4.9.1-5: Appalachian Region, United States

Module 4, Section 9.1-5

Appalachian Region, United States

9.1 The Appalachian region in the eastern part of the United States is composed of portions of ten states. The area is sometimes regarded as “America’s internal third world” because it exhibits socio-economic patterns similar to that of a number of developing countries. This mountainous region is very rich in coal and other natural resources, yet many of the people have lived in chronic poverty for generations. They are also experiencing significant land degradation and water and other environmental pollution.

9.2 NGOs formed a coalition and began their research on these problems with the question: “Why if our land is so rich are our people so poor?” What they discovered was a pattern of highly concentrated ownership of the land and natural resources of the region. Most of those holding title to the most valuable land were corporations with headquarters elsewhere. Interestingly, many of these land title-holding corporations were not the same companies that actually ran the businesses of organizing labour and capital to mine the lands. As a condition of access to the resources, these companies were paying land rent to the absentee corporate title-holders.

9.3 The land rent, along with the coal, was leaving Appalachia. Meanwhile, the taxes throughout the region were falling almost entirely on wages and production and little or no land rent was being collected. The NGO coalition had found the answer to their question and along with it the solution. They decided to work for tax reform that would collect resource rent for the people.

9.4 This populist struggle for economic justice in Appalachia is underway. Thus far they are taking a state by state approach as most states need legislation that would enable this new form of “rent capture” taxation policy. The movement has been slow because most of the state legislatures are also controlled by those with vested interest in land profits. Because the economic power is in the hands of so few, so is the political power.

9.5 A Confederation approach might be to unify these state NGO and grassroots movements into a force to establish a new Appalachian regional authority to assess, collect and equitably distribute resource rent from coal and other extractive resources. The Confederation would also have the power to enforce environmental regulations and/or charge pollution taxes. The struggle for surface land rent could take place on the local level where, by popular vote, a shift to land value capture could be democratically and directly instituted.