The challenge

The Appalachian region of the US spans 205,000 square miles across 13 states, from southern New York to northern Mississippi. Historically, it has been marked by the booms and busts of industries such as logging, coal mining, steel and ironworks, agriculture and more recently, the shale and fracking industry. Mountaintops have been removed, coal workers have suffered from black lung, the air has been so thick with smoke the streetlights were turned on at noon, and workers have lost everything when the mines and mills were shuttered.

These industries have exploited the land and the people of Appalachia for the fuel that has powered the rest of America. It is now one of the poorest regions of the US. But there’s an opportunity to move away from extractive industries to renewable ones that will create sustainable jobs and raise the quality of life for local people in Appalachia.

The innovative project

Inspired by the ‘Marshall Plan’, an investment strategy to rebuild Europe after World War II, The Marshall Plan for Middle America (MP4MA) calls for significant public and private investment to revitalise communities, create family-sustaining jobs, advance a clean and just transition, and invest in the future of local people. MP4MA creates a common regional agenda, regional voice, and aggregated vision to reimagine and rebuild communities to reduce emissions across sectors, reinvest assets towards renewable growth, and be more resilient and just for all.

According to research conducted by the University of Pittsburgh, the Appalachian region stands to gain at least 410,000 new jobs, achieve 40% savings on energy bills, and 50% reduction in carbon emissions with meaningful federal investment.

The MP4MA Roadmap envisions the Ohio River Valley can lead the plan to invest in renewable energy infrastructure to drive more equitable and sustainable economic development into the future.

The partnership

The Mayors of nine cities across four states have joined the Marshall Plan for Middle America’s call to action: Pittsburgh, PA; Cincinnati, OH; Athens, OH; Columbus, OH; Dayton, OH; Youngstown, OH; Morgantown, WV; Huntington, WV; Louisville, KY.

They joined forces with Reimagine Appalachia, a diverse set of economic, environmental and community leaders, and grassroots organisations, which came together to find common ground and build the future we want to see— a 21st-century economy that’s good for workers, communities, and the environment.

Over the past year, conversations have been convened around manufacturing, labor and workforce development, renewable installations, repurposing land exploited by extractive industries, divestment from fossil fuels and sustainable investment of pension funds, renewable energy development projects, and more.

The Impact

In 2021, Build Back Better grants were awarded to transitioning coal communities during a four day summit. Participants workshopped and strengthened six projects throughout the region to increase partnerships and visibility, integrate union labour and explore other co-benefits and collaboration across state lines. Projects ranged from solar manufacturing and development on brownfield sites, to ecological restoration and tourism, redevelopment of industrial sites, energy efficiency and micro-grid technology innovation, reuse corridors, and sustainable financing hub. MP4MA is now pivoting towards project planning and implementation.

The Marshall Plan for Middle America will drive investment and capacity to ensure Appalachia is proactively a part of the energy transition. It will help revive the region by creating sustainable opportunities for workers, residents and heal the land.

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