Central Appalachia needs more than just good ideas to shepherd the region through a just economic transition; it needs investment – and lots of it – to make those ideas a reality. That may seem like a tall order, especially given that perhaps the region’s most reliable and consistent source of investment, coal severance tax revenue, is steadily falling as coal production in the region continues to decline.
However, there is another pool of money that investment into the region’s economic transition could be pulled from: the Abandoned Mine Lands Trust. Coal companies pay taxes every year to reclaim old and abandoned surface mined lands, and that money goes into the AML Trust. Currently, there is about $2.5 billion in this trust.
That money could be “re-appropriated” in a way that would serve Central Appalachian communities that have been dependent on the coal industry for years, says Evan Smith, a Whitesburg attorney who works with the Appalachian Citizen Law Center.
It is on the table, and it’s not impossible [to get AML funds re-appropriated]. But, it does take a lot of organizing, and a lot of visioning together to come to an agreement of what you do with the money.
Visioning and organizing to reach that agreement could be a role for the Shaping Our Appalachian Regional initiative. Re-appropriating government dollars and reinvesting them into Central Appalachia is certainly on the minds of the SOAR Executive Committee members, who recently voted to support 2015 legislation that would create the Kentucky Appalachian Regional Development Fund.
Whoever leads the charge for reinvestment into the region, it’s not a stretch to say that investment is absolutely necessary and, in some way, giving Appalachia its due. “Central Appalachia, and particularly the coalfields, has been critical in building America,” Smith said. “In addition to that, there’s been a huge contribution from young men and women when we fight overseas. I don’t think people from this area have ever shirked their responsibility to the nation as a whole.”
So, why not – in this, Appalachia’s hour of greatest need – repay the region for all that it has given through meaningful and lasting investment?