Appalachia's growing geographic boundaries

Appalachian residents and policymakers are divided over President Bush's recent expansion of Appalachia's geographic boundaries. Bush signed a measure earlier this month that gives 10 additional counties in Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia a cut of about $87 million in federal funds set aside this year for economic improvements in Appalachia's poor mountain communities, reports the Associated Press. But many of the new additions are not nearly as poor as communities in central Appalachia. According to the AP:

Poverty indicators show the contrast between counties in the heart of Appalachia and the new additions. For example, the federal government sent more than $12 million worth of food stamps in 2006 to Kentucky's Harlan County, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Nicholas County, where Carlisle is located, received just $1.1 million.

Despite the difference in poverty levels, many of the new additions have seen recent economic hardship. As a result, local officials in the new counties lobbied to be included in the redrawn region in order to tap into the funding source. But residents and policymakers in the heart of central Appalachia are concerned that the changes will take needed funds from the most impoverished areas in the core of Appalachia.

"When you continue to expand the counties, ultimately it creates a smaller pool of resources for use in the most severely distressed areas of the region," Ron Eller, an Appalachian scholar and former director of the University of Kentucky's Appalachian Center, told the AP. "Most of the severely distressed counties in Appalachia have been persistently distressed for more than a half century if not longer. In many cases, the counties being added have gone through a more recent cycle of decline, and have not been persistently distressed in that way over time."

The geographic expansion is not the only contentious news coming from the region this month. Last week environmentalists and residents in central Appalachia were left reeling when the Bush administration proposed a revision, amounting to a repeal, of one of the last regulatory protections against the destructive practice of mountaintop removal, a mining practice widely used in West Virginia, Kentucky and parts of Virginia and Tennessee. The proposed rule would rewrite a regulation enacted in 1983 that bars coal companies from dumping massive waste piles within 100 feet of streams in order to preserve water quality. By some estimates some 2,000 miles of Appalachian streams have already been buried by waste dumping and hundreds of square miles of forests damaged.