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Our ‘New Deal’ in the news: ReImagine Appalachia ready to revitalize region, nation 

November 2, 2020

As Election Day approaches, ReImagine Appalachia is readying one last momentous push for a Green New Deal policy framework set to revitalize the Ohio Valley with good union jobs and a healthy environment.

Media outlets regionwide are taking notice of our call for modernized infrastructure, clean air and water and a lucrative job base. Here are just a few examples of what publications are saying about a campaign grounded in our land and centered on creating local wealth.

The Columbus Dispatch: ‘Appalachia infrastructure plan could bring 235,000 Ohio jobs, study says’

Newly employed Ohioans would modernize the state’s Appalachian electrical grid, expand broadband infrastructure, repurpose shuttered coal plants and build a sustainable public transportation system, according to the blueprint. The jobs would be mostly outdoor work, similar to the Civilian Conservation Corps, formed on the heels of the Great Depression.

“These are short-term infrastructure jobs that will put people back to work, get folks off the COVID bench and lay the foundation for a more sustainable Appalachia,” said Amanda Woodrum, a senior researcher at Policy Matters Ohio.

Stephen Herzenberg, executive director of the Keystone Research Center, said implementation, which includes investment in Appalachian Pennsylvania, could replace half of the million jobs lost between February and August in that state.

Herzenberg said the ReImagine Appalachia campaign has tried hard to honor the traditions and history of fossil-fuel industry jobs such as coal-mining, while also making clear how a sustainable future provides long-term economic opportunity.

“We want the gold standard for these workers, and to make these communities as whole as they can be,” he said. 

The Pittsburgh Business Times: ‘ReImagine Appalachia sees big job gains in turning to clean-energy economy’

A new study by ReImagine Appalachia and the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst is releasing more details about its plans for a clean energy transition in Appalachia.

The plan, released Tuesday, follows ReImagine Appalachia’s previous blueprint, which sees a reduction in fossil fuel jobs and a focus on clean energy investments, renewable energy, energy efficiency, manufacturing, public infrastructure, land restoration from the fossil fuel industry and agriculture. With a $10.8 billion federal investment in Pennsylvania every year between now and 2030 as well as private investment of $23.5 billion, the forecast sees about 252,000 jobs being created. A similar investment would result in about the same level of job creation in Ohio as well.

ReImagine Appalachia has been attempting to counter the fossil fuel industry’s contention that the jobs that come from clean energy are not lucrative and wouldn’t have the same bang for the economic buck.

“Together we are making sure that no matter what we look like or the size of our bank account, everyone who lives in Appalachia’s Ohio Valley Region can have a good job, is cared for and can put down roots for the future,” said Caitlin Johnson, director of communications at Policy Matters Ohio, one of the founding groups of ReImagine Appalachia.

Inherent in the ReImagine Appalachia/PERI plans are a 50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and net zero by 2050. That would mean a contraction of the fossil fuel industry — read coal and natural gas — by 50% at the end of the decade.  ReImagine Appalachia’s plan would provide pension guarantees, a good-paying job, and a guarantee for three years that they would make the same amount in total compensation as they do in fossil-fuel jobs.

Ohio Valley Resource: ‘Report shows Ohio jobs potential in coronavirus recovery and climate change action’

The blueprint policy released earlier this year outlined a plan that would improve the economy in Appalachia following the COVID-19 pandemic. The ReImagine Appalachia coalition created the blueprint to provide answers on how to change economic inequality, racism, and address climate change in the region. 

The plan includes expanding opportunities through public investments by ensuring access to union jobs and community benefits, rebuilding the middle class by promoting union rights and better pay, and building a sustainable region by making manufacturing more efficient and by modernizing the electric grid.

The plan shows how federal funding could support the efforts listed and more. The Political Economy Research Institute’s new study shows how the blueprint could create jobs in Ohio every year for the next 10 years. 

“When we add up for Ohio, the clean energy jobs and the jobs in manufacturing, infrastructure, land restoration, and agriculture, that’s where we get this number,” Institute researcher Robert Pollin explained. “They would carry over year to year on average.”

WKMS: ‘Report shows Ohio jobs potential in coronavirus recovery and climate change action’

Amanda Woodrum is a senior researcher with Policy Matters Ohio, a left-leaning policy research group that partnered with ReImagine Appalachia.

