We spent today in Berlin in discussions with government ministry officials and a diverse set of leaders involved in designing policy to support coal miners and mining communities. They explained to us that they understood the coal industry was changing whether they decided to act or not. As a result, they came together to discuss a policy to support coal communities. They did this not because they agreed with one another about how or what to do, but because they agreed that they could try to prevent hardships even if they could not prevent the loss of the coal industry.
This past year has been full of hardship for our communities and miners in Kentucky. The coal company bankruptcies and unpaid wages, the continuing epidemic of black lung disease and, most recently, the floods that deeply impacted our neighbors. Germany doesn’t have all the answers, but the amount of support that they are dedicating to support structural economic change in coal communities in their country is a source of inspiration for what we can ask our nation to do for ours.
Something that we spoke a lot about today is how critical it is to have communities involved in deciding their own futures. People know what they are good at and what they are qualified to do so they should have a role in deciding what kinds of jobs they want in their towns. And, in fact, the state and municipal governments will be given the authority to develop a plan for their own communities and then granted the money to implement it. As I was told about this process, I was reminded of the state of Kentucky’s transition away from tobacco production.
For those that don’t remember, in 2004 the federal government developed a program for tobacco farmers because it was getting harder and harder to support tobacco prices. The program “bought out” farmers from growing tobacco (farmers were given a lump sum of money according to how much tobacco they had grown) and created cost-share and loan programs to support new farm enterprises. The state of Kentucky developed a formula to distribute funding to counties that were economically dependent on tobacco. However, advisory boards were established at the county level so that local farmers could develop their own ideas about priorities for their communities and the kinds of programs that they thought would be most helpful. The plans were submitted to the state for approval and then funded. Unfortunately, not all of the counties were able to organize themselves sufficiently to make a plan. How would our communities organize if we were told to make a plan that would then be funded? Who should be represented on the planning commission and advisory board? These were the thoughts running through my mind today.
Sadly, I do not have any photos to share from the conversations today. Instead, here are a few photos of rainy Berlin that I snapped on our walk over to the meeting!