Last month I wrote “Revitalizing Virginia’s Coalfield”, on ways to propel the region’s economy forward by providing new, innovative jobs, and all-the-while protecting the region’s other most valuable asset, its natural resources. In that post, I discussed an OED project I worked on that focused on the reuse of former surface mining sites for economic development purposes. A year later, I am revisiting this idea for my master’s thesis where I analyze surface mining sites within Virginia’s coalfield region to determine which sites are better for economic development purposes and which are better for ecological restoration.
In doing this, I will create an interactive decision making tool to profile each site based on specific parameters to determine which are an asset for natural habitat or which are an asset for the economy. The tool is called “H.E.A.R.T.” which stands for Habitat & Economic Asset Rating Tool and it will be located on my web page at https://hearth.earth/heart-app when it is completed next semester.
The existing environmental and societal conditions encompassing a site directly link to how the site should be handled by the communities, municipalities, and economic development agencies involved. For example, it might be best to restore the land to its natural state if it is not close to a populated area, but on the other hand, a site might be better for facilities pertaining to food and beverage processing, energy infrastructure, and healthcare.
The idea of using the lands to build a new economy amidst the decline of the coal industry has been gaining more attention over the past year as the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources proposed the RECLAIM Act. This bipartisan bill would direct $1 billion dollars from the Abandoned Mine Land fund over the next five years to restore abandoned lands to revitalize communities in the heart of Appalachia. Unfortunately, the bill was not fully funded and the Abandoned Mine Land Pilot Program currently only provides about 10% of that hopeful $1 billion with around $110 million annually.
House Rep. Morgan Griffith, of the 9th VA district that covers the coalfield region, an original sponsor of the RECLAIM Act, stated: “It’s Democrats and Republicans coming together to identify a way that we can be helpful, help the country, help make the environment better, help create jobs and help people who are skilled but want to stay living in the mountains and pursue something different as we move forward.”
Despite efforts in Congress and at the national level to revitalize the coalfields region, this economic and ecologic opportunity needs more recognition from the general public to make these innovative projects a part of the national agenda, not just as a regional goal. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics coal jobs continue to decline more every year.
However, change does not always happen at the top. By mapping and assessing former mining sites we move forward on new ways to utilize the resources the coalfields region has provided for so many years.