Monday, June 6, 2016

A Plan to Restore Hope in the Coalfields of Appalachia

Andrea Sears, Public News Service

Land purchased from bankrupt coal companies could help revive Appalachian economies. (Shuvaev/Wikimedia Commons)
Land purchased from bankrupt coal companies could help revive Appalachian economies. (Shuvaev/Wikimedia Commons)
HARRISBURG, Pa. - With the decline of the coal industry in Appalachia, there are plenty of ideas being floated to revive the region's economy.

Former journalist Jim Branscome calls his the Appalachian Homestead Act, an idea he detailed in recent op-ed articles in some of the region's largest newspapers.

He proposes using land the federal government would purchase from bankrupted coal companies to help people in Appalachia revive the economy and, in turn, restore hope.

"The application of the proposal for homesteading applies from northern Alabama all the way to northern Pennsylvania," he says. "Same, similar problems."

Branscome compares his idea to the settling of the West, providing land for people to farm and garden, to graze livestock and to create business opportunities.

He believes it may be "today's single best solution to the enduring problem of mountain poverty."

A native of Virginia's coalfields, Branscome says for decades the national media has portrayed the region as a place where people are lazy, with many depending on welfare to get by.

"And the truth is, can you image anybody that is harder working than a coal miner," he says. "Can you imagine anybody who's harder working than a farmer scratching out a living in the hills of Appalachia? We're talking about some of the most enterprising people on the face of the earth."

Branscome stresses that the critical element of his proposal is inspiring people to restore a "sense of pride and progress."

But he admits his optimism is tempered by his experiences reporting on a region that's "at the bottom of the poorest."

"Despite all of this advocacy, and despite all of the political power and newspaper power that was brought," he says. "We still haven't managed to change the fundamental economic basis of those areas, and homesteading is one way to do that."

Branscome says he has received an overwhelming response to his call for an Appalachian Homestead Act.

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