Appalachian Research Initiative for Environmental Science (ARIES) was formed to address the environmental impacts of the discovery, development, production, and use of energy resources in Appalachia.

ARIES focuses on Central Appalachia (WV-PA-KY-OH-VA) for a range of reasons.

The energy industry is a main source of capital in this region. Due to the remote location of much of Central Appalachia’s population, it is is difficult for other industries to locate here. Though the ARIES project was prompted by the need to look holistically at the effects of the coal industry in this region, the same research model and researchers are now ready to assess natural gas, the effects of wind or hydro, or other kinds of industries.

There is no one size fits all answer to Appalachia’s fiscal, environmental, and health profile, however, the ARIES project illuminates means by which economic and environmental stewardship can co-exist and/or which factors must be addressed concurrently such as health and livelihood. The need to be holistic in approach in this region accounts for the potential for those industries adjacent to the current or past natural resource-dependent industries to also be developed.

Co-relative studies on health in Central Appalachia provide insight but are not definitive in terms of how to predict or address health improvement or outcomes. For example, higher incomes also lead to better health in Central Appalachia, just as they do in the rest of the United States.

Nevertheless, in 2009, eighty-one counties in Appalachia qualified for distress county status due to low per capita income and high rate of unemployment and poverty. Most of these counties are found in and near the Central Appalachian states of Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia. The Central Appalachian subregion of Appalachia as a whole has the highest rates of poverty, 32%, and “Free and Reduced Lunch,” 58.9%. One-third of the 100 poorest counties in the United States are concentrated in the coalfields.

Moreover, there has been a dearth of government spending on this region and there remains a lack of infrastructure, such as freeways, commuter rails, Internet connectivity, and public universities.

Appalachia also has higher rates of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes than does the United States as a whole, and it is much more difficult to find accessible treatment and affordable health care within the region. The Central Appalachian region is less accessible by major roads and is distant from bigger cities, therefore people in the region are often deprived of health resources and the opportunity to meet with specialists.

College graduation rates are lower than the nation in the Appalachian portion of every state. Less than 20% of adults have a college degree in the Appalachian portion of Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. In Central Appalachia, less than 12% of adults have a college degree. Less than three out of four working-age adults in fifty-three Appalachian counties finished high school; almost all of these counties were outside of metropolitan areas, and more than half of which were in central Appalachia. In fact, 64.1% of the population in Central Appalachia graduated from high school, the lowest rate of any Appalachian area. Only 10.7% of Central Appalachian residents graduated from college.

Thus, ARIES‘ research plays a role in addressing health together with economics, and, also builds upon the opportunity to develop and mentor science in a region in dire need of more STEM specialists.

 Why focus on the environment in Appalachia?

In addition to reserves of coal and natural gas, the Appalachian Mountains are home to a unique biodiversity, invaluable freshwater resources, and fertile soil. The freshwater rivers and streams that lace through the mountainous region are connected to the drinking water of millions of Americans along the eastern side of the country.1 Appalachian soil, being rich with organic matter and nutrients, provide the literal foundation for agriculture and forestry, sustaining the local culture and economy.1

Environmental health issues have been of concern to policy-makers for decades now, and measures have been taken to help ensure a higher quality of the Appalachian environment. In 1969, United States Congress brought into effect the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), calling for all branches of government to give “proper consideration to the environment” before undertaking any major actions that would have significant environmental implications.2 Three years later, Congress “reorganized and expanded upon” the Federal Water Pollution Control Act prohibiting discharge of pollutants into navigable waters, setting wastewater standards, and setting water quality standards for all contaminants in surface waters, the new “Clean Water Act” set higher standards for water quality in the US.3 Kentucky, Ohio, and New York have implemented “clean coal incentives,” offering tax credits or similar benefits for the construction of coal facilities that utilize “clean coal technologies.”

