Environmental Justice 356: Appalachia

Environmental Justice 356: Appalachia

Hello, again!

I hope everyone’s holiday season is going well and everyone is staying warm! As the year comes to end, I want to continue our discussion about Environmental Justice. If you missed last month’s blog, I wrote a very basic introduction to what Environmental Justice is and why it is a national problem; click here to read it, it is important for our “December talk”!

I plan for, at least a couple months, these blogs to build on one another. So, the next installment in Environmental Justice will be focused on Appalachia; think of it as “Environmental Justice 356”. Some of you not from the eastern side of the country may be asking yourself “App-a-what?” whereas others are wondering if I am pronouncing it as “App-ah-LATCH-ah” or “App-ah-LAY-CHA”.

So, what the heck is Appalachia?

  • A predominantly rural region of the U.S. consisting of 420 counties.
  • Stretches 205,000 square miles
  • Spans 13 states: New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virgnia, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama.
  • It is broken up into 5 sub-regions: North, North Central, Central, South Central, and Southern.
  • All Kentucky counties are located in the Central sub-region.

So, why am I talking about Appalachia? For one, a part of it is located in the commonwealth. Also, last month, I discussed the role class plays into the location of environmental “bads”; reference the “race vs. class debate”. Appalachia, and particularly Central Appalachia, is extremely poor.

  • Central Appalachia is predominantly white.
  • As of 2017 Central Appalachia has:
    • The lowest mean ($47,152)
    • The lowest median household income ($33,956)
    • The highest percentage of those in poverty.
    • The highest percentage of individuals with less than a high school diploma.
    • The lowest percentage of those with a bachelor’s degree.
    • The highest percentage of those living with a disability.
  • It has the most amount of counties labeled distressed by the federal government; these are counties with the lowest economic stability.
    • There are a total of 49 distressed counties in Central Appalachia
    • 37 of which, are in Kentucky.

Okay, so what does all of this have to do with Environmental Justice? EVERYTHING! It is one of the central reasons environmental “bads” concentrate in Appalachia. You may be asking yourself, “I remember last week he mentioned waste facility sites, is that what he means? Is there an over concentration of those?” Well, I am sure Central Appalachia has their fair share of them, but no. Environmental “bads”, for Appalachia, exist primarily because of poor mining methods from the coal industry. Recall a blog I authored a couple months ago about how Limestone extraction needs to be done properly, the same goes for coal mining. This has existed in the sub-region for roughly 150 years (Do I hear an answer to the “chicken vs. the egg debate”?) Since its entrance into Central Appalachia, it has:

  • Created unsafe living and work conditions for miners and residents
  • Destroyed mountains
  • Caused large scale disasters
  • Polluted the air, water, and soil
  • Increased cancer rates, liver problems, and skin disorders
  • Reduced mortality rates, as well as overall quality of life.
  • Increased economic problems

Okay, okay, I know that was a lot to go over in such a short time! One blog can’t, and no pun intended, do environmental justice in Appalachia “justice”. I wanted to give each and every one of you a short introduction to environmental justice issues happening right within our state. Next month we will discuss a case example of a coal-caused environmental justice issue!

Until next time,

Adam

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