FRANKFORT (AP) — Appalachian lawmakers talked about the desperation for jobs in the coalfields as a House panel approved a bill Thursday to make the hard-hit coal industry eligible for state economic development incentives.
House Majority Floor Leader Rocky Adkins said the measure would “right a wrong” by letting coal companies seek the same economic incentives already available for other businesses and industries. The measure gained bipartisan support in winning approval from the House Economic Development Committee.
Adkins, a Sandy Hook Democrat and the bill’s lead sponsor, predicted the coal sector will rebound, and said the incentives should be available when that happens.
“I hope that this bill will give a leg up for this industry that has meant so much for Kentucky,” he said.
If the bill becomes law, coal mining or processing companies will be able to seek approval for various tax incentives rewarding job creation and investment.
Kentucky is the nation’s third-leading coal producer, but the measure comes amid a prolonged period of decline for the state’s coal sector. Those struggles have taken center stage in recent Kentucky elections.
Eastern Kentucky lawmakers spoke of the anguish and disruption among families as coal jobs were lost.
Rep. Cluster Howard, D-Jackson, talked about the “psychological impact” for former miners who “used to provide for their families, who are now devastated” by the decline of mining.
“This is not just about money,” he said. “It’s also about a way of life, a culture.”
Rep. John Short, D-Mallie, said there are former miners who used to make $75,000 or more per year who now are willing to take jobs paying considerably lower wages.
“They’re begging for jobs like that now because they don’t want to leave eastern Kentucky, where they were born and raised,” he said.
The bill would allow coal mining and processing companies to potentially qualify for sales- and use-tax incentives through the Kentucky Enterprise Initiative Act. The mining sector also will be able to seek income-tax incentives through the Kentucky Business Investment Act if the bill becomes law.
Adkins acknowledged the bill might not immediately spur new investments and job growth in Kentucky coalfields. But he added: “If this industry does turn, and I think it will at some point in time, this incentive package will be there for them as it is for all other businesses and industries.”
Kentucky coal production dropped from 121.2 million tons in 2008 to nearly 77.5 million tons in 2014. Thousands of coal mining jobs have disappeared in recent years, sending ripple effects through coalfield towns, especially in Kentucky’s Appalachian region.
Coal supporters blame tougher regulations enforced by President Barack Obama’s administration for the industry’s slump. Appalachian coal businesses have also faced higher production costs and competition from other coal basins and natural gas.
The legislation is House Bill 202.