A coalition of progressive policy and environmental groups has released a “blueprint” that provides a framework for how Ohio Valley communities could reap the benefits of federal action to address climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The plan, titled “Reimagine Appalachia” envisions a future economy for the traditionally extraction-based economies of Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania that builds on the region’s other natural resources, creates well-paying jobs and positions the Ohio Valley at the forefront of addressing climate change.
The framework, which has been endorsed by nearly 60 organizations including Appalachian Voices, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and the National Wildlife Federation, was led in development by the left-leaning Policy Matters Ohio and its sister organizations across the region.
“Our vision creates a federal jobs program that can put people back to work in largely outdoor jobs, while simultaneously helping us to address the climate crisis and the need for racial justice, while also maximizing the creation of good union jobs,” said Amanda Woodrum, a senior researcher with Policy Matters Ohio.
With the help of federal investment, the plan suggests the Ohio Valley could use its natural resources to create new jobs and rebuild the middle class. That could be achieved by modernizing the electric grid, cleaning up abandoned fossil fuel infrastructure such as coal mines and oil and gas wells, and by investing in manufacturing like plastics alternatives.
Angie Rosser, executive director of the conservation group, the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, and one of the members of the blueprint planning committee, said the region’s lush forests could also be a key climate solution, by sucking up climate-warming carbon dioxide. The plan advocates for the revival of the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal-era job creation and conservation program.
“For too long corporations have used our resources for their own profits while damaging our health and environment,” Rosser said. “With Appalachia’s natural assets, we have all the tools to provide great jobs for our people, while doing our part to create a healthier future for our children by addressing the climate crisis.”
Coalition members said they held multiple listening sessions, including with fossil fuel workers in Appalachia, before developing the blueprint, and intend to hold more community engagement events in the future.
“This is a starting point, and ideally, this is a new way to talk about this transition that gets us out of those old habits of thinking, ‘Well, you know, this is policy coming in from the coasts or this is policy that’s just being applied to people in Appalachia,’” said Hannah Halbert, executive director of Policy Matters Ohio. “Instead, we’re trying to create some framework, some structure, some on-ramps for people to have a conversation about policies that might affect them that might make their life better.”
The plan’s release comes on the heels of former vice president and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s climate plan, which embraced the idea of a just economic transition for coal-reliant communities.
Proponents of the “Reimagine Appalachia” plan said the policy framework is also timely given that lawmakers in Washington are currently debating a second coronavirus stimulus package and calls for climate action are intensifying.
Editor’s note: Appalshop, which is affiliated with ReSource member station WMMT in Whitesburg, Kentucky, endorsed the “Reimagine Appalachia” plan. WMMT is editorially independent from Appalshop and no members of WMMT participated in the writing or editing of this story.
Based at WVPB in Morgantown, WV, Brittany Patterson covers all things energy and environment for Ohio Valley Resource, a regional journalism collaborative reporting on economic and social change in Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia.