A century of fossil fuel extraction has left Appalachia environmentally and economically degraded. With the coal industry on its last leg and company bankruptcies piling up, taxes that fund crucial public services are drying up; unemployment and poverty are worsening; abandoned mines are polluting and endangering communities.
On Jan. 20, Democrats will control both Congress and the White House for the first time in nearly 11 years — albeit by a slim majority in the Senate — and there’s potential to make significant progress in addressing some of these problems.
Past federal efforts have been ineffective at solving many of the root issues: persistent poverty, corporate land ownership, adverse health outcomes. Aside from a couple of federal programs, “central Appalachia has been largely ignored,” said Patrick McGinley, a law professor at West Virginia University who focuses on environmental law.
For decades, Appalachian activists and organizations have been pushing for more federal and state accountability.
In his campaign platform, President-elect Joe Biden emphasized green infrastructure, federal jobs programs, and accountability measures for the fossil fuel industry and the damage it has caused.