“If enacted, this plan would bring Ohio’s unemployment rate back down to 4%, while also laying the foundation for a more sustainable 21st century economy going forward,” Woodrum said.

Woodrum said her group expects that another coronavirus pandemic federal stimulus package will come and that it will have a significant impact on the region if Appalachia is a main focus.

“Appalachia has long provided the raw materials for the prosperity of the rest of the nation while itself has suffered in poverty,” Woodrum said. 

Public Source: ‘Why the national media is obsessed with fracking in southwestern Pennsylvania – and what it gets wrong’

The economics of fracking and renewable energy have flipped in the last 10 years, and the national media hasn’t caught up, said Stephen Herzenberg, co-director of Reimagine Appalachia, a four-state coalition focused on building an alternative economic vision for the region.

“We’re not anti-fracking. Other people can fight fracking or oppose a petrochemical buildout. What we would say is that the numbers we’ve looked at and the market trends we’ve looked at, that’s not an economic development strategy for the long term,” he said, noting the relatively small number of fracking jobs and industry uncertainty.

To prevent the region from being left behind again, residents must accept this longer-term economic reality. He wants Appalachia to court the spoils of the new economy so it gets a piece of the pie. “If we’re not at the table, we’ll be on the menu.”

Farm and Dairy (Pennsylvania): ‘Clean energy, infrastructure plan could bring 489,000 jobs to Ohio, Pa.’

The Ohio report budgeted $28.4 billion per year for investments in clean energy, manufacturing, energy efficiency upgrades and public infrastructure. That includes $3.5 billion a year to agriculture and land restoration, which would lead to 33,950 jobs. That includes regenerative agriculture, farmland conservation and plugging orphaned oil and gas wells.

Those figures are for direct and indirect jobs that take place on site or within the supply chain, said Robert Pollin, one of the report’s authors.

The overall investment in Pennsylvania would be about $34.3 billion per year.

That includes $4.1 billion per year to create 34,480 jobs in land restoration and agriculture.

If you include induced jobs, which come from people with good jobs having and spending more money, the combined job impact from agriculture and land restoration go up to 42,850 in Ohio and 44,610 in Pennsylvania.

On July 21, ReImagine Appalachia – comprised of more than 60 organizations from Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky – released its Green New Deal framework , which calls for modernized infrastructure, clean air and water, and lucrative job creation that allows families to put down roots. 

Our policy plan is gaining traction regionwide thanks to press coverage from various publications and broadcasting outlets. Here’s what people are saying about a campaign ready to move Appalachia above and beyond an extraction-based economy:

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: ‘A New Deal that works for all of us’ is the Appalachian call for an alternative future

Its organizers aren’t looking to pit themselves against the industries traditionally seen as economic development drivers in the region (re: petrochemicals) – although some of the groups involved have individually argued against the build-out of plastics and fossil fuels, saying they are both environmentally harmful and economically unstable.

The ReImagine Appalachia umbrella wants workers from those industries on board – believing that the vision isn’t just better for the environment, but better for those workers, too. It represents climate goals in the shape of a job growth platform.

Farm & DairyNew Deal gets a reboot in the Ohio River Valley

Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, first launched in 1933, had a big impact on rural areas. It created the first federal farm subsidies through the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933, built roads and other public infrastructure, conserved public lands and created jobs through the Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps.

The Green New Deal was introduced formally by U.S. Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) in February 2019. The hefty climate-change-fighting-proposal calls for the U.S. to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, create millions of high-wage jobs and invest in infrastructure.

The plan also says it will work with farmers and ranchers to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture while  supporting family farming, investing in sustainable farming and land use practices and building a more sustainable food system that ensures universal access to healthy food.

West Virginia Public BroadcastingPlan to ‘Reimagine Appalachia’ touts jobs, justice and sustainability for the Ohio Valley

With the help of federal investment, the plan suggests the Ohio Valley could use its natural resources to create new jobs and rebuild the middle class. That could be achieved by modernizing the electric grid, cleaning up abandoned fossil fuel infrastructure such as coal mines and oil and gas wells, and by investing in manufacturing like plastics alternatives. 

Angie Rosser, executive director of the conservation group, the West Virginia Rivers Coalition, and one of the members of the blueprint planning committee, said the region’s lush forests could also be a key climate solution, by sucking up climate-warming carbon dioxide. The plan advocates for the revival of the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal-era job creation and conservation program. 

“For too long corporations have used our resources for their own profits while damaging our health and environment,” Rosser said. “With Appalachia’s natural assets, we have all the tools to provide great jobs for our people, while doing our part to create a healthier future for our children by addressing the climate crisis.”

Pittsburgh Business TimesReImagine Appalachia seeks greener, more economically and racially just region

WTVQ (Lexington, Ky)The ‘New Deal that works for us’ blueprint to help boost economy 

The effort was convened by Policy Matters Ohio, a state-focused economic and policy research institute. This group says they are hoping to create an economy that is good for working people, communities, and health…that is centered on creating wealth locally and offers hope to the next generation’s workers regardless of their ethnicity, gender or the color of their skin.

Hannah Halbert, executive director of Policy Matters Ohio says, “People are the economy and what’s good for people is good for the economy. Right now our nation is facing unprecedented challenges with the COVID-19 epidemic, a deep economic downturn, extreme inequality, racism, police brutality and the consequences of a changing climate.”

Public News Service: Coalition creates blueprint to ‘ReImagine Appalachia’

Stephen Herzenberg, executive director of the Keystone Research Center, says the emphasis on sustainability and fighting climate change has a special relevance to a region that has suffered from the pollution left behind by fossil fuels and extraction industries.
“So we need more of the investment to create the good union jobs and the opportunities that our working families need for the future,” says Herzenberg.
He adds that the coalition will issue a series of white papers in the coming months to add more detail to their proposals.

Elwood City Ledger (Pennsylvania)Coalition: Appalachian ‘New Deal’ would create jobs, improve environment

By reviving the Civilian Conservation Corps, Americans could rebuild wetlands and reforest their land, authors said. Appalachia is rich in carbon-absorbing natural resources, and investment in “carbon farming” would help mitigate the effects of climate change.

“It’s important to understand we don’t have to eliminate every single carbon emission to achieve net-zero carbon. Trees absorb carbon,” said Amanda Woodrum, a senior researcher at Policy Matters Ohio. She said it’s likely national climate change legislation will come in the form of an economic stimulus package if trends continue.

Shuttered coal plants can be converted into eco-industrial parks that use circular manufacturing methods to turn a company’s waste into another’s raw material, too. Boilers and turbines can be re-purposed for combined heat and power to better meet the needs of manufacturers, and all orphaned oil and gas wells would be capped.

“Climate change is already causing damage in the Ohio River Valley,” authors wrote. “Severe storms have damaged our infrastructure and flooded our homes, communities and farms and made people sick.”

Ohio Valley Resource‘False Hope’ or Four More Years? Ohio Valley Stakeholders Reflect on Trump Energy Policy

Amanda Woodrum of the progressive think tank Policy Matters Ohio summed up the last four years of efforts by the Trump administration to bring back coal: “It didn’t happen and it didn’t work and it was false hope.” 

Woodrum is also the co-director of the ReImagine Appalachia project, which seeks to rebuild the Appalachian region through public investment in infrastructure, clean energy and coal mine reclamation. Recognizing that the market-driven decline of the coal industry is a serious challenge for coal miners and their families, the plan prioritizes coal miners for high-paying jobs.

The administration successfully rolled back a number of Obama-era environmental regulations, including ones related to coal-fired power plants and coal-ash disposal. It called for slashing funds for research into renewable energy and lowered fees on coal companies meant to provide funds for miners’ health care.

But President Trump’s promises to put miners back to work have largely gone unfulfilled. According to the Brookings Institution, coal used to generate electricity has continued to decline in the Trump era, decreasing by 22 percent between 2016 and 2019. Coal employment has been declining steadily since the end of the Obama years, from about 55,000 miners nationwide in 2016, to about 45,000 nationwide in July of this year. 

Ohio Valley Resource: ‘The Proof is in the Pudding:’ Coal Country Responds to Democrats’ Clean Energy Transition 

In recent months, multiple regional coalitions have put forward policy blueprints aimed at putting Appalachia and its needs front and center in this growing national conversation around a “just transition.” 

