Take almost any coal-fired power plant in the eastern United States and reverse the railroad haul that brought the coal from the mine to the plant, and somewhere nearby you’ll find a town in the economic doldrums: breadwinners out of work, overdue bills piling up, food stamps feeding kids.

The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) announced in mid-March the availability of $65.8 million, through President Obama’s Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) Initiative, to aid towns and regions that historically relied on the coal industry for economic stability. This includes the coal plants themselves—dozens of which are being shuttered—and related transportation systems and industrial supply chains.

“We are looking for large-scale projects which will create sustainable economic change in Appalachia’s coal communities,” says Wendy Wasserman, ARC director of communications and media relations. “We envision these projects to be a team effort organized by a lead applicant. Like the rest of ARC’s area development funding, co-ops can apply as the lead applicant.”

In a joint news release, ARC and EDA say they would fund projects that:

  • “Diversify local and regional economies, create jobs in new and/or existing industries, attract new sources of job-creating investment, and provide a range of workforce services and skills training.”

  • Build “partnerships to attract and invest in the economic future of coal-impacted communities.”

  • Increase the ability to foster “long-term economic growth” in these communities.

“Many communities across Appalachia, from coal mines to Main Streets, are being impacted as the world changes the way it produces and consumes electricity,” says ARC Federal Co-Chair Earl F. Gohl. “The POWER Initiative can be a game-changer for Appalachia by partnering with these communities and investing federal resources to support local initiatives that will forge sustainable economic paths for the future.”

The Appalachian region, the poorest in the nation, extends south from western New York to parts of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. Much of it is rural and served by electric co-ops.