Posts Tagged ‘Economy’

Central Appalachian-focused James River Coal Company enters bankruptcy

Friday, April 11th, 2014 - posted by brian
James River Coal, which entered bankruptcy this week, has operations in Central Appalchia's most economically vulnerable coal-producing counties.

James River Coal, which entered bankruptcy this week, has operations in Central Appalchia’s most economically vulnerable coal-producing counties. Click to enlarge.

This week, James River Coal Company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in federal court. Like Patriot Coal, which reemerged from bankruptcy in December, the Richmond, Va.-based company’s operations are concentrated in Central Appalachia and are located in some of the counties most economically vulnerable to coal’s downturn.

According to a 2013 report by Downstream Strategies, eastern Kentucky’s Knott, Letcher, Pike, Bell, and Harlan counties are particularly vulnerable to shifting coal demand and changes in electricity markets, and therefore, require the most immediate attention from policymakers seeking to alleviate the economic impacts of the region’s declining coal industry.

James River has historically operated in all of those counties. But in September 2013, poor demand forced the company to lay off 525 employees and idle production at its McCoy-Elkhorn complex in Pike and Floyd counties and the Bledsoe complex in Leslie and Harlan counties.

Two months later, the struggling coal operator idled four more mines and furloughed 200 workers.

James River has not posted an annual net profit since 2010 and reported net loss of approximately $16.4 million in 2013. Investors expected the bankruptcy was imminent after the company recently received a notice from Nasdaq that it was not complying with the stock market’s rules after its stock closed below $1 per share for 30 business days.

In its bankruptcy filing, the company said it has assets valued at about $1.06 billion and liabilities of about $818.7 million, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

“The coal markets in the U.S. have changed dramatically during the past several years,” said James River Chairman and CEO Peter T. Socha. “Some of these changes are cyclical due to continued weakness in the real economy. Other of the changes are more permanent like changes in government environmental regulations, improved methods to produce natural gas, and switching between coal basins by domestic power utilities.”

A federal judge approved James River’s request to continue operations during its restructuring process, including paying wages and providing health care and other benefits to its 1,200 employees.

The company also appears committed to carrying out its contracts with electric utilities such as Indianapolis Power & Light, and Kentucky Utilities Co., which it supplies with coal from more productive mines in the Illinois Basin.

Either way, according to SNL Energy, James River’s chances for survival post-bankruptcy could be hindered by expiring contracts with electric utilities and the shrinking demand for Central Appalachian coal.

Spotlight on Eastern Kentucky Economy

Friday, February 7th, 2014 - posted by meredith

By Molly Moore

When more than 1,700 citizens gathered in Pikeville, Ky., to discuss ideas for regional economic revitalization at the Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) Summit last December, the crowd was diverse.

In attendance were concerned citizens, grassroots organizers and many of the state’s government and business leaders.

During breakout sessions, participants discussed topics such as jobs, entrepreneurship, infrastructure, tourism and regional identity. Common themes included the need to invest coal severance taxes back into coal-impacted communities and to encourage youth to remain in the region.

Progress was quick regarding one of the most popular ideas at the summit: the expansion of broadband internet in under-served eastern Kentucky. In January, Gov. Steve Beshear and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers announced $100 million in federal, state and private funding to bolster the region’s internet access. The Lexington Herald-Leader reported that it could take three years to install fiber optic infrastructure, the first phase of the project.

Another project touted by politicians at the summit was the expansion of the Mountain Parkway between central Kentucky and Pikeville to four lanes, a $750 million, six-year project that Gov. Beshear has called on lawmakers to approve.

Also in January, President Obama declared that eastern Kentucky would be one of five new “promise zones” where the area will be given special preference for federal grant dollars through existing programs. The initiative also aims to diversify the economy by increasing support for education, leadership and job training and establishing a revolving loan fund for small businesses.

To learn more about the SOAR Summit, read the report at

Recent Conservation Gains in Appalachia

By Meredith Warfield

With the Southeastern Cave Conservancy’s recent 75-acre land acquisition, two caves that were formerly off-limits have now been opened to the public in eastern Tennessee. The Run to the Mill Cave Preserve includes a pit nearly 170 feet deep and the largest population of endangered Indiana Bats in the state. Preliminary studies have revealed a likely presence of white-nose syndrome — an infection that has wiped out roughly 5.7 million bats in eastern North America. By managing the property, researchers hope to contain this disease and maintain local ecosystem health.

A 21-acre addition to the Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia will ensure protection of the Soque River, a critical tributary to Atlanta’s primary drinking water source. The Soque River is also home to a significant population of brook trout, Georgia’s only native species of trout. With the Trust for Public Land’s purchase, the public will have use of the fishing waters as well as easier access to thousands of surrounding acres of national forest.

Smart Savings: Increasing Energy Efficiency in the Southeast

Friday, February 7th, 2014 - posted by Kelsey Boyajian

By Rory McIlmoil

Appalachian Voices Energy Policy Director Rory McIlmoil coordinates our energy savings campaign

Appalachian Voices Energy Policy Director Rory McIlmoil coordinates our energy savings campaign

As we reach the end of one of the coldest winters I have ever experienced, I have been thinking a lot about how the periods of deep freeze have impacted residents across the region. Two managers of rural electric cooperatives recently told me that they have seen record-high energy costs for many of their residential customers.

These costs are an ongoing burden for many in Appalachia, where rural and low-income residents often live in homes that waste significant amounts of energy. The high electric bills that result can inhibit a family’s ability to meet even basic needs. In fact, energy costs can consume 80 percent of a family’s income during some months.

This problem is rooted in the inability of residents to afford the upfront cost of making needed energy efficiency improvements in their homes, such as adding insulation, repairing air ducts and conducting basic weatherization. This is the problem that our Energy Savings for Appalachia campaign aims to address.

Through this innovative campaign, we are promoting “on-bill financing” home energy loan programs that rural electric cooperatives should be offering to help residents finance the cost of home energy improvements. Such programs are proving to be highly successful in South Carolina, where residential participants reduced their electric bills by an average of 34 percent, and Kentucky, where participating homeowners have achieved an average energy savings of more than 20 percent.

Cutting energy costs not only helps alleviate poverty by increasing the amount of income families have for meeting their basic needs, but also can boost rural economies. The new savings can be spent in the community, and the increased demand for local energy services — such installing energy-efficient heating systems — supports new businesses and job creation.

Employing energy efficiency can also have significant environmental benefits. By cutting energy waste, we can reduce demand for coal that is extracted through mountaintop removal coal mining and for natural gas that comes from fracking wells. The simple act of insulating a home is one more step toward building resilient and sustainable communities.

We need you to get involved if we are going to achieve our goal of seeing strong home energy loan programs offered by every electric cooperative in the region. One way you can do that is by visiting our Energy Savings Action Center and sending a letter to your electric utility requesting that they develop an on-bill financing loan program. After taking action, help build the movement by spreading the word about the Action Center and our campaign for saving money and energy (and the environment!) in Appalachia.


With Important Energy Efficiency Programs Intact, Farm Bill Awaits Obama’s Signature

Monday, February 3rd, 2014 - posted by brian
It might be flawed, but the Farm Bill waiting for President Obama’s signature can go far in helping to expand energy efficiency in rural communities. Flickr Creative Commons: Scott Butner

It might be flawed, but the Farm Bill waiting for President Obama’s signature can go far in helping to expand energy efficiency in rural communities. Flickr Creative Commons: Scott Butner

On Monday, the U.S. Senate passed the version of the Farm Bill sent to it by the House a week ago. The rare compromise by Congress ends a 17-month impasse and will support “the continued global leadership of our farmers and ranchers,” according to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The bill designates funding over the next 10 years for farm subsidies, crop insurance, and nutrition and conservation programs. But it also contains lesser-known, and exceedingly important, programs to support energy efficiency in rural communities across the country.

Funding under the bill’s Energy Title — largely for biofuels, but also to support renewable energy and energy efficiency — only represents around $1 billion of the nearly $1 trillion bill. Still, energy efficiency advocates and groups such as the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association are celebrating the Farm Bill’s passage alongside farmers and the agricultural communities they serve.

“Cooperatives serve 93 percent of the nation’s ‘persistent poverty counties’ and see firsthand the need for the rural economic development programs contained in this bill,” NRECA CEO Jo Ann Emerson said in a statement on the association’s website.

For one, the bill authorizes the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Energy Savings Program to distribute up to $75 million in zero-interest loans for energy efficiency for each of the next five years.

The program is specifically intended to help rural co-ops create “on-bill financing” loan programs. Last year, we launched our Energy Savings for Appalachia program to shepherd the development and implementation of these programs in our region.

Through the Rural Energy Savings Program, co-ops can obtain federal dollars, which they can then pass on to their customers to invest in efficiency retrofits and updates. Borrowers will gradually pay loans back through charges on their electric bill that are less than their overall savings.

