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The Appalachian region and other parts of the U.S. are facing a dramatic new buildout of petrochemical facilities, pipelines and infrastructure, a massive expansion in its capacity to produce ethane from fracked natural gas for plastic manufacturing.

Facing a threat as large as this requires strong partners. At Earthworks, we are so pleased to see the launch of The Ohio River Valley-Appalachia Collaborative Fund at the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies to support nonprofit organizations working to protect the region’s environment, health and communities from shale and petrochemical development.

Nationwide, more than 333 new or expanded U.S. facilities are proposed in the coming years. Plastics production may account for 20 percent of all oil consumption by 2050. If unchecked, this will pour millions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere each year and fill our oceans with plastic. The production would worsen climate change, while polluting our air, water, and communities. And, it would lock in production of fossil fuels, from places like Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. The Appalachian region is already the nation’s largest producer of natural gas. Now oil and gas companies fracking the Marcellus and Utica Shales are looking to petrochemicals for plastics as a new profit center.

As the world acts to address the twin emergencies of climate change and plastic pollution, Appalachia finds itself at a crossroads. The region has shed much of its industrial past and while many leaders in the region embrace the development of renewable energy, the temptation to jump from extractive and polluting coal mining and fracking to extractive and polluting petrochemical manufacturing risks locking Appalachia into another generation of fracking, making the region the heart of climate change emissions and plastics production for future decades.

Through the new fund, the Community Foundation for the Alleghenies is providing philanthropic foundations a means to support Appalachia’s movement away from extraction and pollution, and toward a more sustainable economic and environmental pathway. It will support environmental protection, efforts to create alternatives to petrochemical and shale expansion in the region, and opportunities to develop economic transition for the region.

The new collaborative fund welcomes the expertise, knowledge and financial support of the philanthropic partners working to address the climate crisis; protect the environment from plastic pollution; promote just transitions away from coal, oil and gas; working with communities to pursue sustainable, equitable and just outcomes; and protecting ecosystems, the environment and public health.

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