As the 2020 election season heats up, they’re urging political leaders to continue the dialogue with residents of Appalachia in order to deliver on party platform promises as the energy transition accelerates. 

 “In the national arena Appalachia is and will continue to be a political stumbling block to national climate change legislation until we figure out what Appalachia really needs,” said Amanda Woodrum, co-director of ReImagine Appalachia, a coalition of progressive policy and environmental groups that recently released a framework for the region as it shifts away from resource extraction. 

She said many of the ideas in the Democratic Party platform are exciting. The document pledges 40 percent of investment in vulnerable communities. It also explicitly recognizes that coal miners and power plant workers will be impacted as the economy shifts toward more clean energy, and advocates for the protection of retirees’ health and pension benefits

“I think one of my concerns, though, is that it only actually mentions Appalachia once, and we believe that there needs to be a completely concentrated and focused effort on what the needs are of Appalachia,” Woodrum said. 

Lexington Herald LeaderEastern KY needs federal aid to help now and build healthier communities for the future

For years, Kentuckians have advocated for federal investment to diversify and rebuild the economy and address the legacy costs of coal mining. We’ve advocated for investment to clean up abandoned mine lands and revitalize public water infrastructure — investment that can create immediate jobs in spite of an economic recession. This pandemic has also made clear that investment in broadband is critical and that expanded unemployment benefits have value. We wonder what $600 a week in jobless benefits could have meant to the thousands of coal miners affected by coal company lay-offs and bankruptcies. Increased unemployment helps families meet their basic needs and benefits the economy.

We are one among many calling for investment in coal communities. Recently, these issues and more have been lifted up in the National Economic Transition and ReImagine Appalachia platforms and through a letter written to congressional leadership and signed by over 100 organizations. Colorado recently completed a draft plan to support coal industry workers and communities – isn’t it time for Kentucky to write ours?

We need federal aid today to keep our communities safe, to meet basic needs, and to keep our government budgets afloat, but we also need Congressional action to build healthier communities and more resilient economies tomorrow.

Ohio Capital JournalOhio’s Appalachian communities deserve investment. Start with the RECLAIM Act

The work of rebuilding and reviving Appalachia starts with repairing the damage from the last century — reclaiming mines abandoned by coal companies, remediating coal ash pond brownfields left behind at shuttered coal power plants, and capping orphaned oil and gas wells. Passing the federal RECLAIM Act and reauthorizing the Abandoned Mines Act would be a good first start in the right direction. Ohio would directly benefit.

The RECLAIM Act would direct $1 billion over five years to projects that put people to work cleaning up dangerous and toxic abandoned coal mines. Reauthorizing the Abandoned Mines Act would ensure a continued funding source for this ongoing work.

We have a chance to rectify prior wrongs in a way that puts people to work in good outdoor jobs repairing past damage done by coal mining corporations, but we need our federal leaders pass the RECLAIM Act and reauthorize the Abandoned Land Mines Act — both of which have been languishing in Congress.

These initiatives are part of an ambitious set of policies recommended as part of the ReImagine Appalachia platform. The platform also includes expanding broadband throughout the region, modernizing the electric grid, turning former coal plants into eco-industrial parks and promoting regenerative agriculture, among other things. So far, more than 80 organizations have endorsed the policy blueprint we released last month. The problems Appalachia faces are many — but so are its strengths.

Investments in the region create immediate jobs while putting in place the building blocks for real prosperity over the long term. The choices our political leaders make to support our communities during the outbreak of this virus can also set a better course for Appalachia. We must demand they do the right thing.

MarketplaceThe Economy Reimagined, Part 2: Jobs, Education and Poverty

Hannah Halbert is executive director of the nonprofit Policy Matters Ohio. She imagines a world where people stop talking and start building.

“We can’t just train for training’s sake. And, you know, we have a multitude of problems that need to be solved. That if we can connect public investment to something like making our electric grid more efficient, more able to withstand sort of the challenges of a changing climate, that investment not only would put us on a path for greater security, but would get people employed. And if those jobs are good jobs, if those jobs are union jobs, building apprenticeship programs around that investment, it can lift an entire region.”