As local governments in Kentucky and nearby states line up behind President Barack Obama's plan to pump more than $1 billion into economically devastated coal-mining communities, a few points are worth remembering:
■ This is no handout. The $1 billion is owed and past due.
■ The money is sitting in a $2.5 billion fund derived from a tax that Congress first levied on the coal industry in 1977, specifically to clean up safety and health hazards left behind by earlier mining.
■ The money would put idled miners, engineers and coal companies back to work at something they know how to do and that needs to be done.
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Kentucky has $461 million worth of unfunded repair needs related to abandoned mine lands.
Every heavy rain reveals more dangers as abandoned mines blow out, slide into homes, streets and roads, or pollute drinking water sources.
Yet less than $20 million came to Kentucky last year from the $2.5 billion fund to repair such hazards.
No wonder, in just the last week, the proposal to accelerate cleanup funding has won endorsements from the governing bodies of Harlan and Letcher counties, Whitesburg and Benham in Kentucky; Wise County and Norton in Virginia and Campbell County, Tenn.
The resolutions call on U.S. Rep. Hall Rogers, who represents Eastern Kentucky and chairs the House Appropriations Committee, to shepherd the plan through Congress.
Rogers and his fellow Kentucky Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell should set aside their partisan animosity toward Obama and put their weight behind getting the money owed to coal communities into the budget.
The stiffest resistance will likely come from lawmakers from western coal states. Their states have no more abandoned coal-mine cleanup needs but still collect millions of dollars from the coal-tax fund.
This brazen injustice is not new. No less a friend of coal than former Sen. Jim Bunning used to rail about it.
In 2000 the Coal Operators and Associates Inc. of Pikeville filed a federal lawsuit seeking to speed up payments from the cleanup fund.
The more cities and counties that endorse the Power+ Plan, the more ammunition Rogers, McConnnell and other Appalachian lawmakers will have to fight for it when Congress reconvenes.