Pennsylvania is the only state in the Appalachian region to adhere to an Energy Efficiency Resource Standard (EERS), which calls for energy utilities to meet a quantitative standard for energy savings.4 In 2011, the United States EPA made an effort to encourage closer adherence to NEPA and CWA regulations and standards, as negative environmental impacts were still being documented by the scientific community. This effort was directed particularly toward Appalachian surface coal mining operations, as the EPA emphasizes the importance of maintaining high water quality for the purposes of drinking, swimming, fishing, and other uses.5

The approach of the Appalachian Research Initiative for Environmental Science is that governmental regulation of the environment will continue and that states, industry, and researchers should be proactive in anticipating science and researching means and modes to protect the environment even prior to the creation of additional regulation.


1 Minney, T. The Nature Conservancy. (2015). Recent Study Offers First Comprehensive Picture   of Appalachian Energy Development. Retrieved from   http://blog.nature.org/science/2015/03/05/new-study-offers-first-comprehensive-picture-    of-appalachian-energy-development/

2 Doshi, S. K. & Todd, J. H. (2014). Soil as a Pillar for a New Appalachian Economy. Retrieved   from http://www.appalachiantransition.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Doshi-and-       Todd-Essay-Final.pdf

3 United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2015). Summary of the Clean Water Act.         Retrieved from http://www2.epa.gov/laws-regulations/summary-clean-water-act

4 The Keystone Center. (2006). National and State Energy Policy Trends: Appalachian Region      Energy Blueprint Research Brief. Retrieved from             http://www.arc.gov/assets/research_reports/SummaryofNationalandStateEnergyPolicyTre nds.pdf

5 United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2011). Improving EPA Review of        Appalachian Surface Coal Mining Operations Under the Clean Water Act, National        Environmental Policy Act, and the Environmental Justice Executive Order. Retrieved    from             http://appvoices.org/images/uploads/2012/08/Final_Appalachian_Mining_Guidance_072   11111.pdf


ARIES is a research consortium with major research centers in Appalachia participating:



and consultants in Epidemiology and Occupational Health (which includes faculty from Georgetown University and Johns Hopkins University). It is managed by Virginia Tech at the Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research.

Governors’ Support

Letter of support from five state governors

The formation of the Appalachian Research Initiative for Environmental Sciencewas announced on March 31, 2011. It received immediate support, including endorsement by the then governors of five Appalachian states.

Appalachian Research Initiative for Environmental Science Most Recent Commissioned Report

Report Coal VA Budget

To download ARIES‘ most recent sponsored report on the economics of coal in the State of Virginia by the Ohio State University professors of Economics Michael D. Farren and Mark D. Partridge, click here (http://www.energy.vt.edu/aries/bulletin/aries_report.pdf).

Here is a link to recent press about this report: http://www.bdtonline.com/news/study-coalfields-expressway-m-annual-economic-benefit/article_ad615606-7605-11e5-9a4d-1b2ea1e555ca.html

Our Recent Conference

ECEP Conference Poster

ARIES, in cooperation with the Society for Mining, Metallurgy & Exploration (SME), sponsored the 2015 Environmental Considerations in Energy Production Conference (ECEP) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania September 20- 23, 2015.  See the full conference agenda at www.ariesevents.org.

The 2015 conference was a follow up on the 2013 ECEP symposium held in Charleston, West Virginia.  (Proceedings volume is available from SME at this link.)

On Social Media

Follow ARIES on Twitter: ARIES_VT

Learn more about ARIES and the research and researchers it supports at YouTube: ARIES_Initiative

Like ARIES on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ARIES.VirginiaTech


Seattle BMW Repair

Recent presentations at the ARIES Environmental Considerations in Energy Production Conference.

Follow our presentations on Slideshare: http://www.slideshare.net/AppalachianResearchInitiative


We welcome you to learn more about the Appalachian Research Initiative for Environmental Science by contacting our staff, visiting our social media, and exploring this website.