There are currently eight federally chartered regional commissions in the United States. Created by Congress to address severe economic distress in communities across the country, the commissions have their own unique statutory authority and receive varying levels of appropriations. Of these eight commissions, five are active, two are in the organizational stage of operations, and one is inactive.
Established in 1965 to address the disparity in economic distress in the Appalachian region compared to rest of the nation, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) is the model on which all other regional commissions are based. With an annual authorization of $200 million through fiscal year 2026, ARC has the largest budget of any regional commission in the U.S. ARC’s Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) initiative provides grants to mitigate job losses in coal mining and power plant operations industries caused by shifts in American energy production.
The Delta Regional Authority provides economic assistance to eligible communities in Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee. Through a series of programs, Delta promotes economic planning, workforce and health systems development, entrepreneurship, and innovation.
The Denali Commission is the only regional commission that serves only one state – Alaska. The Commission was established to promote rural development by investing in bulk fuel storage, power generation, health care facilities, surface transportation and waterfront facilities, communication systems and specialty housing. In recent years, much of Denali’s focus has shifted to investing in infrastructure and village relocation to assist Alaskan communities in mitigating the effects of climate change.
Three commissions – the Northern Border Regional Commission (NBRC), Southeast Crescent Regional Commission (SCRC), and Southwest Border Regional Commission (SBRC) – are authorized collectively by Title 40 of the U.S. Code. Until 2021, only the NBRC had a federal co-chair confirmed by the Senate and received sufficient appropriations to award grants since the commissions were established in the 2008 farm bill.
A newly established commission, the Great Lakes Authority, was recently authorized in the fiscal year 2023 Omnibus bill, largely due to advocacy efforts by Representative Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) and Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). The Great Lakes Authority will serve areas located in the watershed of the Great Lakes: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Since the commission is authorized by the same section of the U.S. Code as the NBRC, SCRC, and SBRC, it will have the same statutory authority as those commissions. While the four commissions are authorized jointly, appropriations are doled out to each individual commission, so it remains to be seen what kind of funding this new commission will have to operate and award grants.
Many lawmakers are eager to expand the authority of these commissions, especially to address the specific economic issues in each region. From outdoor recreation and forestry (ARC, NBRC), to defense and general manufacturing (Great Lakes), to infrastructure hardening (Denali), there is a wealth of untapped legislative potential lying dormant within America’s regional commissions.