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Acts of resistance, such as the Yellow Finch tree sits where activists have blocked the expansion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline by camping in trees along the pipeline path for over 800 consecutive days, are integral to the Appalachian identity. 


Source: Designing a Green New Deal studio, A.L. McCullough 

Processes of fossil fuel extraction, from mountaintop removal to strip mining to fracking, has irrevocably transformed Appalachia’s landscapes.

Source: Designing a Green New Deal studio, A.L. McCullough

[5] Van Nostrand , James. “Why the U.S. Coal Industry and Its Jobs Are Not Coming Back.” Yale E360, December 2016. 

[6] Initiative, Prison Policy. “Data about Prison-based Gerrymandering.” Data about Prison-based Gerrymandering | Prison Gerrymandering Project. 

[7] Robert Todd Perdue, and Kenneth Sanchagrin. “Imprisoning Appalachia: The Socio-Economic Impacts of Prison Development.” Journal of Appalachian Studies 22, no. 2 (2016): 210-23.

Appalachia embodies more cycles of extraction. 

Source: Designing a Green New Deal studio, A.L. McCullough 










The mountains that form the spine of Appalachia are the source of many riches – of lush, biodiverse habitats and carbon-sequestrating forests, of coal and natural gas, and of sweeping landscapes sometimes described as ‘almost heaven.’ But over time, these riches have been captured and monopolized for the benefit of people outside the of region. Appalachia has been treated as a sacrifice zone for the rest of the nation – a geography surrendered to the impulses of corporate exploitation, where the health and future of its people and land come second to the global demand for resource extraction and energy production. The succession of dominant extractive industries – from timber, to coal, to incarceration – has seen faceless, unscrupulous industry barons dominate the political, economic, and physical landscape of Appalachia for centuries. As a result, dangerous working conditions, land degradation, and economic disinvestment in other sectors have become the norm for many communities in the region. To imagine how a Green New Deal for Appalachia may be realized, it is crucial to first examine how the story of these injustices is central to understanding the region. 


Appalachia is not a monolith of immiseration. For as long as it has been a site of corporate plunder, it has also been a magnet for resistance. From the Battle of Blair Mountain, where striking coal miners violently clashed with mine management in the attempt to form a union, to the Yellow Finch tree sits, where activists have blocked the expansion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline by camping in trees along the pipeline path for over 800 consecutive days, acts of rebellion and activism are carved into Appalachia’s cultural and physical identity.







The American project is one of settler-colonialism maintained by white supremacy. It begins with the forced displacement of indigenous peoples from their land from the 15th century through today. During the Trail of Tears alone, some 16,000 indigenous people were violently forced from Appalachia.[3] The abuse of indigenous peoples, in step with four centuries of chattel slavery, has structured in the United States an economy derived from and dependent upon violent takings. Thus, its centuries-long colonization of land, resources, and people has attached to its economic markets a dependence on extraction, scarcity, and disposal. 
This initial severance of indigenous peoples’ lives and relationships from the land catalyzed what we call cycles of extraction. Appalachia’s economy has largely been structured around a single-industry engine fueled by the region’s abundant natural resources; when a resource has been commodified to the point of near depletion, a new cycle begins in an industry more extractive than the last.
The first extraction came in the form of the timber industry’s commodification of Appalachia’s native forests throughout the 19th century.[4] The perceived ‘virgin’ forests of Appalachia came to be treated as a monoculture crop viewed primarily as a cheap source for raw materials rather than as a biodiverse ecosystem. The timber industry cleared vast tracts of forests and began a process of mass land accumulation and consolidation by timber companies and foreign investors. Lumber towns, which began to dot the landscape during the period, were built on this premise of settlement for extraction and not for sustainable habitation. This process led to absentee land ownership, undervalued land, and the gradual degradation of forested areas solely for the profit of the timber monopolies. Then, as the industry turned to the Pacific Northwest for more easily accessible forests, Appalachia’s first monoculture began to fail.  The timber industry left in its wake not only toxic soils, poisoned waters, and deeply disturbed ecosystems, but an established framework for resource extraction, infrastructure, and labor force housing.

Devoid of competition from the timber companies, the mining industry was free to lay its roots amidst the Appalachian Mountains’ bountiful coal seams. Laborers again bore the industry’s weight; by the early 20th century, minimal opportunity for work laid outside of the coal mines. Skilled miners were targeted and extracted from their home states, while company towns, where racial segregation ran rampant, made individual wealth accumulation impossible due to the use of company scrip as currency. As coal became less plentiful, the industry turned to increasingly hazardous mining practices such as large-scale mountaintop removal which leveled the region’s mountain tops and filled nearby valleys, waterways, and air with unmitigable pollutants. At the same time, advancements in extractive technologies, as well as the broad transition to natural gas, dramatically cut coal employment through the latter half of the 20th century.[5] The coal industry carved a foothold for the extraction of other fossil fuels, in particular natural gas, that added to environmental devastation through fracking, drilling, and clearcutting for natural gas pipelines. Today, corporate interests uphold the notion that “Coal is King” and have been effective in solidifying this monoculture as nearly synonymous with the Appalachian identity.

Just as King Coal descended in the wake of industrial timber’s reign, the carceral state has embedded itself into the skeleton of the waning fossil fuel industry. A combination of federal land grant programs, successful lobbying, and entrenched political agendas have persuaded rural municipalities, specifically those reeling from the departure of coal employment, to court contracts for state and federal detention facilities. Sites of mountain-top removal, some of the only flattened lands in the region, have been redesigned and engineered to host the new prisons. The region now hosts a total of 761 correctional facilities including county, state, and federal jails, juvenile facilities, and most recently immigration detention centers.[6] The effects of this carceral archipelago do not simply perpetuate land and natural resources degradation, but transform mass incarceration into a false promise for economic revitalization. Appalachian communities are sold on the construction of prisons as a ‘recession proof industry’ that heralds an increase in job opportunities, a new source of tax revenue, and a land use fit to consume the now surplus land damaged by coal mining. Little evidence exists to support these claims of economic recovery: Appalachian counties with prisons show no significant improvement in employment, income, or local investments compared to those without.[7]

Now, as we observe local organizations mobilize to resist the further development of the carceral state, so too may the Green New Deal offer an inflection point to reverse the false promises of these industries of extraction. To accomplish this, a Green New Deal for Appalachia must be designed to end its reliance on mono-economies, be steadfast in its protection of workers, and support the resistance against the faceless powers that wreak havoc on Appalachia’s land and people. 
As future practitioners engage in the design, planning, and production of space, we uphold that a resolution of such magnitude necessarily requires us to reshape our disciplines. It demands that the design professions prioritize decolonial and abolitionist practices; center partnerships with community organizers, artists, and activists; and seek knowledge derived from outside formal training. We believe that if a Green New Deal embodies these principles, it can aid in the transformation of Appalachia from sacrifice zone to sanctuary. 

“There’s an idea that Appalachia is not fundamentally part of the United States, that it’s a place within a place, and it’s not a place but a problem… Our stories – the story of Appalachia cannot be separated from the story of the United States and the historical forces that have shaped us”[1]

—Elizabeth Catte

“In the mental geography of the capitalist world system, Appalachia has only ever existed in three ways: as a site of extraction, a site of scarcity, and a site of disposal...Appalachia is an economic and environmental crucible, a place where capitalism’s worst impulses are cultivated and unleashed – and, later, where the by-products of those processes can be dumped”[2]


––Sam Adler-Bell

For both criminal justice and environmental justice, issues of public health, education, employment, and housing are of equal concern; both promote an ethos of care over neglect. It is for these reasons that we believe prison abolition must be central to an Appalachian Green New Deal. 

Source: Designing a Green New Deal studio, A.L. McCullough and Amber Hassanein 

By Green New Deal Superstudio

[1]“Historian Makes Case For ‘What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia’ In New Book.” NPR. NPR, January 31, 2018. 

[2] Adler-Bell, Sam. “Appalachia vs. the Carceral State.” The New Republic, November 25, 2019. 

[3] “A Century of Lawmaking.” A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774 - 1875. Accessed March 07, 2021. 

[4]Eller, Ronald D. “Land as Commodity: Industrialization of the Appalachain Forests. 1880-1940.” In The Great Forest: An Appalachian Story, edited by Buxton Barry M., by Gray Sam and Williams Michael Ann, 27-42. Appalachian State University, 1985.

Planting Plenty: A publication in partnership with the Midwestern Agricultural Regeneration Agency (MARA) to commemorate 50 years of the Green New Deal.

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