A bill approved Wednesday by the U.S. House Appropriations Committee funds the Appalachian Regional Commission, which has provided money for the Oak Ridge Airport project. The legislation does not include money to shut down the commission, as the Trump administration has proposed.
The budget request submitted to Congress by President Donald Trump in May proposed eliminating the Appalachian Regional Commission and other independent agencies, providing funding only for the orderly closure of the agencies. The request would apply to fiscal year 2018, which starts October 1.
The Appalachian Regional Commission, or ARC, is one of several independent agencies that award federal grants for regional development, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget said earlier this year. “The proposed elimination of the regional commissions reflects the need to reduce unnecessary federal spending and streamline the federal government’s role, while encouraging states and localities to partner with the private sector to develop locally tailored solutions to local problems,” the OMB said.
But an energy and water appropriations bill approved by the House Appropriations Committee in a voice vote on Wednesday does not include money to shut down the ARC.
Instead, the House bill, if approved, would cut ARC funding from $152 million in fiscal year 2017 to $130 million in fiscal year 2018. The Trump administration had proposed $26.6 million, to be used only for the shutdown.
The Oak Ridge Airport project has received $2 million in funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission. That money wouldn’t be affected by the president’s proposal to eliminate the independent agency, an airport spokesperson said in May.
But future project funding could be affected by a decision to close the commission.
During a visit to Rocky Top earlier this year, U.S. Representative Chuck Fleischmann, a Republican whose district includes Oak Ridge, said he supports ARC.
“ARC has done a very good job throughout my district,” said Fleischmann, a member of the House Appropriations Committee and vice chair of the Energy and Water Subcommittee.
The proposed Oak Ridge Airport would be built on the south side of Heritage Center, the former K-25 site in west Oak Ridge. It would have a 5,000-foot runway running parallel to State Route 58 that would accommodate nearly all corporate aircraft.
Officials have previously said that, if all goes well, construction could start in late 2018 or early 2019, and it could take about 1.5 years.
The Appalachian Regional Commission is a regional economic development agency established in 1965 by the Appalachian Regional Development Act. It is comprised of the governors of the 13 Appalachian states and a federal co-chair appointed by the president. Each year, the ARC provides funding for several hundred projects in the Appalachian Region in areas such as business development, education and job training, telecommunications, infrastructure, community development, housing, and transportation, according to a House report on the energy and water appropriations bill.
The report said the bill includes $10 million to continue the program of high-speed broadband deployment in “distressed counties within the Central Appalachian region that have been most negatively impacted by the downturn in the coal industry,” and the ARC targets 50 percent of its funds to distressed counties or distressed areas in the Appalachian region.
“The Committee continues to believe this should be the primary focus of the ARC,” the report said.
See the House Appropriations Committee press release from Wednesday here.
See the House Appropriations Committee report on the Energy and Water Development Appropriations for fiscal year 2018 here (information on the ARC is on page 151).
See the energy and water appropriations bill here.
See information about the Trump administration’s proposal to close the ARC on page 103 here.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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