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

Kentucky General Assembly tinkers but doesn’t change way it spends severance funds

The Kentucky General Assembly came to a close last week, and its accomplishments (or lack thereof) leave much to be desired for eastern Kentucky. A bill to make permanent scholarships for coal county students attending coalfield schools passed, but beyond that, little was done to support eastern Kentucky’s struggling miners, communities and economy. Proposed bills to give unemployed miners preference in hiring, to promote renewable energy and to protect Appalachia’s waterways went nowhere. Neither did the attempt to return all coal severance revenues back to coal-producing counties.

It was, however, a budget year and as such more attention was given to how we spend our coal severance revenues. This two-year budget takes only small steps to ensure  more strategic use of severance funds for the long-term development of eastern Kentucky’s economy.

An editorial from the Lexington Herald Leader on Friday sheds light on this problem:

Preparing for coal's decline as a source of jobs and revenue was the idea in the 1990s when the legislature designated half of the coal severance tax for coal-producing counties. Eastern Kentucky failed to diversify its economy, nonetheless.

Too much of the tax revenue that was supposed to create a post-coal economy still subsidizes the coal industry through everything from coal-haul road repair to training mining engineers.

And then there are the goodies handed out by lawmakers, popular amenities that do nothing to create jobs. In the just ended session, the House earmarked severance revenue for an American Legion Post, a chess team, volunteer fire departments, senior citizens centers, on and on for pages.

Pat Gish's legacy, as well as husband Tom's, should inspire other Appalachian reporters

Eastern Kentucky laid to rest one of its fiercest advocates this week: Pat Gish, who with her husband Tom, ran The Mountain Eagle weekly newspaper in Whitesburg, Ky., for more than 50 years. (Lexington Herald-Leader photo by James Kenney, used with permission: Pat with husband, Tom)

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.

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