(Photo Credit: Travis Dove for The New York Times)
This op-ed originally appeared in The Louisville Courier-Journal
In response to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Congress committed more than $120 billion for the Gulf region. The state of Louisiana received approximately $78 billion. Charitable organizations donated an additional $4 billion. Online donations by individual Americans totaled another $5.3 billion. Ninety countries pledged financial support, as did scores of corporations.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which hit the Northeast in October 2012, government and the private sector once again flooded the region with cash. Congress appropriated $49 billion. Charitable donations topped $575 million. Dozens of celebrities, including Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Kanye West, Alicia Keys and The Rolling Stones, stepped up to perform at the Hurricane Sandy Relief Concert.
Contrast the extraordinary public and private response to these catastrophic natural disasters with the amazingly anemic efforts being made to help the Appalachian region cope with the economic devastation caused by the collapse of the coal industry. The president's FY 2016 budget proposed $20 million to support workers dislocated from coal mines and coal-fired power plants. Another $25 million was proposed for the Appalachian Regional Commission to help communities most affected by the shift away from coal. I'm not aware of any celebrities planning a Concert for Coal.
Any amount of help is good, but let's call the current level of federal and private support what it is: an embarrassingly meager response to a life and death crisis for hundreds of thousands of Americans. Children are going hungry. Families are being destroyed. Businesses are going bankrupt. And towns are dying. And the best we can do is offer them token support. It is the equivalent of handing an unemployed veteran a dollar as you brush by him on the street.
The easy answer is to say this is an apples and watermelons example. A natural disaster has no resemblance to a market-driven economic shift that happens to favor natural gas and renewable fuels over coal. After all, the world will be better off with less coal.
That's not the point. When the Gulf region and the Northeast were hit with disasters beyond their control, taxpayers, foundations, churches, corporations, celebrities and individual citizens rushed in to help. The hurricanes were quite literally followed by tidal waves of cash and support.
West Virginia, eastern Kentucky and southwest Virginia have been hit by the equivalent forces of Sandy and Katrina combined. The economic disaster is every bit as devastating and every bit as worthy of greater public and private support as the storms that rocked the Gulf and the Northeast...
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