The Parkersburg News and Sentinel
People in the Appalachian region have for generations assumed that good-paying union jobs had to involve the sacrifice of their health–even their lives–in extractive industries such as coal. New research and new projects indicate that it does not have to be this way. There are good jobs in a reimagined Appalachia, such as those involved with capping abandoned oil and gas wells, modernizing the electricity grid, redesigning buildings and industry for energy efficiency, regenerative agriculture, clean and efficient manufacturing, a sustainable transportation system, energy storage, repurposing coal-fired power plants, and creating pathways and training programs for low-wage workers.
While the grip of the fossil-fuel industry in Appalachia has been quite firm in the 20th Century, this grasp has recently loosened. As coal has been recognized as a major source of greenhouse gas emissions and as other sources of energy like natural gas and renewables like wind and solar have shown market advantages, coal has been in an inexorable decline. Energy companies themselves are shifting away from coal, as coal-fired power plants in Appalachia and around the country are shut down. Many in the region and in the Congress have supported the idea that long-term support, in the form of wages and benefits as well as job training, needs to be provided for those in the coal industry who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.
There are already projects in the region for a reimagined Appalachia. In Wheeling, W.Va., there are greenhouses and vertically integrated businesses in regenerative agriculture, producing locally grown crops for local consumption in facilities like greenhouses built in abandoned factories. The Solvay plant in Marietta has combined with DTE Energy for a CHP (combined heat and power) project, saving 300 jobs at Solvay and 50 at neighboring American Styrenes. Battery manufacturing for the electric vehicle industry has emerged in eastern Ohio. New Jobs Appalachia is a local effort to spark new thinking that can seize the opportunities in a renewable economy rather than turning our backs on them.