Why does ARIES focus specifically on Central Appalachian states (i.e., WV, PA, KY, OH, and VA)?

The energy industry is a main source of capital in this region. The remote locations of many Central Appalachian communities are not conducive to the formation of other industries. As a result, the energy industry has a more direct and significant impact on the people residing in these areas relative to other locales near energy related operations. Furthermore, the ARIES project looked holistically at the effects of the coal industry in this region. The resulting research model are ready to assess other applicable industries, such as natural gas, wind, or hydro-electric, which may replace coal as the dominant environmental actor.

Why does ARIES adopt a holistic research approach when more targeted studies may elucidate the specific impacts of concern in the Appalachian community?

Unfortunately, no one-size-fits-all answer is available for Appalachia’s fiscal, environmental, and health issues given the inherent complexity and interplay of these topics. The ARIES project sought to illuminate the means by which economic and environmental stewardship can co-exist and/or the factors that must be addressed concurrently, such as health and livelihood, to mitigate concerns. This form of investigation is facilitated by the holistic approach and is able view the issues of concern in Appalachia in a comprehensive manner. Furthermore, the holistic approach also accounted for the potential that industries adjacent to the current or past natural resource-dependent ones may be developed in the future. Some examples of the aforementioned intricacies and interdependencies are provided in the paragraphs that follow.

Co-relative studies on health in Central Appalachia provide insight but are not definitive in terms of how to predict or address health improvement or outcomes. For example, higher incomes also lead to better health in Central Appalachia, just as they do in the rest of the United States. Nevertheless, in 2009, 81 counties in Appalachia qualified for distress county status because of a low per capita income and a high rate of unemployment and poverty. Most of these counties are found in and near the Central Appalachian states of Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia. The Central Appalachian sub-region of Appalachia as a whole has the highest rates of poverty, 32%, and “Free and Reduced Lunch,” 58.9%. Additionally, one-third of the 100 poorest counties in the United States are concentrated in the coalfields. The dearth of government spending on this region for infrastructure development, such as freeways, commuter rails, Internet connectivity, and public universities, has exacerbated these effects.

Appalachia has higher rates of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes than the United States as a whole. Treatment and affordable health care within the region are also difficult to locate. The Central Appalachian region is less accessible by major roads and is distant from larger cities, which often deprive residents of health resources and opportunities to meet with specialists.

College graduation rates are lower in Appalachia relative to other comparable regions. Less than 20% of adults have a college degree in the Appalachian portion of Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. In Central Appalachia, less than 12% of adults have a college degree. Less than three out of four working-age adults in 53 Appalachian counties finished high school. In fact, 64.1% of the population in Central Appalachia graduated from high school, the lowest rate of any Appalachian area. Only 10.7% of Central Appalachian residents graduated from college.

Why does ARIES research focus on environmental impacts in Appalachia?

In addition to reserves of coal and natural gas, the Appalachian Mountains are home to a biodiverse ecosystems, invaluable freshwater resources, and fertile soils. The freshwater rivers and streams that weave through the mountainous region are connected to the drinking water of millions of Americans along the eastern side of the country. Appalachian soil, being rich with organic matter and nutrients, provide the foundation for agriculture and forestry, which sustains the local culture and economy.

Environmental health issues have been of concern to policy-makers for decades. Measures have been taken to help ensure a higher quality of the Appalachian environment. In 1969, the United States Congress established the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which called for all branches of government to give “proper consideration to the environment” before undertaking any major actions that would have significant environmental implications. Three years later, Congress “reorganized and expanded upon” the Federal Water Pollution Control Act prohibiting discharge of pollutants into navigable waters, setting wastewater standards, and setting water quality standards for all contaminants in surface waters. The new “Clean Water Act” set higher standards for water quality in the U.S. Kentucky, Ohio, and New York have further implemented “clean coal incentives,” offering tax credits or similar benefits for the construction of coal facilities that utilize “clean coal technologies.”

Pennsylvania is the only state in the Appalachian region to adhere to an Energy Efficiency Resource Standard (EERS), which calls for energy utilities to meet a quantitative standard for energy savings. In 2011, the U.S. EPA made an effort to encourage closer adherence to NEPA and CWA regulations and standards as negative environmental impacts were still being documented by the scientific community. This effort was directed particularly toward Appalachian surface coal mining operations with emphasis placed on maintaining high water quality for the purposes of drinking, swimming, fishing, and other uses.

The environmentally focused approach applied by ARIES expected that governmental regulation of the environment would continue and that States, industry, and researchers should be proactive in anticipating science and researching means and modes to protect the environment even prior to the creation of additional regulation.