SOAR Summit | Kentuckians For The Commonwealth

SOAR Summit

Eastern Kentucky's economy is changing fast, and our future is unwritten. We believe we have the opportunity to move forward together, to build a new economy here in the mountains—a diverse, homegrown economy good for all people.

For more than 100 years, Appalachian coal fueled America: the steel mills, auto plants and growing cities that birthed the country we have today. For decades, our region’s workers and communities have both benefitted from and seen the costs of being one of the largest coal producers in the country.

The Appalachian region is now experiencing a dramatic transition. Changes in the economics of Appalachian coal and other fossil fuels cast a spotlight on an economy in trouble. Coal production and employment are in steep decline and will continue to drop for years to come. In the last 18 months alone, 6,000 coal jobs have been lost.

“I was excited to hear our elected leaders so eager to listen and learn from the vision and ideas expressed by people living in eastern Kentucky. I sincerely hope that this process will welcome the participation of people of all ages and generations. My generation right now is already showing leadership and vision. We are the folks who will be at the forefront of this region for decades to come. We need to be included from the very beginning.”

—Elizabeth Sanders, Letcher County

Yet we can and must shape our story and the transition toward a brighter future.

We believe it’s essential that the transition to the new economy is a just transition—one that celebrates our culture and invests in communities and workers who depended on the old economy. We have many assets here. Our goal is to develop opportunities for our people, for eastern Kentucky, to thrive.

Shaping the Conversation on a Just Transition

Kentuckians For The Commonwealth has been fostering a conversation about a just transition in the mountains for the past few years. We hosted a regional conference in April called Appalachia’s Bright Future that brought together a range of stakeholders in the region, as well as representatives of communities outside Appalachia that have faced similar transitions.

In October 2013, Governor Steve Beshear and U.S. Representative Hal Rogers joined the conversation, announcing that they will host a summit called Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) with hundreds of citizens from across the region to share ideas for moving eastern Kentucky forward. Governor Beshear said, "We believe that to make real progress in eastern Kentucky, we need the input, collaboration and involvement from the people who live and work hard there every day.”

KFTC members agree that a just transition will take a commitment to planning together and working together, inclusive of many voices. A bright future depends on strong community and political involvement: grassroots leaders, local residents, workers, public officials, and enterprises willing to envision about another way forward. This transition will not be easy, but it’s possible if we work together.

Principles of a Just Transition

First, we believe it is important to aim high. We must seek to create a just transition for workers and communities in eastern Kentucky. To us that means regional development efforts should be guided by and evaluated against these principles:

  • Improve the quality of life for people and communities affected by economic disruption, environmental damage, and inequality.
  • Foster inclusion, participation and collaboration.
  • Generate good, stable, meaningful jobs and broad access to opportunities and benefits.
  • Promote innovation, self-reliance and broadly held local wealth.
  • Protect and restore public health and our environment.
  • Respect the past while also strengthening communities and culture.
  • Consider the effects of decisions on future generations. 

Toward an Appalachian Transition Policy Platform

A just transition for workers and communities in eastern Kentucky will take leadership, long-term investment, and the efforts of many determined, creative people working together. Government won’t solve every problem; all of us have important roles to play. But public policies and investments are a powerful tool, and effective leadership from elected officials and community leaders will be an essential part of our success as a region. 

Below are a set of public policies and positions that can be a part of building a bright future in eastern Kentucky, and across our commonwealth.

1) Create a new eastern Kentucky planning and development body that is inclusive and diverse to gather public input, shape regional development strategies, and make investment decisions.

2) Establish a long-term fund to invest in regional economic development strategies by setting aside a portion of annual severance tax revenues. Empower the regional planning body to invest these funds in key strategies and projects. 

3) Evaluate development ideas and proposals based on key criteria, and turn away ideas that worsen inequality, environmental conditions, or perceptions of cronyism. For example: does it create broad public benefit & opportunities, does it reduce leakage from our local economy & build on local assets, does it build local capacity & wealth, does it improve local economic & environmental conditions, does it create jobs for local residents rather than those outside the region, does it reduce inequality, does it promote innovation?

4) Increase investment in training and support for laid-off coal miners and their families and support the growth of worker co-ops and worker-owned small businesses.

5) Invest money from the Abandoned Mine Lands Fund in a large-scale effort to create hundreds of good jobs by restoring eastern Kentucky’s degraded land and streams

6) Accelerate the growth of promising sectors (including local food systems, energy-efficient affordable housing, land and stream restoration, arts and culture, tourism, and renewable energy) by adopting public policies needed to grow those efforts to scale. A great place to start would be to establish a revolving loan fund to expand access to energy-efficient upgrades that can pay for themselves and create good jobs across the region.

7) Support state and federal energy efficiency and renewable energy standards
that have a proven record of driving private investment, creating new jobs, saving customers money and energy, and creating positive economic ripple effects in 30 states, including Ohio and North Carolina.

8) Develop and support local leadership (including programs for youth, entrepreneurs, education and nonprofit leaders)
by providing high-quality training programs, fellowships and other leadership experiences, access to capital, marketing and networking assistance, and more.

9) Support and enforce policies to protect the quality of our air, land and water, and improve public health.
It’s time to recognize the economic and health benefits of clean air and water and support passage of environmental rules aimed at protecting our most precious asset – our health.  

10) Restore civic trust by eliminating corruption
, cronyism and the tendency by those in power to use their public positions to benefit themselves and other well-connected individuals.

11) Support progressive tax reform
at the state and national levels to increase investment in education, infrastructure, worker training, health care and other programs that make our communities good places to live and work

12) Reweave our social safety net
by increasing support for programs that sustain people and families in times of need (including food stamps, health care and housing support) and programs that make it possible for people to improve their quality of life (including increased minimum wage, Pell Grants, child care assistance, early childhood programs, and access to affordable health care).

13) Commit to ongoing, rigorous improvements to K-12 education in Kentucky
, including increased funding, renewed efforts to address inequality in funding, funding for quality preschool, wrap-around services for students in need, curriculum reform, and upgrades to teacher training and professional development.

14) Support and invest in efforts to improve public health and address the many serious health conditions facing Kentuckians.
This includes supporting implementation of the Affordable Care Act in Kentucky, expanding access to high quality substance abuse and mental health treatment, investing in wellness programs and health education, and fully enforcing laws aimed at improving workplace safety and reducing toxic pollution.