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IWG Discusses Funding Opportunities to Revitalize Midwest Coal, Power Plant Communities

IWG Deputy Executive Director Briggs White, Ph.D., discussed plans and strategies to ensure no communities are left behind in the nation’s transformation to a clean-energy economy when he presented the keynote address at a meeting of the Midwestern Governors Association (MGA) on Wednesday, July 28.

White outlined strategic efforts undertaken by the IWG on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization during his remarks at the virtual event.

Established by the Biden Administration in January, the IWG brings a whole-of-government approach to create good-paying union jobs, spur economic revitalization, remediate environmental degradation and support energy workers in coal, oil and gas, and power plant communities across the country as the U.S. prepares to undergo a historic energy evolution to a carbon emission-free electricity sector by 2035 and economy-wide net-zero emissions by 2050.

“I am honored by this opportunity to address the governors of the nation’s heartland and discuss how the IWG will leverage U.S. investment in decarbonization and clean energy infrastructure to revitalize communities in the Midwest and across the country whose economies have been tied to fossil energy and coal-fired power plants,” White said.

“Investments in carbon capture and sequestration, hydrogen hubs and other decarbonization technology can generate good-paying jobs and growth in these communities while cleaning up the legacy of environmental issues and damages these communities have endured,” White said.

White also focused on the recent announcement by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) to allocate $300 million in American Rescue Plan funds to coal communities.

The Coal Communities Commitment is the largest dedicated support for funding of coal communities in the history of the EDA. The coal commitment is 10% of the EDA’s broader announcement of $3 billion from the American Rescue Plan to invest in American communities, aimed at helping different economies recover and improve resiliency. 

White also outlined the roles governors will play in helping coal and power plant communities make successful economic transitions. “The process of transitioning energy communities will require an ongoing partnership between federal, state and local governments as well as industry, labor and nonprofits. Many federal programs require matching funding from grantees, and oftentimes local communities view this as an insurmountable roadblock to pursuing federal funds,” White said.

He noted states need to work hand in hand with federal agencies to help ensure that all possible sources of funding (including state tax dollars) are brought to the table to support key initiatives for communities in transition. The governor’s office is often in the best position to provide needed data about existing assets, workforce, tax base, industry mix and other information for economic planning.

“The IWG can be a great partner for states that want their fair share of federal funding for energy communities, but it will require persistent communications between federal, state and local officials, and a willingness to invest alongside the federal agencies,” White said.

As a first step, the IWG is planning a listening tour to energy communities across the U.S., as well as a series of workshops to help catalyze local projects.

White is one of two officials from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) serving in IWG leadership positions. NETL Director Brian Anderson, Ph.D., is the IWG’s executive director.

The MGA is a nonprofit bipartisan organization that brings together governors and their staff members to address public policy issues of significance to the region. In addition to White, other speakers as the MGA meeting will include a panel of rural development and community revitalization representatives from the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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