Examples of innovative coal mine reclamation for economic revitalization in Appalachia

In November of 2018, the Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition published a report that’s truly emblematic of the fast-growing global Restoration Economy. Many Voices, Many Solutions: Innovative Mine Reclamation in Central Appalachia.

It contains case studies of innovative coal mine restoration and reuse in Central Appalachia. The publishers hopes to spur new and more effective community and regional revitalization approaches for the Appalachia peoples who are hardest hit by this essential bleated transition away from filthy coal power.

Of course, these same people had already paid a huge price for our nation’s reliance on coal: their landscape have been irreparably changed by coal mining. Specifically, the report provides case studies of projects that advance community revitalization amidst abandoned mine lands.

Appalachia is in a moment of profound change. As the region struggles to build a new economy amidst the decline of the coal industry, communities are looking to develop innovative economic solutions that are specific to the context and problems of this place.  Appalachian communities are plagued by thousands of coal-impacted sites that were abandoned and never cleaned up that pose threats to public health and impede local economic growth.

But what if communities could turn these environmental liabilities into economic assets? New funding opportunities are helping make this approach a reality.

This report seeks to spur innovative economic development throughout Appalachia in communities where the landscape has been irreparably changed by coal mining. Specifically, the report provides case studies of projects that advance community development amidst abandoned mine lands, or in some cases by reclaiming abandoned mine features as part of the project.

This report actually has two goals:

  • To share concrete examples and ideas for projects that communities throughout the region might consider pursuing;
  • To provide case studies of and highlight communities that are already pursuing projects.

Groups involved in Innovative Mine Reclamation seek to learn from the past four decades of mined-land repair and reuse, while creating projects that benefit the residents of the Appalachian coalfields in a variety of ways for decades to come. This is accomplished not by defining a handful of types of development projects as acceptable, but rather by establishing guiding principles and using those to filter concepts that meet the
criteria of the Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition.

Those principles are as follows:

  • Go above and beyond the legal reclamation requirements for AML features and bond forfeiture properties to create sites that are primed
    for sustainable development, native ecosystem restoration, or both;
  • Make projects appropriate to the specific place they are occurring;
  • Be inclusive of multiple community stakeholders, especially in addition to traditional decision makers, in project development;
  • Promote environmental sustainability and do not cause additional harm;
  • Make projects financially viable beyond the initial grant period; and
  • Introduce new, viable concepts to the Appalachian coalfields that could be successfully replicated on similar sites throughout the region.

In the past, reclamation and reuse of mined lands generally fell into a few broad categories. High priority mining impacts with potential harm to human health were repaired to the point of not being dangerous, but no post-repair development was implemented.

Surface mined areas near population centers were developed into shopping centers, hospitals, and other standard uses, while the more remote sites were either completely abandoned, converted to low-productivity cattle grazing lands, or developed into spec-built industrial parks, prisons, or golf courses at great taxpayer expense. [Note: this deplorable situation comes from coal mining company owners who use bankruptcy and/or political connections to avoid paying for the damage they causes. It’s called “corporate socialism:” the company keeps the profits of mining public resources, and the government pays the expenses. And then those same owners complain about the size of government.]  

Those “if you build it they will come” industrial parks and golf courses now largely sit empty and unused, because they were not developed with inclusiveness, collaboration, and place-appropriateness as guiding principles. Innovative Mine Reclamation is focused on avoiding these pitfalls through creativity and adaptability

The Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition is a regional collaboration that seeks to spur mine reclamation projects throughout Central Appalachia that are responsive to community needs and interests and that accelerate the growth of new, sustainable sectors. The Coalition consists of lead
organizations in four states: Appalachian Voices in Virginia, Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center in Kentucky, Coalfield Development Corporation in West Virginia, and Rural Action in Ohio. A regional technical expert, Downstream Strategies, is based in West Virginia.

This report was developed by the Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition and was made possible through the financial support of the New York Community Trust and the Blue Moon Fund, as well as the Mertz Gilmore Foundation, the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, Enterprise Community Partners, and the JM Kaplan Fund.

Photo is from the report.

Download the full report (PDF).

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