Why I Moved to the Heart of the Billion Dollar Coalfield

Authors: Eric Mathis | Green For All Fellow

Often people ask why I moved to the “Heart of the Billion Dollar Coalfield” to work on Renewable Energy and more often than not, they are shocked by my answer.

They typically view The JOBS Project’s work through the lens of environmentalism and habitually build from this assumption that we are made up of die-hard progressive Democrats striving to end mountain top removal. It is within these assumptions that I have built our organization’s strategy, that is, to decouple renewable energy from these associations by building non-traditional allies with the perceived enemy – the coal industry and the employees that are the life blood of America’s energy infrastructure.

So when I was asked by Green for All to present at the 2011 Good Jobs, Green Jobs National conference I jumped at the opportunity to discuss a strategy that some environmental groups working in Appalachia have refused to accept – a strategy built around collaboration.

Moreover, Secretary Chu’s recent statement further unpacks the issue at hand when he stated that the “United States faces a choice today: will we lead in innovation and out-compete the rest of the world or will we fall behind?” Falling behind is exactly what we are doing and what lies at the heart of this issue is simple: while we are fighting each other within the various Clean vs. Dirty energy debates, our country is being chopped up, sold off and shipped to China.

As I stood in front of a crowd of more than two hundred, I began navigating through my presentation on our various projects while nervously leading up to an implicit challenge of collaboration to a crowd predominantly made up of labor unions and environmentalists, a demographic often associated with an “us against them” approach to social change.

Well, I am happy to report that the same challenge that has enabled us to build allies from both sides of the debate in the coalfields of Central Appalachia was again welcomed with warm smiles, subtle nods and inquisitive discussions during our break out session.

It is my belief that these discussions hold the potential of becoming the “ground zero” of the American psyche where we can begin building hope by collaboratively lifting our great democracy from the ashes of a strident partisanism which is quickly ripping our country apart. To create a space where we can come together as Americans and create a new patriotism built upon collaborative dialogues where idealistic discussions of saving the planet are transformed into a pragmatic duty of saving America!

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