Appalachian Transition is devoted to ideas for a more just, sustainable and prosperous future in Central Appalachia. We are at a critical moment in our region. The time has arrived to talk about the coming transition of our economy, workforce and communities. This site is a resource for that conversation.

Appalachian Transition Blog

Photo Post: Floyd, Virginia

Greetings from Floyd, Virginia, a little town with a big personality! I've spent the last two days here with the Central Appalachian Network and CAN grantee SustainFloyd. Though the town itself has under 500 residents, Floyd has a great downtown with locally-owned businesses and is seeing more entrepreneurial-minded young people moving into the area. It's also host to FloydFest, a rapidly-growing annual music festival. SustainFloyd is a local organization working to promote the area's food and farm economy, with a Farmer's Market, farm-to-school, and pocket farm programs. Floyd is a great example of small-town economic development in Appalachia, and it was great to be here!


 

Public radio covers coal's decline in east Kentucky

The decline of the coal industry is getting some national attention – and, finally, some decent reporting. American Public Media's Marketplace program (aired on many NPR stations) covered the economy of eastern Kentucky earlier this week on two separate shows, with more nuance than the region normally gets from national news. The first part of the report explored why the industry is collapsing: mined-out seams, competition from other coal regions and fuel sources, and environmental regulation. The second part of the report asks the same question we have been asking for years: what’s next?

Communities are just now beginning to seriously discuss economic alternatives. Some blame the slow start on the “War on Coal” rhetoric, saying it’s distracted attention from preparing for a “low coal” future. Others say political leaders have spent coal severance tax money on basic services instead of diversifying the economy. 

Regional leaders who gathered in the mining town of Hazard to talk to Marketplace stressed they didn’t believe there was one single thing that could “replace” coal. They hope a new bi-partisan effort called SOAR (Shaping Our Appalachian Region) will come up with some alternatives. The region has already been targeted for special assistance from the federal and state government, but residents fear the money won’t be enough.  

“I mean, what happened in Detroit when that industry was threatened,” says Jeff Whitehead, executive director of the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program.  “There was a lot of government support. Lots of it.”

Appalachia's ethnic and racial diversity should play role in economic future

With the rise of reality television shows focusing on rural areas and the recent 50th Anniversary of the War on Poverty, stereotypes about Appalachia have resurfaced on the national scene with a vengeance.

More youth should have a seat at the decision-making table

Appalachia’s leaders have long wondered how to get more young people involved in matters of state. Since the Shaping Our Appalachian Region Summit last December, there has been a renewed push to involve more young people in processes that will design eastern Kentucky’s future. (Picture from The STAY Project, a youth-led, grassroots regional network of young people working to create sustainable, engaging and inclusive communities in Appalachia. Learn more about STAY, here.) 

Shortly after the SOAR Summit, the Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition hosted a call-in day for youth to let their legislators know they supported the Clean Energy Opportunity Act. But when youth began calling in to the switchboards in Frankfort, many were told they could not leave messages for their representatives because they were younger than 18 years old. The youth took action, and steps were immediately taken to end the 15-year informal policy of not allowing anyone under 18 to leave messages for their legislators.

Clearing the way for youth to freely and opening contact their legislators regardless of how young they are is definitely a move in the right direction, and we applaud the Legislative Research Commission for taking such swift action.

But, we are disappointed this week about the limited number of young people on the SOAR executive committee, which is in charge of next steps in the initiative. The list of working group facilitators is also lacking in youth voices. This is certainly a missed opportunity.

If we want to build a brighter future in this state and region, we must provide genuine and dedicated space for youth participation at every level of the process, regardless of their age. After all, it is their future we are building, not our own. And for that reason, their opinions about eastern Kentucky’s future prosperity should perhaps be considered the most important. 

State agency offers predictions for Kentucky's energy future

The Kentucky Department of Energy Development and Independence (DEDI) provided some eye-opening charts at a recent symposium on “The Future of Coal” at Northern Kentucky University. It’s no secret that coal in eastern Kentucky is in steep decline, but seeing where DEDI believes the future will take the industry and the region is very interesting.

First, let’s look at where we are. For all that we hear about a nationwide “War on Coal,” it’s clear that eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia is really where the significant job losses are. In most other areas, including western Kentucky, mining employment is relatively steady or even increasing. 

One of the reasons for this decline is that a number of power plants using eastern Kentucky coal are retiring. This map shows the plants that are or are likely to retire through 2018. The bigger the dot, the more east Kentucky coal the plant uses – clearly, this is going to be a big blow to an industry that is already suffering.

(Click below to read on.)

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