New Deal gets a reboot in the Ohio River Valley

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Soy beans are loaded on a barge at the Agland/Heritage Ohio River terminal (Farm and Dairy file photo)

More than 80 years after it was introduced, the New Deal is making a comeback, although it looks different this time around.

The Green New Deal has been making waves since it was proposed in early 2019 as a way to combat climate change and boost the economy.

Several groups have come up with responses to the Green New Deal or their own plans for how to revitalize the region and the country.

Reimagine Appalachia released a plan July 21 laying out how to build and modernize infrastructure, repair the land and create jobs through public investment in Appalachia’s Ohio River Valley.

The plan is touted as “a new deal that works for us,” said Patty DeMarco, a member of Reimagine Appalachia’s steering committee.

“We don’t want Appalachia to be left out,” she told Farm and Dairy. “Appalachia has some particularly amazing capabilities right here. We deserve to have investment in our communities. We’ve supported the rest of the country for a long time and we haven’t had anything come back.”

Reimagine Appalachia is a coalition of more than 60 organizations from Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky, including PennFuture, Policy Matters Ohio, Pasa Sustainable Agriculture, West Virginia Rivers Coalition and the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.

The plan calls for, among other things, supporting and incentivizing regenerative agriculture practices, reviving the Civilian Conservation Corps to plant trees and restore wetlands, modernizing the electric grid, creating “good union jobs,” and building a sustainable transportation system.

Shuttered coal-fired power plants could be transformed into eco-industrial parks that grow manufacturing in the region, particularly for electric vehicle production and alternatives to single-use plastics, said Amanda Woodrum, senior researcher with Policy Matters Ohio.

“This is not about retraining and relocating our skilled workforce for jobs they don’t want in places they don’t want to go to,” Woodrum said, during the livestreamed media call July 21. “In fact, we need coal miners and coal plant workers as well as those working in oil and gas industries to help us. To help us build the Appalachia that we want to live in.”

 

New ideas

Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, first launched in 1933, had a big impact on rural areas. It created the first federal farm subsidies through the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933, built roads and other public infrastructure, conserved public lands and created jobs through the Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps.

The Green New Deal was introduced formally by U.S. Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) in February 2019. The hefty climate-change-fighting-proposal calls for the U.S. to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, create millions of high-wage jobs and invest in infrastructure.

The plan also says it will work with farmers and ranchers to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture while  supporting family farming, investing in sustainable farming and land use practices and building a more sustainable food system that ensures universal access to healthy food.

The Green New Deal has been criticized for being lofty but lacking in details, especially in the agricultural section.

While Reimagine Appalachia’s plan shares many similarities with the Green New Deal, DeMarco said they wanted one that focused specifically on the resources and opportunities available in Appalachia.

Criticisms

A natural gas industry coalition — the Empowerment Alliance — put out its response to the Green New Deal just before the Fourth of July.

The “Declaration of Energy Independence” was signed by more than 300 state and local officials and candidates for office — ranging from governors and senators to mayors and township supervisors.

Four governors including, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and nine U.S. senators, including Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), signed the declaration.

“Affordable, clean and abundant domestic energy will be critical to America’s economic recovery,” said Jim Nathanson, executive director for the Empowerment Alliance, in a statement.

The declaration calls for using domestic natural gas production to make the U.S. energy independent. That would mean building more natural gas infrastructure, like natural-gas-fired power plants, pipelines to supply those plants and natural-gas-powered transportation.

This would lower utility bills for families and provide cleaner air, the declaration claims.

Several natural gas power plants have already been built or are in the works, including the Carroll County Energy plant in Carroll County, Ohio, the Hickory Run Energy Center in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania and the Guernsey Power Station in Guernsey County, Ohio.

In 2019, natural gas generated more of Ohio’s power than coal for the first time, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, and power generated from natural gas more than doubled from 2010-2019 in Pennsylvania.

U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), who signed the declaration, said in a statement that energy production has delivered a renaissance to eastern and southeastern Ohio.

The Empowerment Alliance called the Green New Deal a “risky tax scheme,” and said it would be too costly for households and family farms to bear.

(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be contacted at 800-837-3419 or rachel@farmanddairy.com.)

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