The coalfields of Appalachia—like coal producing communities around the country—literally fueled the growth of the entire nation. Despite that, the coal economy didn’t create lasting prosperity in these communities. In fact, today, these are some of the most economically disadvantaged places in the US. These places that have given so much now bear the brunt of changes in global energy markets. They sacrificed lives, health, water, prosperity, ecosystems—and there is a debt to be paid.
Justice demands that we bring new investment to these places. That investment is needed to build a new economy, revitalize these communities, educate people of all ages to be prepared for new opportunities, and create demonstrations of what the new economy can look like – whether that is local food, health care, the creative economy, sustainable forestry, tourism, affordable housing or clean energy.
From here in Appalachia to Wyoming to the Navajo Nation, leaders from communities that once relied on coal are developing and implementing promising solutions to create inclusive, equitable and sustainable economic growth, driven from the ground up. These leaders need supportive public policy and investment at the local, state and federal level to accelerate this work of building a new economy.
Over the past year, the Mountain Association worked with 17 public, private and nonprofit partners from throughout Appalachia and across the country to develop a platform of seven pillars that policy makers and leaders should understand in order to support our communities. The National Economic Transition (NET) platform is based on community-driven solutions, crafted by local, tribal and labor leaders living and working in America’s coal communities. It serves as a guide for legislators and philanthropic leaders, and encourages them to develop policies and make investments that support the just and equitable national transition our communities need and deserve.
One pillar of the National Economic Transition platform calls upon policymakers to invest in restorative economic development in our communities. Here are just a few examples of how the Mountain Association has been supporting that approach in Kentucky:
We have invested more than one million dollars in solar installations for small businesses and non-profits in the coalfields of Eastern Kentucky, saving money for these vital local enterprises, making them more resilient as energy prices rise and reducing their carbon footprint.
We’ve invested in a local wood products manufacturer, helping them double in size, adding good jobs with benefits and using sustainably harvested timber.
We’ve helped addiction recovery centers get established and grow—meeting a critical need.
We’ve trained former coal miners to work in the new clean energy economy and helped them start their own businesses in this growing market.
There’s a lot more work to be done, but there is hope and determination in these places, and a fierce commitment to a brighter future. These communities can thrive again, they just need a fair chance, and that’s what the National Economic Transition platform is all about. The livelihoods Eastern Kentuckians, and tens of millions of people across the country, rely on us getting this transition right. Our leaders must make the decision to engage and make big, bold investments in an ambitious national community and worker transition program.