Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Retired journalist says federal buyout of bankrupt coal firms' land could revitalize Appalachia

James Branscome
James Branscome, who covered the Tennessee Valley Authority and strip mining for The Mountain Eagle of Whitesburg, Ky., in the 1970s before becoming managing director of equity research for Standard and Poor's, has a big idea that could revitalize economies in Appalachia hurt by the loss of coal jobs.

"Anyone who has spent time in the mountains and hollows from Middlesboro, Ky., to Beckley, W.Va., understands that most of the land is owned either by coal and timber companies or the federal government with its national forests and parks," Branscome wrote in an essay appearing in several Appalachian newspapers. "Coal companies alone own 1.3 million acres in the Cumberlands of Kentucky and even more in the Alleghenies of West Virginia. The federal government is actually the largest single landowner in Appalachia."

"With the region’s largest coal companies in bankruptcy or nearly so, I have an idea for Clinton and Trump: Let’s buy those bankrupted acres and release some of those federal holdings," he writes. "Then we can give the people something they have not had since industrialization and coal mining started in Appalachia in the 1880s — land. Land for farming, for gardens, for housing, for grazing cattle, horses and hogs, and for sustainable forestry."

"Let’s call this the Appalachian Homestead Act, in homage to the federal initiative that helped settle the West and build wealth in the 19th century," he writes. "The Appalachian Homestead Act may be today’s best solution to the enduring problem of mountain poverty. And it may well be the most important opportunity for a new generation looking for a place to build an economy and a community that make sense in a time of global warming and economic dysfunction."

"This is the perfect policy for both candidates," he writes. "Trump could probably make some real deals negotiating with these bankrupt companies. Clinton might find favor in a region that has not looked kindly on her of late, trimming some federal holdings, swapping with others, all the while turning property back to mountain communities." (Read more)

Branscome, who lives in Montrose, Colo., is a member of the national advisory board of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, which publishes The Rural Blog.

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