The Nature Conservancy in West Virginia
U.S. President Joe Biden and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo today announced the federal government has chosen the Appalachian Climate Technology Coalition (“ACT Now Coalition”) of West Virginia for a package of grant awards totaling $62.8 million, leveraged with another $30 million match from philanthropic foundations, local governments and the private sector. The WV ACT Now Coalition was one of only 21 winners of the highly competitive “Build Back Better Challenge,” a $1 billion national challenge housed at the Economic Development Administration (EDA) at the U.S. Department of Commerce to build new economic development approaches and family-wage jobs in targeted regions.
“West Virginia continues to see the benefits of the critical American Rescue Plan investments that drive economic development and create good-paying, long-term jobs, and today’s announcement is great news for our entire state,” said U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. “It is a testament to our hardworking fellow West Virginians and forward-thinking communities that West Virginia was one of just 21 recipients of the EDA’s Regional Challenge program. I’m pleased the EDA is investing nearly $63 million in communities across southern West Virginia to strengthen local economies, support our energy industries and expand job opportunities. This is an incredible opportunity, and I look forward to seeing the positive impacts of this funding for years to come.”
This is one of the largest investments in West Virginia history intended to help diversify the economy and foster a just transition to a low-carbon future. ACT Now provides an opportunity to revitalize the economy of the Coalfield Region—an area that has been in structural decline for decades—and promote broader community improvement. Unlocking a combination of public, private and philanthropic investment will support job creation in the solar industry, expansion of technology businesses, upgrades of buildings to be more energy efficient, redevelopment of industrial spaces and brownfields for modern manufacturing, and the transformation of abandoned mine lands into new and sustainable assets.
The ACT Now Coalition, led by Coalfield Development Corporation with support from The Nature Conservancy (TNC), institutions of higher education, private businesses and innovative non-profits from the state, has identified eight projects that will focus on the southern Coalfields Region of West Virginia, what the U.S. Intergovernmental Council on Energy Communities calls the most economically distressed and coal-impacted area in America.
Among these projects is the Abandoned Mines to Sustainable Lands project, led by West Virginia University, Coalfield Development and TNC. This specific project aims to boost the under-achieving pace of abandoned mine reclamation in West Virginia and Appalachia with new approaches to sustainable reuse of these lands, with an initial goal of 50,000 acres put into reuse, including at up to five pilot sites.
Among the reuses being researched, prioritized and deployed are renewable energy generation and storage, reforestation for carbon sequestration, and eco-tourism and outdoor recreation.
“We couldn’t be more pleased to support the work of the ACT Now Coalition and advance the Abandoned Mines to Sustainable Lands project component with WVU, Coalfield Development and other partners,” said Eriks Brolis, director of nature and economy for TNC in West Virginia. “This funding from the EDA will unlock tremendous investment in West Virginia and the Central Appalachians to continue to step boldly into the new energy economy and expand opportunities for outdoor recreation—improving the livelihoods and well-being of West Virginia communities while also helping the nation and the world to tackle climate change.”
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, R, has backed this effort with a major pledge of $2 million and other support. ACT Now will receive millions of dollars in match and leverage support from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation, the Just Transition Foundation and other philanthropies. Sen. Manchin was a strong backer of ACT Now, and U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, Appalachian Regional Commission Federal Co-Chair Gayle Manchin and other top leadership got involved personally in supporting the coalition’s progress and efforts.
The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 76 countries and territories—37 by direct conservation impact and 39 through partners—we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.