Organizers in Appalachia Are Building a Green New Deal Blueprint for Themselves

The Green New Deal proposal represents one of the few effective, widely recognized paths to address the climate crisis. It also addresses its economic and social repercussions. It is technologically feasible and economically sustainable. Although the Green New Deal project has been implemented in some way in several states, it is not yet being scaled up at the national level. Climate policy has been stagnated in Congress and the Biden administration has tended to engage in symbolic gestures rather than in actual policy processes.

As time is running out to stop a global warming apocalypse, activists must reorganize their efforts and unite to gain massive public support and political will to take climate action. ReImagine Appalachia is promoting a Green New Deal blueprint in the Ohio Valley. This is a good example of how much can be gained. This is the subject of the exclusive interview. TruthoutAmanda Woodrum, Senior Researcher at Policy Matters Ohio, and co-director of ReImagine Appalachia.

Woodrum works at intersections of energy, equity, and the environment. His goal is to find common ground among community, labor, and environmental leaders in order to build a strong grassroots movement that can help facilitate the transition to an ecologically sustainable, equitable future.

C.J. Polychroniou: It’s been three years since Senator Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts), and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York), introduced a Green New Deal resolution. The THRIVE initiative was also introduced by progressive Democrats in Congress. Αct in April 2021, which is in line with the vision of the Green New Deal. However, very little progress has been made towards decarbonizing the economy and moving toward a sustainable and equitable tomorrow. Is this a fair assessment of where we are at? What are the main obstacles we need to overcome in order to keep moving forward and avoid a greenhouse apocalypse.

Amanda Woodrum: Let me give you a big hug and a big smile to all who feel the same way. We have made progress, big progress, it just hasn’t fully materialized into actual infrastructure quite yet (at least not at the scale we need).

First, I think about [the bipartisan infrastructure package]As a down payment for our climate infrastructure needs. It contains hundreds of billions of dollars for modernizing our electric grid, electrifying our transportation system, including public transportation, upgrading the nation’s rail infrastructure, and starting to repair the damage from the last century of extraction industry practices — reclaiming abandoned mine lands, capping orphaned oil and gas wells that spew methane, and remediating brownfields at shuttered coal plants and former steel facilities. The Biden administration is currently developing federal policy guidance to address these resources. It will ensure that the jobs created by these investments are good union jobs, and that pathways to those union jobs are made for Black workers and other peoples of color, as also for women who are currently working in low-wage positions.

Second, we are at an important tipping point. It is important to ensure that the resources provided by the bipartisan infrastructure package go in the right direction. If we are successful, it will change both the physical and mental landscape.

Even in Appalachia we can see that national climate solutions can be beneficial for both the economy and the workers it serves. More and more people already understand this, or we wouldn’t have gotten this far.

As you all know, the Ohio River Valley in Appalachia, also known for its coal country, has been a political obstacle to national climate and clean-energy solutions. This is changing. Appalachia now has a seat at the national table. We know what is important to us.

ReImagine Appalachia has been working to advance the vision for a 21st Century economy in the Ohio Valley. Can you speak about the principles and aims that guide this vision?

ReImagine Appalachia is a collection of hundreds of stakeholder groups working across the Ohio River Valley states of Appalachia — Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky. We came together to develop a collective vision for a sustainable Appalachia in the 21st century. Also, we created the roadmap to get us from where we are now to where we need.

It is important that you understand that Appalachia essentially is an area of concentrated poverty. The region has been exploited for more than a century by absentee corporations in the extractive industries — exploiting our workers, damaging our lands, and leaving our workers and neighbors sick. You would think that we would be the most prosperous region in the country due to the abundance of natural resource in the coal country. But we aren’t. We are the most vulnerable. Too many of the region’s counties rank in the bottom 10 percent nationallyTheir high unemployment and poverty levels, as well as low family incomes, are reasons for concern. The region is poor, and it isn’t going to lift itself up by its collective bootstrings.

Appalachia can help secure the region’s much-needed and deserved climate solutions. Appalachia was the engine of the nation’s prosperity, but the region was left in poverty. We believe the region owes its fair share of climate infrastructure.

