Obama administration sends $28 million to aid coal regions

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. government released $28 million in federal grants to 13 coal-producing states on Wednesday to help them cope with the decline of the coal industry, driven by the move toward cleaner energy.

With the Obama administration’s announcement, over $66 million has been awarded this year to 71 projects that aim to aid workers displaced from coal company bankruptcies and create new industries in these areas.

The competitive grants are part of President Barack Obama’s POWER Initiative that provides federal resources to fund locally-created initiatives that help communities affected by coal job losses to prepare them for new economic activity.

For example, the University of Utah will receive $790,000 to test whether technology to convert coal into carbon fiber materials can be used in different industries.

And Friends of Southwest Virginia, a nonprofit group, will receive $3 million to boost the burgeoning tourism industry in the once prolific coal region. Wise County, Virginia, will get $2.2 million to train workers for jobs in the emerging drone industry.

The future of the POWER program is uncertain and will depend on who wins the presidential election on Nov. 8.

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton has proposed a $30 billion plan to support the economic transition of coal-dependent regions, which would build on Obama’s POWER Initiative.

Republican nominee Donald Trump meanwhile has pledged that he will roll back environmental regulations, a strategy that he says will help revive the coal industry and put miners back to work.

Clinton energy adviser Trevor Houser said at a policy debate with Trump energy adviser Congressman Kevin Cramer in Virginia on Tuesday that it is market dynamics, not regulations, that have led to coal’s decline.

“We owe it to (coal communities) to have an honest conversation about what’s happening in the market and not offer false promises to them to recreate a coal economy that we left decades ago,” he said.

Cramer said programs like POWER and Clinton’s transition proposal are the “type of management that liberals like to utilize” instead of relaxing rules to let coal compete with other energy sources.

Reporting By Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Alden Bentley