Senator Brown talks about green manufacturing with a panel of experts over zoom. (Image from recording.)

The federal government has a role to play in helping Appalachia embrace a new kind of manufacturing that reduces harm to the environment, strengthens local economies and may even support industries working to mitigate climate change, according to Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown.

The senator participated in a virtual roundtable hosted by ReImagine Appalachia, a coalition of individuals and organizations working to revitalize the economy and environment in the Ohio River Valley.

Panelists spoke about the ways that things like combined heat and power, electric cars and hemp can benefit both Appalachia’s industrial sector and the planet. In turn, Senator Brown asked how legislators like himself can contribute to these efforts. Among other requests, direct investment from the federal government was high on many wish lists.

“We began this work in the context of national climate conversations which have largely been driven by folks on the East and West Coasts, but have significant implications for Appalachia,” said Amanda Woodrum, senior researcher at Policy Matters Ohio.

Policy that considers our country’s coasts before its heartland is not a new legislative pitfall. “Appalachia has long fueled the prosperity of the rest of the nation while [suffering] in poverty, exploited by absentee corporations in the extractive industries,” said Woodrum. That’s why she and her colleagues are calling for a federal climate infrastructure program for Appalachia developed by the people who live there. 

It’s also why ReImagine Appalachia convened this virtual roundtable, connecting people doing work on the ground with a local policymaker invested in their efforts. 

Among the speakers were Cliff Haefke and Graeme Miller, from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Midwest Combined Heat and Power Technical Assistance Partnership (CHP TAP). They discussed the Combined Heat and Power (CHP), a suite of technologies that generate electricity and useful thermal energy from a single fuel source, usually natural gas. 

Because CHP systems have a very high fuel efficiency, they can significantly lower energy costs for businesses. Higher efficiency also means reduced carbon emissions. 

Kristi Olmi, chief economic development officer at K.O. Consulting, an Ohio-based firm that helps small businesses and nonprofits, talked about looking at clean manufacturing from a start-up perspective. 

Her team’s idea was that “green industrial manufacturing ecosystems needed the same focus and assistance that we see for small business incubators.” Right now, they’re concentrating their efforts on the opportunity presented by sustainable hemp production in Ohio. 

As the discussion continued, speakers illustrated how a sustainable future for Appalachia lies at the intersection of industry, economy and the environment, underscoring Senator Brown’s early remark that it’s not “the pipefitter against the Sierra Club member.” 

Topics included Appalachia’s role in the future of electric cars, the challenges and opportunities associated with growing energy storage in the region, the need for viable career paths, not just “jobs” in Appalachia and the importance of a “pro-worker, pro-climate” agenda. 

Watch a full recording of ReImagine Appalachia’s clean manufacturing roundtable with Senator Sherrod Brown here.