The people of Appalachia want everything everyone else wants — a modern electric grid in Appalachia that doesn’t lose power every time it rains hard; universal, quality broadband affordable to everyoneThe kids can use the computers at home, while their parents can work remotely. grow clean and efficient manufacturing in the regionwith comparable jobs to those in coal; and, to create a sustainable transportation system that includes an Appalachian rail corridor. More importantly, we want to be able to take advantage of the union jobs that these investments can bring. These infrastructure investments can put the region’s residents to work building the future they want to live in while also laying the foundation for a much more prosperous economy over the long haul.

We must also make investments. repair the damage from the last century of extractive industry practices — reclaiming abandoned mine lands; remediating brownfields, including coal ash ponds and coal slurries; reforesting the region; restoring the wetlands; and supporting sustainable agricultural practices among local farmers rather than Big Ag. ReImagine Appalachia has this in mind. revive the Civilian Conservation CorpsA carbon farming strategy that absorbs excess carbon with natural greenery. It is easy to see how many people could be employed just for planting trees. We also think a revived Civilian Conservation Corps, as a public jobs program paying living wages, could be used to create second-chance opportunities for our many residents that were caught up in the “war on drugs” and opioid[crisis]Appalachia was hard hit by the.

We call it a new deal that works for us.

Who are ReImagine Appalachia’s partners, and what is being done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the Ohio Valley?

ReImagine Appalachia is a diverse group of stakeholders — organized labor, racial justice leaders, faith groups, local government officials and environmental organizations, among many others. People based in the region work to find common ground and re-find our common humanity. The last decade has seen a lot of division. This division has been exacerbated by the absence of corporations in the extractive industry. The reality is that 99 percent of us can find a win-win solution. To find it, we must all stop and listen to one another. This is a must for all sides. Leaders in environmental leadership must understand that their job is not going to be replaced by an idea. People should be able to provide for their families. And they shouldn’t have to choose between a job and the environment.

If we work together, we can ensure the future climate-friendly jobs are good for workers, communities, and the environment. This means that we must ensure that most of the jobs created are union jobs. We are prioritizing workers in the coal industry for new opportunities. We are also offering on-the-job training opportunities for union apprentices on publicly funded infrastructure projects. And we are targeting Black workers, women and low-wage workers to these apprenticeships. This is where we can learn much about how to do it. best practices in the national movement to ensure community benefits from big development projects. Essentially, public infrastructure resources should come with community and labor standards, or “strings attached.”

What strategies have you discovered that work best for securing broad consensus around ReImagine Appalachia’s policy blueprint for a sustainable future?

ReImagine Appalachia’s success is in part due to the creation of an inspiring, collective vision in the context of the very real possibility of securing federal resources that can actually turn that vision into reality. The vision is a collective vision of people with deep roots in Appalachia’s Ohio River Valley. Many people in the region waited for this moment for a long time.

We don’t do anything in isolation. Every year, we open the year with a strategy summit where hundreds of stakeholders are invited to participate in helping us to develop our vision. Our initial vision and blueprintAfter reviewing 50 pages worth of notes, the draft was created. The draft document was shared widely to get more input. Additional listening sessions were held to ensure that the draft received positive reactions.

With listening sessions and input to various drafts, we continue to dig into every aspect of our vision together. People with different backgrounds, experience, and expertise can help create a vision. They learn from each other, and become more committed to making that vision a reality. We host many public events, and almost all of them are shared in order to encourage wide dialogue between stakeholder groups. live on Facebook. Even if you are unable to attend the event, you can still see and hear what happened and weigh in.

We also have several teams that get together regularly to discuss issues — a labor team, a racial and community justice team (that helped launch the Black Appalachian Coalition, or BLAC), and a research team. We came to the conclusion that we needed a faith table to promote community dialogue and visioning sessions.

We are particularly excited by the idea of redeveloping shuttered coal plants and former steel facilities into environmentally friendly industrial parks, or eco-industrial parks. The basic idea of an eco-industrial park is that one company’s waste is another company’s useful input. It is possible to harness the incredible electric grid and transportation infrastructure from abandoned coal plants to create the sustainable products of tomorrow. We believe Appalachia could be a hub for alternative single-use plastics, steel bar for rail and electric buses and vehicles.

There is so much to do and so little time. We are moving forward in the new energy economy, so rest assured that the train has left the station. We just have to keep at it, pounding the same drums, and singing the same hymnals. All the metaphors are needed to keep this train going.