One year ago, on Jan. 27, 2021, President Biden signed an executive order establishing the Interagency Working Group (IWG) on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization. Its goal then and now is to adopt a government-wide approach to ensure traditional energy communities and workers have access to the critical resources necessary to support economic revitalization, workforce development and environmental clean-up efforts in their regions.
“We’re never going to forget the men and women who dug the coal and built the nation. We’re going to do right by them and make sure they have opportunities to keep building the nation in their own communities and getting paid well for it,” said President Biden before signing the executive order.
The IWG’s first task was to develop the “Initial Report to the President on Empowering Workers Through Revitalizing Energy Communities,” which outlines the IWG’s member agencies, identifies priority energy communities across the nation and proposes short- and long-term actions to deliver resources and funding to these communities. In this report, published in April 2021, the IWG also identified $38 billion in existing federal funding opportunities for energy communities. Since then, the amount of currently available funding opportunities has increased to $46 billion, over $2.8 billion of which has already been awarded.
“As a grandson of a former coal miner and a lifelong West Virginian, I have seen the effects of mine and power plant closures first-hand. The IWG’s mission hits close to home,” said IWG Executive Director Brian Anderson, Ph.D. “Our job is to ensure the federal government comes together to serve their unique needs with real solutions and extensive funding opportunities that reduce bureaucracy and increase accessibility to funding opportunities that energy communities can easily find and access today, to support their economic growth for tomorrow.”
One of the IWG’s primary goals is to break down the barrier communities often face to accessing these funds. The organization launched a free, online clearinghouse tool that centralizes relevant funding opportunities from across the federal government in an easy-to-access location with a robust search function. Unveiled at the White House Energy Community Summit event with senior government officials and IWG leadership, the clearinghouse is regularly updated with new and planned funding sources, is easy to navigate, and allows users to filter based on eligibility, funding type and program purpose. The clearinghouse currently houses more than 60 opportunities worth $46 billion, including 17 opportunities that require no matching funds.
In addition to the White House event, the IWG also hosted or participated in over a dozen in-person and virtual workshops for energy communities in 2021. Place-focused virtual events, including Pennsylvania, West Virginia, North Dakota, Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe, Kentucky, Wyoming and more, focused on providing energy community leaders with available resources and gave local stakeholders the platform to speak about relevant lessons learned and best practices for economic revitalization in the region. Several national webinars covered topics including opportunities for coal communities, how to begin a transformation, and what the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law means for energy communities.
Taking a government-wide and integrated approach to this work is key to the IWG’s success, enabling billions of dollars to be made available for energy communities. Programs and awards can be used to invest in small businesses, job creation and training, brownfield or abandoned mine land clean-up, oil and gas well remediation, infrastructure, housing security, broadband expansion and much more. Here’s a quick look at some of the funding sources:
- Appalachian Regional Commission — Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) grants
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — Brownfield Assessment Grants
- U.S Department of Agriculture — Water and Waste Disposal Loans and Grants
- U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration — Build Back Better Regional Challenge
- U.S. Department of Education — Full-Service Community Schools (FSCS)
- U.S. Department of Energy — Communities LEAP (Local Energy Action Program) Pilot
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — Rural Emergency Medical Services Training Grant
- U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) — Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Reclamation Program
- U.S. Department of Labor — Workforce Opportunity for Rural Communities (WORC) Initiative
- U.S. Department of Transportation — RAISE Grants (Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity)
- U.S. Department of Treasury — State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI)
In addition, President Biden signed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) in November 2021. This historic law provides many more opportunities for energy communities to create good-paying jobs, develop their economies, revitalize their communities and remediate environmental damage. Federal agencies are expected to announce BIL-funded programs in the coming weeks and months. These opportunities will all be accessible on the IWG’s clearinghouse.
Looking ahead, the IWG is prioritizing the implementation of programs and opportunities from the BIL, expanding available resources on the energycommunities.gov website, hosting a stakeholder retreat to gather ideas and feedback from local energy community leaders, and establishing an online one-stop-shop where energy communities can access and easily apply for the full range of existing federal investments.
“We are proud of the initial work the IWG accomplished this past year, but there is so much more work to do. We need to keep up the momentum and put people at the center of all we do,” said Anderson. “This means prioritizing energy workers and their communities. Going out to meet with them. Listening to their needs and then offering resources and technical support so they can access federal funding to help create that initial spark or to help put projects over the top to support energy communities as they continue to adapt, innovate, transform their economies and set up their workers to not just survive, but instead to thrive in the workforce of the future.”