On-bill financing programs have proven successful in Kentucky, South Carolina, Kansas and other states, and co-ops have been advocating for a federal loan program for several years. In December 2013, the USDA announced its Energy Efficiency Conservation and Program, which did not require Congress’s approval.

Expectedly, not everyone is happy with the Farm Bill. Hunger groups are condemning cuts to foods stamps and changes in the eligibility requirements for food assistance programs. The notoriously picky meat industry is opposed to mandatory “country of origin labeling” rules, and too many to count are criticizing the way the bill overhauls farm subsidies.

“The farm bill isn’t perfect,” Obama said in a statement, “but on the whole, it will make a positive difference not only for the rural economies that grow America’s food, but for our nation.”

We know that energy efficiency can grow rural communities. So even though the Farm Bill may not be perfect, “a positive difference” and stable funding for efficiency programs mean a lot.

Click here to learn more about Appalachian Voices’ Energy Savings for Appalachia program, and find out what energy efficiency programs your electric provider offers using our Energy Savings Action Center.

The War on Poverty at 50

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014 - posted by molly
Fifty years ago today, President Lyndon Johnson declared a war on poverty from the front porch of a home in Martin County, Ky. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Fifty years ago today, President Lyndon Johnson declared a war on poverty from the front porch of a home in Martin County, Ky. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

On this day 50 years ago, President Lyndon Johnson looked out from the front porch of a weary-looking eastern Kentucky home and declared war on poverty.

At the time, one in three Appalachians were considered poor. The poverty rate in the region is now closer to the national average — 16.1 percent in Appalachia compared to 14.3 percent nationally — but, as you might suspect, those statistics tell only part of the story. Economic disparities between Appalachian counties and sub-regions remain high, and, as it was in 1964, eastern Kentucky remains a focal point.

Today President Obama announced that eight counties in southeastern Kentucky would comprise one of five new “Promise Zones.” This designation doesn’t provide new funding, but it grants those counties higher priority for existing federal funds, and federal assistance in accessing those opportunities. The announcement also coincides with a push toward collaboration and economic diversification in eastern Kentucky.

In these counties, as in much of Central Appalachia, the road out of poverty has been troubled by the region’s complicated relationship with coal. As Brian Sewell wrote in a 2013 issue of The Appalachian Voice, “The mixed results of economic initiatives in Appalachia are not for a lack of will. During the 20th century, social and labor movements repeatedly rose in opposition to unjust land leases, anti-union policy, insufficient medical care for miners with black lung disease and the destruction of mountaintop removal. Each time, there were powerful forces pushing back.” Read his analysis on why poverty is such a persistent challenge in Appalachia here.

In the next issue of The Appalachian Voice, we’ll look closer at the War on Poverty, exploring its goals and outcomes and examining what the lessons from the past 50 years can tell us about the way forward.

Independent journalist Ralph Davis, who is among the 27 visionaries featured in the current issue of the publication, created this excellent infographic about the impacts of the War on Poverty in Central Appalachia. Do these numbers reflect your experience? Tell us in the comments.

Changing Tides of Collaboration in Central Appalachia

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013 - posted by Erin
Participants in New Vision Renewable Energy's workshops build solar panels and cooperate on other clean energy projects for use at home and abroad. Photo by Lauren Norris

Participants in New Vision Renewable Energy’s workshops build solar panels and cooperate on other clean energy projects for use at home and abroad. Photo by Lauren Norris

For more than 15 years, Appalachian Voices has worked to protect the air, land and water of Central Appalachia. We do this work because the protection of the place we live is integral to the health, happiness and prosperity of our communities. We do this work for the benefit of all people in Central Appalachia.

Despite this, we often feel bogged down in contentious rhetoric that pits “treehuggers” against “friends of coal.” We often must spend all our time dealing with problems — water pollution, dust problems and violations of existing laws — when we’d much rather focus on collaboration and finding solutions.

As coal production continues to decline and cheaper reserves outcompete Central Appalachian coal, the need to diversify the regional economy is becoming even more critical. Several recent events demonstrate that many in Central Appalachia may be ready to take on the task.

However Long Overdue, Our Energy Efficiency Opportunity Is At Hand

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013 - posted by brian
The abundant opportunity for greater energy efficiency in our region and the lack of programs to seize it led us to establish our Energy Savings for Appalachia program.

The abundant opportunity for greater energy efficiency in our region and the lack of programs to seize it led us to establish our Energy Savings for Appalachia program.

Today’s Bloomberg View editorial bears a headline at once forehead-slapping simple and frustratingly complex: “Energy Efficiency Is Long Overdue.”

