The Power of Energy Efficiency — Building a Stronger Economy for Appalachia

Thursday, April 17th, 2014 | Posted by Rory McIlmoil | No Comments

urlWhen you think of poverty, what words do you associate with it? Many of us might think of words like “low-income,” “unemployment” or “homelessness.” Unfortunately, it is not often that we associate poverty with electricity costs, because for many across the United States, especially those living in the South and Appalachia, electricity costs play a significant role in worsening the impacts of poverty. [ More ]

Central Appalachian-focused James River Coal Company enters bankruptcy

Friday, April 11th, 2014 | Posted by Brian Sewell | 1 Comment

CAPPvulnerableThis 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. [ More ]

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

Monday, February 3rd, 2014 | Posted by Brian Sewell | No Comments

7ef3e0be20820bbc2364e7d27a501a60 The U.S. Senate sent the Farm Bill sent to President Obama for his signature this week, ending a 17-month standstill on the nearly $1 trillion bill. In addition to designating funding for farm subsidies, crop insurance, and nutritional programs, the bill contains exceedingly important programs to expand energy efficiency in rural communities across the country. [ More ]

The War on Poverty at 50

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014 | Posted by Molly Moore | No Comments

On this day 50 years ago, President Lyndon Johnson sat on a 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. [ More ]

Changing Tides of Collaboration in Central Appalachia

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013 | Posted by Erin Savage | No Comments


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.

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However Long Overdue, Our Energy Efficiency Opportunity Is At Hand

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013 | Posted by Brian Sewell | 2 Comments


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

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Appalachia’s Economic Transition is Underway: Three Broad Strategies to Get Us There

Friday, November 15th, 2013 | Posted by Guest Contributor | 1 Comment

{ Editor’s Note } Anthony Flaccavento is a regional leader in sustainable agriculture, local foods and their overlap with economic development. This is the second part of a post on building a stronger regional economy in Appalachia. Click here to read the first part.

"What’s needed is not a dilution of our commitment to the environment or social justice, but an expansion of our strategy to include working folks and their needs and concerns as central to our efforts," Anthony Flaccavento writes about strategies to make real progress on strengthening Appalachia's economy. Photo by Jessica Kennedy

“What’s needed is not a dilution of our commitment to the environment or social justice, but an expansion of our strategy to include working folks, and their needs and concerns as central to our efforts,” Anthony Flaccavento writes about strategies to make real progress on strengthening Appalachia’s economy. Photo by Jessica Kennedy.

Last week, I briefly described three key questions to frame the discussion about economic transition in Appalachia and around the nation:

1. Is the economy for people, or are people for the economy?
2. What is the proper role of government, the right balance between the ‘public sector’ and ‘the market’?
3. How do we live within our means, cultivating more widely shared prosperity, with less energy, waste and dependency?

In this second part to last week’s post, I’ll suggest three strategies I believe to be essential to making real progress on economic transition that builds greater prosperity, self-reliance and ecological sustainability. As someone whose work focuses on the details of economic diversification and transition, my perspective here is deliberately broad in hopes of providing some guidance applicable across sectors, communities and regions.

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Anthony Flaccavento: Appalachia’s Economic Transition is Underway

Thursday, November 7th, 2013 | Posted by Guest Contributor | 2 Comments

{ Editor’s Note } Appalachian Voices is pulling up another chair to the Front Porch. Through our new guest blog feature, we’ll regularly invite influential voices to reflect on issues you care about — mountaintop removal, clean water, and promoting a strong, healthy economy and environment for communities in Appalachia and the Southeast. To kick things off, we invited Anthony Flaccavento, a regional leader in sustainable agriculture, local foods and their overlap with economic development, to share how Appalachia’s economic transition is already underway.

Organic farmer and one-time congressional candidate Anthony Flaccavento. Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl, courtesy of Bread for the World

Organic farmer and one-time congressional candidate Anthony Flaccavento works to build a “bottom-up” economy in Appalachia. Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl, courtesy of Bread for the World

In the mid-1980s, more than 60,000 people worked in Central Appalachia’s coal industry. During that same period, more than 75,000 tobacco farms dotted the region, helping small farmers make a decent livelihood. By 2008, the year before Barack Obama became president, employment in the region’s coal industry had fallen by more than half, and today the number of tobacco farmers in Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee is barely a tenth of what it had been.

The economy of Central Appalachia is in the midst of a long term “transition” away from tobacco, away from coal, away from relying on a handful of industries for the bulk of its jobs. Without a doubt, it’s moving away from that. The question is, what will it move towards, and how will we get there?

As more and more people grapple with this question – from coal miners and entrepreneurs to activists and elected officials – it is good to remind ourselves of this: Appalachia’s economic transition is part of a larger national, even global, transition with many of the same root causes. To be clear, with so many people laid off from the mines, our region’s problems are particularly acute, and the solutions we seek are both urgent and specific to our place. But the essence of the shift we must make goes far beyond our mountains.

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USDA Finds Energy Efficiency Has No Significant Environmental Impact

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013 | Posted by Rory McIlmoil | No Comments

A quick read of the USDA's finding that energy efficiency has no significant impact (FONSI) might have you thinking the Fonz' approves of energy efficiency programs. We'd like to think he does.

A quick read of the USDA’s finding that energy efficiency has no significant impact (FONSI) might have you thinking the Fonz’ approves of efficiency programs. We’d like to think he does too.

On August 16, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service published a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) on the environment by implementing the Rural Utilities Service’s soon-to-be-finalized Energy Efficiency and Conservation Loan Program (EECLP).

