Fueling the industrialization of the United States, coal mining supported economic growth for more than a century in Appalachian coal country. The birth of the coal industry built hundreds of new coal-company towns in Appalachia populated by thousands of citizens. Between wealthy coal barons and many hard-working coal miners, these Appalachian communities were proud places with busy beginnings.
The dramatic closure of mines after World War II left many unemployed, creating a depressed economy and a landscape compromised by years of unregulated resource extraction. Mining conducted prior to the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 resulted in untreated flows of acidic, metals-laden water or acid mine drainage (AMD). AMD coats streams in orange sludge which disrupts healthy aquatic life for years after the mine has closed. In many former coal towns, where adequate sewage infrastructure was never installed, "straight pipes" still feed untreated sewage directly from household toilets into creeks.
Nearly 400 volunteer community improvement groups have formed in the Appalachian coal country to combat poverty and environmental degradation. The ACCT supplies as many of these sites as possible with skills to build their local capacity and to promote economic redevelopment and environmental stewardship. Using a model of community revitalization, the ACCT empowers local volunteers to clearly identify and address their own unmet needs. The Team works with groups to strengthen their local support and involvement and build lasting partnerships at the local, state and federal levels. In coal-impacted communities where traditions of swimming, boating and fishing once connected locals with their ecosystems and with one another, economic redevelopment projects offer a site around which citizens can gather. These projects renew civic engagement and natural resource-based economic possibility as they restore the rivers and streams themselves.