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The rugged landscape of Appalachia’s coal-bearing region is famous for its ecological abundance, narrow ridgelines, and steep valleys. But centuries of industrial-scale and increasingly mechanized coal mining operations have reduced hundreds of mountains to rubble through the use of mountaintop removal mining, while producing a legacy of persistent poverty and pollution.
In fact, 87 percent of the nation’s coal-related job loss has occurred in Appalachia. According to the Appalachian Regional Commission, the region lost more than 23,000 jobs between 2011 and 2015 alone, as production plummeted by more than 40 percent to its lowest historical levels.
Although mechanization had caused job loss for decades, the steep decline of coal production and closing of power plants has been a wake-up call for a region long dependent on a single industry. A just transition in Appalachia will require long-term investments and creative, community-based solutions to build a diversified economy that creates jobs, retrains workers, and builds local wealth.
Between 2011 and 2016, Eastern Kentucky lost 10,000 jobs or 72 percent of the total coal jobs in the region. Persistent, long-term poverty and poor access to educational opportunities exacerbate the region’s transition challenges. Affected counties include Harlan, Leslie, Martin, Pike, and Perry.
Southwest Virginia saw its coal workforce shrink by 53 percent between 2011 and 2016. Counties that border Kentucky such as Wise, Buchanan, and Dickenson are some of the most affected counties in the region.
Between 2011 and 2016, this area lost 13,000 jobs. The region has relied heavily on coal severance tax disbursements, which have fallen alongside production. Affected counties include Mingo, Boone, and Logan.
Mine closures have resulted in job loss and a decrease in tax revenue, yet Western Pennsylvania has received less financial support through public investment than other areas in Appalachia. Washington, Greene, and Indiana counties are among the hardest-hit in this region.
We focus on mining and power plant communities in major coal-affected areas of the United States. Within these regions, we prioritize support for communities experiencing the most distress, taking into account socioeconomic factors that make economic transition even more challenging.
Areas of the western and southwestern United States are well known for their prolific energy production, with 40 percent of the nation’s coal being mined in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana. But the region, including many Indigenous communities that have inhabited it for hundreds of years, is beginning to reel as coal plants and mines close.
The Midwest has a long and deep relationship with coal, experiencing booms and busts throughout the 20th century and into recent decades with the expansion of mines in the Illinois Basin. But as demand for the region’s coal declines and cleaner energy outcompetes coal power, more midwestern states and communities are embracing the need for long-term planning, community investment, and policy change.
The rugged landscape of Appalachia’s coal-bearing region is famous for its ecological abundance, narrow ridgelines, and steep valleys. But centuries of industrial-scale and increasingly mechanized coal mining operations have reduced hundreds of mountains to rubble through the use of mountaintop removal mining while producing a legacy of persistent poverty and pollution.
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