Front Porch Blog

Renewing the promise of Appalachia

Each month, Appalachian Voices Executive Director Tom Cormons reflects on issues of importance to our supporters and to the region.

Mountain Laurels in bloom, photo courtesy of Kent Mason

Mountain Laurels in bloom, photo courtesy of Kent Mason

There’s more than wildflowers budding in Appalachia as spring comes to the mountains this year.

We are witnessing the proliferation of efforts big and small to stabilize and revitalize local economies as the coal industry declines. And the conversations continue expanding outward, bringing together an increasingly broad cross-section of residents and stakeholders.

Appalachian Voices is working at the intersection of these efforts in partnership with local citizens and civic leaders, and with other organizations.

Last month, a bipartisan bill was introduced in Congress to direct $1 billion to reclaim abandoned mine lands, the vast majority of which are in Appalachia. The money already exists in a special fund created for this purpose, but the bill would expedite the release of money in the near-term, when our communities need it most. Further, the bill requires that reclamation projects be designed in ways to promote economic development opportunities.

Representatives Hal Rogers (KY) and Morgan Griffith (VA), joined by other coal-state legislators, are sponsoring the bill, called the RECLAIM Act, and the list co-sponsors is growing. This is a crucial step forward in ensuring that the health and sustainability of Appalachia’s economy is a national priority.

A key factor in getting to this point was the clarion call of support from citizens and community leaders.

Since last summer, more than two dozen local governments have unanimously passed resolutions calling for federal investment in regional economic development efforts.

For its part, the Obama administration has directed substantial funding to communities hardest hit by coal’s decline to help with workforce training and other economic programs through the POWER Initiative which launched a year ago. Just this week, $65.8 million in grants was made available to communities for projects that diversify local economies, create jobs in new or existing industries, attract new investment and other programs.

As we advocate for passage of the RECLAIM Act, we continue to strengthen our collaboration with local and regional supporters of these efforts, with a particular focus on initiatives that protect and promote the region’s natural resources and heritage.

A series of community forums we co-hosted in southwest Virginia last year drew more than 130 people to share their visions of new economies for their communities. We are now expanding that outreach to an online “wiki” type platform where we hope hundreds more will contribute their ideas. And with a new office space in Norton, Va., our team is deepening its roots and is positioned to take this work to the next level.

With so much promise this spring, we’re excited to see our collective hard work bear new fruit this year and beyond. The importance of your support for our efforts with local and regional partners can’t be overstated.

For the mountains,

Tom

Appalachian Voices' Executive Director, Tom holds a degree in law from UCLA and has a life-long appreciation for Appalachia's mountains and culture. An avid hiker and whitewater rafter, his latest pleasure is in sharing with his kids a deep respect and appreciation of nature.