Appalachian Voices Works with Communities to Elevate Local Economic Priorities like Solar Energy and Land Restoration
An Interview with Brian Sewell, Director of Strategic Advancement at Appalachian Voices
Talk to us about your organization and community:
Appalachian Voices was founded in 1997 to protect
the land, air, water, and communities of Central and Southern Appalachia. In
recent years, we’ve
established solutions-based initiatives dedicated to advancing a sustainable
economic transition in communities where new opportunities and investments are
most impactful. We are focused on reducing the impact of coal and
advancing clean energy development. We work at the grassroots level to engage citizens
and ensure they have a say in the decisions that affect their lives, and at
every level of government to promote positive outcomes for the communities
where we work.
How is Appalachian Voices working to help your region make a
just transition away from coal toward a new economy?
In early 2015, we launched our New
Economy program, which is focused in the Southwest Virginia counties that have
been most affected by coal job losses and declining tax revenues from coal
production. We opened an office in Norton, Va., and began working with
community members, businesses, and local leaders to foster a more inclusive
conversation about economic priorities and strategies to build a healthier,
more prosperous future.
that year, we organized and hosted a series of community forums to gain a
greater understanding of local residents’ ideas to boost their local economies.
Approximately 130 local residents participated the series, including concerned
citizens, small business owners, educators, elected officials, and coal
industry representatives. The range of interests represented at the forums
reflected the level of support for state and federal efforts to revitalize the
coalfields by promoting sustainable, generative industries. And, today,
Appalachian Voices is acting on the robust public interest in seeing
distributed solar energy and repurposed abandoned mine lands as economic
drivers in Virginia’s coalfield counties.
2016, we participated in the regional Economic Forum hosted by the University
of Virginia’s College at Wise, where we convened the Solar Workgroup of
Southwest Virginia. We have since recruited a number of influential and
non-traditional stakeholders including state agencies, county economic
development authorities, and local colleges and are leading a multi-phased
project to accelerate the pace and capacity of installed solar in the area. In
our role as a convener of the workgroup, Appalachian Voices is gathering the
regional capacities necessary to see solar projects developed that encourage
“in-sourced” supply chains and spur workforce development initiatives that
train for jobs in the clean energy sector.
Since starting this work, what has Appalachian Voices been able
In addition to our efforts to accelerate solar development, our collaboration with regional partners contributed to the introduction of the RECLAIM Act to the U.S. House of Representatives and the bipartisan support the bill has received to date. To strengthen the prospect of securing funds for the region, Appalachian Voices led an effort to inventory abandoned mine lands in Southwest Virginia and identify sites with potential for economically beneficial reuse. We profiled 14 of these sites in our October 2016 report, Healing Our Land, Growing Our Future, and will continue to educate lawmakers and the public about the importance of the RECLAIM Act to address the legacy costs of coal mining and create local economic opportunity.
communities across the region seek to protect their natural heritage and
diversify their local economies, Appalachian Voices is making sure citizens’
perspectives, concerns, and aspirations inform an equitable transition to an
economy that is healthy in the broadest sense. We’re grateful for the support
and partnership of the Just Transition Fund.