It’s Time for a New Development Strategy in Coal Country

route-fifty.com, Amanda Woodrum,

Co-Director, Campaign to ReImagine Appalachia


COMMENTARY | The Ohio River Valley region of Appalachia has long been a political stumbling block in the national climate debate. But with the right resources, it can become a global leader of the new energy economy and a more sustainable future.

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a five-part series of articles from ReImagine Appalachia, a coalition working to transform and strengthen the economy across parts of Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. At Route Fifty, we’ve reported previously on this project in our news coverage. Here, we’re giving the advocates behind the effort an opportunity to describe their approach, for themselves, in greater detail.

We believe their plans represents a unique and ambitious regional development push, one that can spark further discussion about how to revive the fortunes of not just the Ohio River Valley, but other parts of the U.S. trying to overcome past industrial declines, while attempting to seize on future economic opportunities.

A notable aspect of the initiative is how it is built on partnerships that span across states, the public and private sector and different levels of government. It also centers on addressing some of the most pressing challenges the nation faces with bolstering its workforce, strengthening domestic manufacturing and supply chains and contending with climate change. We hope you enjoy the series and find it informative.

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For more than a century, Appalachian coal and steel helped build and fuel the nation’s prosperity while absentee corporations extracted profits and exploited our resources, leaving the region itself in poverty, lands damaged and our workers and neighbors sick.

Like other left behind communities, the Ohio River Valley is in need of a new development strategy. This is why local government officials, union and faith leaders, racial and environmental justice advocates and others across Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Kentucky came together to craft a more sustainable, equitable economic vision for the region and a blueprint for how to get there. In an era of incredibly divisive politics, this coalition is finding common ground and humanity as we work together to Reimagine Appalachia and create a Marshall Plan for Middle America.


For Appalachia to succeed in the 21st century, it will need to modernize its electrical grid, expand universal high-quality broadband, grow clean and efficient manufacturing, build a more sustainable transportation system and repair damaged lands by reforesting the region, restoring wetlands and promoting regenerative agricultural practices. Achieving these ends will create hundreds of thousands of good jobs while laying the foundation for a more prosperous economy over the long haul—an economy that is also more resilient to our changing climate.

But the region cannot pick itself up by its bootstraps. We require federal resources to successfully achieve our vision. Some resources are coming to the region through the bipartisan infrastructure law that President Biden signed last year. Getting it passed was a major victory and a down payment on our climate infrastructure needs. Read more here.

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