The EECLP is a proposed federal loan program that would offer low-interest loans to rural electric cooperatives to develop and implement a range of energy efficiency and demand-side management programs, including residential energy efficiency financing programs like South Carolina’s successful “Help My House” pilot. The FONSI determination was made based on an analysis of the environmental impact statement prepared for the EECLP.

The major takeaway here — albeit a no-brainer — is that unlike the extraction of fossil fuels, the construction of miles of new transmission lines, and the development of large-scale, centralized renewable energy power plants, energy efficiency does not significantly impact the environment in any way.

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A Must-Read Report, Another Reminder It’s Time to Build Something New in Central Appalachia

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013 | Posted by Brian Sewell | 3 Comments

An updated and expanded report is a potent reminder that coal's decline isn't going away and policymakers should accept the challenges, just as many people already have. Click through to read the report's key findings.

The litany of voices pointing to the writing on the wall for the Central Appalachian coal industry continues to grow. They’re saying the same thing in almost every way imaginable, and have been for some time.

Watching coal production decline and demand shift as other energy sources out-compete coal domestically, it is vital that policymakers in Central Appalachia begin implementing policies and investments aimed at building a foundation for economic alternatives in coal-producing counties. A report released this morning by the consulting firm Downstream Strategies is a pretty good reminder why.

“The Continuing Decline in Demand for Central Appalachian Coal: Market and Regulatory Influences” expands on a January 2010 study and provides a detailed look at the challenges Central Appalachia faces, further making the case for the urgent need to act.

As the report’s lead author, Rory McIlmoil, who recently joined Appalachian Voices’ staff as energy policy director, points out:

Numerous factors influence demand for Central Appalachian coal, each of which has had — and will continue to have — a significant impact on the local economies where the coal is mined. In 2010, we recommended that state and local leaders take immediate steps to help diversify coalfield economies. To a large extent, that has not happened. However, it is vital that public officials begin making the political and financial investments necessary to build the foundation for new economic development opportunities in coal-producing counties.

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Tending to Appalachia’s Bright Future

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013 | Posted by Cat McCue | No Comments

A word cloud created from workshops and panel sessions at the conference show the prevalence of positive thinking and themes. Courtesy of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth

I had never been to Harlan County. Sure, I’ve heard the songs, seen the movie, and know the stories, but nothing compares to being there, driving the Kentucky back roads, stopping in local shops, talking to folks.

It’s beautiful country, especially in April with the redbuds blooming and the bright greens of spring blushing up the mountainsides. It’s a friendly place – people went out of their way to make me feel welcome.

It also has more than its share of economic troubles. This is coal country, after all, where big companies haul out the black rock and most of the profits along with it. Harlan County and most of the surrounding counties have a poverty rate in the range of 20 to 28 percent.

This is not news to people living here. They know it, they live it, and they are looking at a million different ways to change it, to create Appalachia’s Bright Future. This was the name of the three-day conference in Harlan, hosted by Kentuckians for the Commonwealth a few weeks ago. It brought together more than 200 people from eastern Kentucky and beyond for an extended conversation about creating a just economy in the region. There was much discussion about what that even means, and while attendees each had a slight variation, several common themes emerged:

1. There is no silver bullet. There is no single industry or company that will turn it all around. Which is a good thing, most agreed, because a root cause of the region’s woes is being too dependent for too long on one industry.

2. There is no magic wand. No one is going to come in “from the outside” to rescue Harlan, or the rest of Appalachia’s’ coal country.

3. It’s about “leadership in place.” The future lies in nurturing home-grown entrepreneurship. Unlike a generation or two ago, young people today want to stay here, and many people who moved away want to return. This profound sense of homeplace was evident throughout the conference.

4. It’s about community and resilience, improving the quality of life and opportunity for everyone, collaborating with neighbors down the street or two counties over so that all can benefit.

5. It’s also about honoring coal miners and their families, those who have sacrificed in untold ways to help build our nation and power our modern lives, who deserve all the opportunity and benefit of a “just economy” as well.

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North Carolina Cares About Clean Water

Thursday, March 7th, 2013 | Posted by | No Comments

According to a recent report by Land for Tomorrow, 91 percent of residents in North Carolina and surrounding states believe it is “important” or “very important” to conserve and protect water and other natural resources. Additionally, a 2002 publication of the N.C. State Economist it was found that people are willing to pay more money in the form of travel expenses in order to enjoy higher levels of water quality. Based on an estimated 14.7 million water-related recreation trips each year by North Carolinians, annual economic savings from water improvements are estimated to be $11.9 million for the Neuse waterway, $14.7 million for Cape Fear improvements, and $6.5 for Tar-Pamlico. While protection of natural resources may sometimes be a divisive topic, residents of North Carolina share a common desire for clean water, with good reason. Clean water is good for the environment and the economy.

The benefits of clean water can also be understood by realizing the costs associated with water treatment. According to a report by the N.C. Division of Water Quality, costs to be considered include additional water treatment, developing new drinking water sources or providing emergency replacement water, public information campaigns when pollution incidents arouse public and media interest, and payment for consulting services and staff time. When Burlington, N.C., found contaminants in their source water that were not eliminated during treatment, city subsidies were used to eliminate it from source waters.

Perhaps a more important measurement of the economic benefits of clean water is the success of publicly funded solutions for addressing water pollution. The N.C. General Assembly established the North Carolina Clean Water Management Trust Fund in 1996 and its funding of resource conservation has strengthened the state’s economic vitality. According to a report by the Trust for Public Land, every dollar invested In the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund returns four dollars to the state in the areas of drinking water protection, flood control, tourism and outdoor recreation.

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