign and fresh leadership in the Kentucky House.

“Support for this campaign has been overwhelming and I’m completely humbled by that support. We’re working to build a base of grassroots support and get out there to talk to the voters. I am confident they will see that there’s much more we can do for our district and that it’s time for a change in Frankfort,” McGuire said.

See Jill York's column on Perspectives section

JANUARY 22, 2016

(Also see stories about the 'dog bite bill'  and stray cats and new Horse Park for Eastern Kentucky on Lazer Animal House section (HERE)

 

This Week at the State Capitol

January 18-22

FRANKFORT -- As Winter Storm Jonas approached Kentucky, many eyes turned to the forecasters whose Doppler radars and high-tech instruments could predict the wind chill and expected snowfall.

But when school superintendents must decide whether to call a snow day, they often depend on something less sophisticated but just as precise: Many are out in the dark checking roads at 4 a.m. so they know the driving conditions they face.

A similar point could be made about forecasting a legislative session. Polls hint at the public mood and commentators provide educated analysis. But often, it’s lawmakers’ direct contact with citizens – phone calls, coffee shop discussions, and meetings in the Capitol and in their home districts -- that most clearly reveals which issues are picking up momentum and which are about to hit an icy patch.

At the end of Week 3 of the General Assembly’s 2016 session, it’s still too early for legislation to have gathered the momentum to reach the governor’s desk and be signed into law. But many bills are moving through legislative committees and a handful have already been approved by the Senate or House and sent to the other chamber for consideration.

Issues that took steps forward this week include:

Cancer. House Bill 115 would expand eligibility for screenings under the state’s Colon Cancer Screening Program to uninsured Kentuckians between the ages of 50-64 or uninsured persons deemed at high risk for the disease. Eligibility would be based on current American Cancer Society screening guidelines. The bill was approved by the House and has been sent to the Senate.

Drunken Driving. Senate Bill 56 would strengthen penalties for habitual drunken drivers by changing what is known in legal circles as the “look back period” from five years to 10 years. That means if someone is convicted of drunken driving multiple times in a 10-year period the penalties for the crimes can be increased. The bill has been approved by the Senate and has been sent to the House.

Elections. Senate Bill 10 would move elections for governor and other statewide constitutional offices to the same years as presidential elections. The bill has been approved by the Senate and has been sent to the House for consideration.

Human Trafficking. House Bill 229 is aimed at improving investigation and prosecution of human trafficking by including the Kentucky Attorney General among those with jurisdiction over those crimes. The bill has been approved by a House committee and is expected to be voted on by the full House next week.

Informed Consent. Senate Bill 4 would specify that consultations between a woman seeking an abortion and a health care provider that are required 24 hours prior to the procedures must take place in face-to-face meetings. Those consults are currently often done through recorded phone messages. The bill has been approved by the Senate and has received two readings in the House.

Legislator Pensions. Senate Bill 45 would disclose the value of state legislator’s public pensions by making those figures subject to open records laws. The bill was approved by the Senate and has been received by the House.

Victim Protection. House Bill 59 would make it easier for those at risk of violence to shield their home addresses from people who could harm them. Kentucky already has an address protection program that allows domestic violence victims and those at risk of violence to use a substitute address in cases where public records could make their home addresses accessible to those who pose a risk. House Bill 59 would allow people at risk of violence to apply for a substitute address without first obtaining a domestic violence order. A sworn statement would suffice for program eligibility. The bill was approved by the House and has been sent to the Senate for consideration.

To share your thoughts on the issues confronting Kentucky with state lawmakers, please call the General Assembly’s toll-free Message Line at 800-372-7181.

from Robert Weber (LRC)