Post-Coal Futures in Central Appalachia: A Critique of the Appalachian Regional Commission and Liberal Economic Development Models

TR Number



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Virginia Tech


This project critically evaluates liberal development plans created for Central Appalachia by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) through a historical materialist lens. It demonstrates that these plans and their explicitly liberal origins are not sufficient for the working classes in the region to achieve a sustainable 'post-coal' future. Central Appalachia is one of the most impoverished regions in the United States and its political economy was shaped largely by coal mining that was overseen by absentee proprietors. This mono-economic structure has bred unique political conditions in the region. The economics of coal have historically influenced most political decisions. As the coal industry has declined, the region has been subjected to multitudes of economic development plans from the ARC. However, Central Appalachia still exists as an impoverished peripheral zone within the United States' political economy. This thesis is motivated by the decline of coal and the economic and ecological hardships this has created for the region's working-class, and the urgent need to begin envisioning a post-coal future for the region which avoids the insufficiency of liberal economic development. The thesis is not purely an attack on the ARC as an organization, but is rather a critique of the methods they use to enact economic development and shows how these methods are not only inadequate for the Appalachian working class, but all working classes subjected to the liberal economic development model.



Appalachia, Eco-Marxism, Liberalism, Appalachian Regional Commission, Coal Mining, Economic Development