I used to read articles like this all the time. Apparently I sometimes still do. But whether it’s “long overdue,” or a “no-brainer,” or the “low-hanging fruit” of economic recovery or development, all the phrases that appear so often in pieces pointing to our untapped potential for energy efficiency can be disheartening when pitted against our energy-inefficient reality.

“On a global scale, we humans are becoming more energy efficient with each passing year,” the Bloomberg piece begins. “Even so, we’re exploiting only a fraction of the technological opportunities to use energy more cost-effectively.” Sure enough, the authors eventually ask, “If energy efficiency is such a no-brainer, why doesn’t it happen faster without government intervention?”

Breaking the Resource Curse

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013 - posted by Nolen

“Future Funds” Could Spur Economic Development in Central Appalachia

As Central Appalachian coal production declines, many realize the need to maximize tax revenues from coal and natural gas extraction. For the past three years, a movement to establish a permanent natural resource trust fund has grown in West Virginia. Ted Boettner, the executive director of the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy, promotes the benefits of creating the fund to lawmakers and the public, saying the Future Fund is an opportunity to “build assets in an asset-poor state” and “pay if forward” for future generations.

What is the Future Fund?
Today, West Virginia stands at a crossroads. We’re facing a natural gas boom similar to that of coal in the last century. But if the experience of the last 100 years has taught us anything, it’s that shared prosperity and natural resource extraction don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand. Without plans for the future, we’re likely to continue experiencing a lack of economic diversity, cycles of booms and busts, and poor economic outcomes. What the Future Fund does is set aside a portion of severance tax revenue that builds over time that will eventually be invested back into the state in economic diversification projects, education, research and development, and a whole host of important public structures that help create a middle class.

How would the funds be used? What sort of projects would receive funding?
Ideally you would want to target communities who are going to be hardest hit by the decline of coal production in West Virginia. Investing in early childhood education would be great. Investing in entrepreneurs in terms of small business loans and grants would be, too. But a lot of times, especially in West Virginia, it’s just basic infrastructure needs including broadband access, water and sewer, and others not being met that could eventually be funded.

What can West Virginia learn from others states with natural resource funds?
You need to get a diverse group of community members, advocates and other stakeholders involved in the process and make sure that they see it is going to bear fruit, and not just 20 to 30 years down the road but fairly soon that they’ll begin to see the benefits of the fund.

The idea for a future fund in West Virginia has caught on. What are your predictions for next year?
I think that after about three years of work, we’ve been able to get the Future Fund on the legislative agenda … In the legislative session beginning in January there will be a bill introduced that I think has a really good chance of moving through. Unfortunately, I don’t think it will include an increase in [coal] severance taxes, but will just be retaining a portion of natural gas revenues.

The fund is really only going to work if it has a lot of money in it. At the most basic level it’s about paying it forward and starting to build assets for a very asset-poor state, and when the gas is gone we have something to show for it … A lot of big titans made their money in states like West Virginia off of our natural resources. But they didn’t invest that money back into our state. This gives us the opportunity that we’ll always benefit from [our natural resources] and it’s one step we can take to deal with the resource curse issue.

Knoxville: “The Sustainable City”

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013 - posted by Kimber

By Nolen Nychay

Knoxville, Tenn. ranks second in the nation for growth in green jobs and is one of only a handful of American cities to have fully bounced back from the economic recession, according to a recent Brookings Institute report. Since 2006, the city has reduced carbon emissions by 17 percent, and under Mayor Madeline Rogero’s progressive leadership, is pursuing over 30 green initiatives to further reduce emissions 20 percent by 2020. When it comes to meeting today’s needs with tomorrow in mind, Knoxville is leading by example.


Since 2012, Knoxville has participated in the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge. The three-year, $50 million grant program strives to improve energy efficiency in 100 cities through weatherization upgrades for aging buildings, investing in greener urban design and energy education. Mayor Rogero anticipates improvements to the city’s energy infrastructure will cut long-term utility costs.

Recently, Knoxville implemented efficient lighting in government buildings and replaced nearly every traffic signal and streetlight with LED lights, which use 90 percent less energy than traditional incandescents The retrofits paid for themselves within two years, saving taxpayers upwards of $250,000 annually.

Renewable Energy

In 2013, the Tennessee Valley Authority and its Green Power Switch partners named Knoxville the Sustainable Community of the Year. Green Power Switch offers communities the option to support renewable energy by paying a little more on monthly utility bills, and through the program, Knoxville residents contribute to the production of over 56,250 kilowatt hours of clean energy each month. The city also offers rebates up to $15,000 for Energy Star-certified homes, which use up to 30 percent less energy than the average household.

