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Appalachian Homestead Act Designed to Bring Hope to the Coalfields

A new homesteading law for Appalachia could help bring agriculture and hope to the coalfields. (WV Division Of Tourism)
A new homesteading law for Appalachia could help bring agriculture and hope to the coalfields. (WV Division Of Tourism)
June 6, 2016

CHARLESTON, W. Va. - Could homesteading, giving people free land for agricultural and other uses, bring some hope to central Appalachia?

Jim Branscome is a native of the Virginia coalfields.

The retired Standard & Poor's executive and former journalist has watched the fall in coal prices deliver the latest blow to the central Appalachian economy.

And Branscome says, under an Appalachian Homestead Act, the federal government could purchase land from bankrupted coal companies.

He says that land could then be turned to purposes like livestock, forestry, orchards, gardening and farms.

"Bringing agriculture back to the level that it had over previous decades," he says. "We basically quit farming in a lot of these regions in West Virginia and southern, southwestern Virginia and eastern Kentucky."

Branscome says it might be the "single best solution for mountain poverty."

He's argued for it in op-ed articles in several regional newspapers.

Branscome says those pieces have received an overwhelming response.

Branscome stresses homesteading would restore the mined lands, a form of conservation that would make it more suited for recreation and other uses.

He compares it to the federal policies that helped settle the west.

Branscome says hardworking Appalachians only need business and job opportunities.

"People not having access to those kinds of things is what keeps an economy in a backwards state," he says. "We need to restore that sense of pride and progress, as opposed to there is little or no hope."

According to Branscome, coal companies own 1.3 million acres in eastern Kentucky and even more in West Virginia and southwestern Virginia.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV