Solar included in restorative projects at abandoned Appalachian coal mines

A coalition of groups in Central Appalachia issued its third annual report highlighting innovative projects that will clean up abandoned coal mine lands and brownfields in six states and give them new life as solar energy sites, recycling centers, eco-tourism assets and other economic ventures. The report, “Restoration and Renewal: The New Appalachian Economy,” profiles 19 projects including, for the first time, Pennsylvania and Alabama, in addition to Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia.

Appalachian communities impacted by the collapse of the coal economy are evolving to bring in new, diverse types of jobs and businesses and provide economic opportunity to residents. In addition to an economic impact, coal mining has left a physical impact throughout the region, leaving thousands of sites abandoned and in need of reclamation.

Now, more sites are expected to be abandoned as coal companies file for bankruptcy in the wake of the COVID-19 economic crisis. Though local leaders continue to find creative solutions to attract new businesses and funding for clean-up, more state and federal aid is needed to help communities transition to a new economy.

“Though this past year has presented many challenges, we’ve seen communities in Appalachia continue to drive toward economic diversification with creative and innovative reclamation projects,” said Adam Wells, regional director of community and economic development with Appalachian Voices.

The Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition report includes 19 project profiles for the six states. For example, in Pennsylvania, a site selection tool is being developed to identify locations of potential solar energy projects on abandoned mine lands.

“The funding and technical assistance we received from the Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition were instrumental in allowing us to identify some of the most suitable sites for future solar development on abandoned mine lands. We’re excited to now invite solar developers, economic development entities, investors, and most importantly, private landowners to work with us to look at these reclaimed landscapes as suitable sites for new projects,” said Bobby Hughes, executive director of EPCAMR.

The report details the growing problem of inadequate financial bonding for environmental reclamation as more coal companies file for bankruptcy, and includes estimates of state funding needs. It also describes projects the coalition has already helped develop in dozens of communities, providing assistance to governments and communities to secure more than $18 million in federal “Abandoned Mine Land” (AML) Pilot funds and brownfields funding, leveraging approximately $12 million in additional funds.

Funding in support of reclamation and economic development in Appalachia includes the AML Pilot program with $105 million appropriated in 2017, and $115 million in each of the last three years, and the Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization program, which has contributed $50 million to economic diversification in Central Appalachia.

The RECLAIM Act, which will be re-introduced in the new Congress in early 2021, would accelerate the distribution of $1 billion of existing funds over five years to revitalize coal communities. The Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition and others continue advocating for passage of the RECLAIM Act and additional investment in the region where it is most urgently needed.

News item from The Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition