By Lane Boldman, Advocacy and Outreach Coordinator
Earlier this month I attended the “Shaping Our Appalachian Region” Summit (SOAR), an effort spearheaded by Gov. Steve Beshear and U.S. Representative Hal Rogers, to focus on the future success of southern and eastern Kentucky. Over 1,500 people registered for the event, held on Dec. 9 at the East Kentucky Expo Center in Pikeville.
The SOAR Summit was billed as being for anyone concerned about the future of Kentucky’s Appalachian region and willing to share new ideas about how to move the region forward, and was one of many dialogues that have recently taken place on moving rural counties forward to greater prosperity. But I went into this summit with a question: was the gathering an indication the eastern Kentucky is finally ready for a cleaner, healthier future?
KEF attended the conference, and even though there was heavy participation from large industrial organizations affiliated with extraction industries, there was equal representation from groups and individuals who want to see a healthy future for the region.
Many participants advocated job growth by nurturing an improved local foods economy, building tourism though recreational trail initiatives, and support for energy efficiency retrofits. Other topics ranged in scope from building regional collaboration, to providing leadership development, and supporting entrepreneurship and innovation.
As the coal industry has itself been slowing its mining operations and choosing to invest in other fossil fuels like natural gas to produce electricity, many other grassroots-led dialogues addressing the topic of coal transition have taken place in recent months. Earlier this year, for example, Appalachia’s Bright Future, a summit held in Harlan, and a similar conference in West Virginia focused on building a more diverse and sustainable economy. And just this week, the Appalachia Transition Summit in West Virginia, sponsored by the Alliance for Appalachia, carried on the work of finding solutions to decades-old problems in coal-producing regions.
I was impressed with many of the conversations at the SOAR conference. Yet the level to which our state and federal leaders will support meaningful support for a clean energy future in Kentucky remains to be seen.
We are at a critical time in Kentucky, and KEF believes that this dialogue provides an opportunity to empower local citizens and build a future where our natural resources and our environment are managed wisely. Moving forward we’d like to see:
KEF will be doing its part to share our ideas for the initiative, based in the Precautionary Principle, environmental justice and democratic decision-making processes. What about you? What is your vision? How could we achieve it?
We encourage our supporters to submit their ideas on how to build a healthy, sustainable future for our rural Appalachian counties.