A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Climate Corps initiative could speed up reforestation of abandoned Appalachian mine lands

By Nadia Ramlagan
Public News Service

A Biden administration program called the American Climate Corps aims to hire and train 20,000 people in conservation, climate, and clean energy jobs.

Still in the early stages of development, groups in Appalachia say the program could potentially steer a significant number of young people in the region into well-paying jobs.

In 2023, the USDA Forest Service and AmeriCorps signed a five-year agreement to establish the Forest Corps, which aims to create job opportunities to reduce wildfire risk, support reforestation and make national forests and grasslands healthier and more resilient. (NKyTribune file photo from Kentucky Division of Abandoned Mine Lands)

Brendan Muckian-Bates, policy and advocacy associate for the Appalachian Citizens Law Center in Whitesburg, said Kentucky’s Appalachian region has struggled with continuing flood disasters and other climate change impacts over the past decade. He believes the climate corps could bring much-needed funding to reforest and revegetate former mine sites.

“The American Climate Corps can have — on this region in particular — could have wide-ranging impacts,” Muckian-Bates stressed. “Between the region’s growing outdoor recreation and tourism economy, as well as supporting the native ecosystem and stream quality.”

According to the group Appalachian Voices, mountaintop removal mining has already destroyed more than 500 mountains encompassing more than 1 million acres in Central and Southern Appalachia.

Annie Regan, director of digital communications for ReImagine Appalachia, said not only could the initiative bring jobs to a region hard-hit by the opioid crisis and unemployment, but participants will also receive paid training, opening the doors to opportunities for employment in both the public and private sectors.

“Of course we want younger folks to have these jobs too, and to have pathways to apprenticeship and pre apprenticeship programs and working with our unions,” Regan emphasized.

The climate corps is modeled after the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Depression-era program launched by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to alleviate high unemployment among young men. The White House said the Climate Corps will attract people from diverse backgrounds and disadvantaged communities to work in climate-related industries.

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