We at Appalachian Voices have spent the last year and a half advocating for the Build Back Better vision. Distilling that vision down to the name “Build Back Better” erases just how transformational this bill would have been for Appalachia, for our energy system, and for our country.
It would have put our country on a path to meaningfully addressing climate change, creating thousands of clean energy jobs in disadvantaged communities, including in coal-impacted Appalachia. It would have provided coal miners suffering from black lung with long-term certainty about funding for the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund, and it would have provided the social support system so needed in environmental justice and other disadvantaged communities across the country.
This loss is painful — especially so soon after the U.S. Supreme Court delivered another blow to climate progress with its ruling in West Virginia v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — but it hurts even more knowing it was Joe Manchin, one of our own Appalachian leaders, who dealt the death blow.
If Manchin were truly listening to his constituents, he would know that they are suffering from a lack of good, safe, well-paying jobs, and from the resulting obstacles to accessing healthcare, childcare, retirement income, housing and other essentials for living a decent life. Manchin should be an easy “yes” vote on legislation to deliver these essentials by building a new clean energy economy in his home state, and across the country, while also ensuring that the coal miners who have powered the nation for more than 100 years are taken care of.
Unfortunately, and incomprehensibly, Manchin (and 50 Senate Republicans) have proclaimed a resounding “no” on this vision.
The good news is that despite the failures of politicians, Appalachian communities know that we are our own best advocates, and we will continue to organize and fight for justice, jobs, and the health and well-being of our communities and our world.
Here are just some of the ways that Appalachian Voices is committed to continuing in this work, with communities, members and advocates like you as partners.
We are supporting coal miners with black lung disease
At the start of the year, the Black Lung Excise Tax was slashed in half. This tax is paid by coal companies in order to finance the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund which pays out disability benefits and covers medical care for thousands of coal miners with the deadly disease. Tell Congress to do right by miners with black lung and pass the Black Lung Benefits Solvency Act, a 10-year extension of the excise tax at its historic rate (S. 2810 & H.R. 6462), and to improve access to these benefits through the Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act (H.R. 6102 and S.4511).
We are supporting the creation of reclamation jobs in coal mining communities by pushing the administration to enforce coal mining regulations and to implement the bipartisan infrastructure law in such a way that maximizes local economic and environmental benefits.
We are protecting environmental justice communities by fighting new methane gas infrastructure. Tell FERC that Mountain Valley Pipeline doesn’t deserve a new pass to harm Appalachia and wreck our climate and then tell them to deny the Tennessee Valley Authority’s new methane gas pipeline projects.
We are lobbying Congress for more and better economic development funding in coal-impacted communities.
We are working with the Biden administration to improve access to federal funds for environmental justice communities.
We are working at the state and local level to create more clean energy jobs. Through initiatives such as the Solar Finance Fund and the North Carolina Carbon Plan hearings, we are working to create clean energy jobs in Appalachian communities. If you’re in North Carolina, Sign up for a Carbon Plan hearing to support a clean energy future for the Tar Heel State!
And we will continue to push for federal action on clean energy jobs in future legislation and executive action.
Even with these actions, I know many of us still feel defeated and helpless in this moment. But we are not helpless, and we have not been defeated. It reminds me of the wise words from the song, “Resilient,” by Rising Appalachia:
“My voice feels tiny and I’m sure so does yours. But put us all together we make a mighty roar.”
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