On Monday, Hillary Clinton released a $30 billion plan to help revitalize central Appalachia. In theory, her plan hits all the right notes: It promises to reform the struggling black lung benefit program, fund rural public schools, and retrain coal miners for other industries. If implemented, it would spend $3 billion per year over the course of a decade to keep the region afloat.
It’s based in part on the Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, which subsidized farmers after Virginia began to phase out tobacco farming. But The New York Times reports that the people of southwest Virginia aren’t swayed by her approach:
“I’m a lawyer. I rarely get offended by an offering of money to redress a wrong,” said State Senator Ben Chafin, a Republican, who watched the decline of his father’s tobacco farm. “But $3 billion a year won’t even be enough to buy everyone a custard cone.”
Partisan politics aside, Chafin’s not necessarily wrong. Earlier this year, the Economic Innovation Group rated Virginia’s 9th Congressional District—where the Times story is based—a 97.9 out of 100 on its scale of economic distress. In practical terms, this means 51 percent of adults in the district are unemployed. That’s an apocalyptic number. And as the coal industry inexorably fails, the situation will get worse before it gets better.
There’s also bad blood between Clinton and coal country. She infamously promised to put miners “out of work” in May, a statement that likely helped her lose the West Virginia primary, and her energy policy is perceived to be in line with President Obama’s. That’s another strike against her in southwest Virginia; the region is desperately seeking a scapegoat for its problems, and the Obama’s new environmental regulations are another nail in coal’s coffin.