A Department of Energy Solar Cities grant helped the city implement municipal solar projects, increasing solar capacity from 15 kilowatts to over 2,000 kilowatts in less than four years. The grant also encourages growth in the private energy sector by informing regional contractors about solar technologies and certifications while simplifying zoning and permitting regulations for new solar projects.

Green Nonprofits

Socially Equal Energy Efficient Development is a budding nonprofit in Knoxville that prepares at-risk young adults for “green-collar careers.” Applicants undergo an intensive 90-day program of green job education, community service and life-skills training before being placed in internships or higher education institutions for further guidance. SEEED also seeks to improve access to healthier foods and energy-efficient technologies in low-income neighborhoods.

Another nonprofit, the Knoxville Recycling Coalition, has worked for more environmentally sound waste management for over 20 years, offering public workshops and demonstrations about sustainable recycling methods. The coalition created — and still runs — Knoxville’s first multi-material recycling facility. In 2011, the city followed suit by offering a single-stream, curbside recycling program for all residents.

27 Visionaries


Partnerships with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, ECOtality and Tesla have enabled Knoxville to erect electric car charging stations in more than 30 locations — some entirely solar-powered. Residents without electric vehicles can still travel sustainably via Knoxville’s revamped public transportation system, which utilizes propane-powered buses and shuttles retrofitted with particulate filters to reduce carbon emissions. Low-emission travel is incentivized by Smart Trips, an award-winning program where Knoxville commuters can earn gift cards of up to $100 by logging how often they walk, bike, telecommute or use public transit.

Sara Day Evans: Accelerating Good Business

Monday, December 9th, 2013 - posted by Kimber

By Kimber Ray

Photo courtesy of Sara Day Evans

Photo courtesy of Sara Day Evans

Although the environment and the economy are often painted as rival forces, Sara Day Evans never saw much sense in this argument. What she saw instead was a challenge — and an opportunity — to seek sustainable solutions. As the founding director of Accelerating Appalachia, a nature-based business accelerator launched this past year, Evans attests to the invariable link between economic and environmental quality.

A business accelerator is like a boot camp for promising start-up companies, and with a focus on nature-based work, Accelerating Appalachia is the first of its kind. Over the course of an intensive three-month training program, Accelerating Appalachia provides professional mentorship, financial guidance and networking opportunities to developing companies. Selected participants embody the increasingly popular concept of the triple bottom line: benefiting people, planet and profit. One such company— the Mitchell County, N.C.-based business Bark House— uses forest waste material to create biodegradable building products.

Evans’ enduring passion for sustainability was shaped at an early age by her parents, who instilled in her a love of people and place, explaining “It’s not about me, it’s about we.” Welcoming this philosophy of interconnection, Evans decided to work in the environmental field. After earning a master’s degree in hydrogeology from the University of Kentucky, Evans began working in environmental protection, displaying dedicated leadership for nearly 20 years on issues such as groundwater and waste management.

During this time, Evans was troubled by the continued economic distress she witnessed in Appalachia. “I was seeing economies that weren’t serving the people or the place for the long-term, just for the short-term,” she says. To create a robust economy, Evans asserts, you need “a business that works with your place, nature, people, and can make a profit too.”

Recognizing that the strengths of Appalachia lay in the natural capital of the land — in sectors such as farming, natural textiles, sustainable forest products, botanicals and clean energy — Evans decided to launch Accelerating Appalachia. She talked with many different investors, and though she got a lot of nos at first, Evans always kept her head up. As a result of her commitment, Accelerating Appalachia launched its first three-month program session this October, with 11 businesses selected from a pool of more than 100 applicants.

“There are so many people today who are looking for a career with meaning,” Evans says. “By designing this project to be replicable, I hope to be able to share it with other regions.”

27 Visionaries

Business Participants in Accelerating Appalachia 2013

Climate Alive
Climate forecasting and planning tool
Bark House
Sustainable building products
Carolina Ground
Family mill producing organic grains
Riverbend Malt House
Local malts for craft brewers
Sustainable and domestically produced outdoor apparel
Echoview Fiber Mill
Gold LEED certified natural fibers processing mill
Smoking J’s Fiery Foods
Family farm producing peppers, sauces and salsas
Native Touch
Natural vegan certified skin care products
Veterans to Farmers
Farm training and job placement for veterans
GalloLea Pizza Kits
Organic, gluten-free and low-sodium pizza kits
Appalachian Botanical Garden
Herb grower’s cooperative supplying Western and Chinese herbs

Read this Business Week story about Accelerating Appalachia and Riverbend Malt House.