By Elizabeth E. Payne
On July 19, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a $35.3 billion appropriations bill that would fund the federal Department of the Interior, the U.S. Forest Service and the Environmental Protection Agency. The bill passed by a vote of 217 to 199, along party lines.
At press time in early August, the bill still needed to be passed by the Senate before becoming law.
Democrats opposed the bill, citing provisions that would weaken environmental protections and limit due process cited concerns for regulations that would limit environmental protections in their opposition, according to the National Association of Counties, an organization that represents the nation’s county governments. These environmental riders include: preventing U.S. Fish and Wildlife from listing the sage grouse as an endangered species, removing endangered species protections for the gray wolf by 2019 and prohibiting judicial review of that decision, and forbidding the EPA from requiring waste management systems at large industrial livestock operations, among many other provisions.
Included in the appropriations bill for the Department of the Interior, however, were two amendments that would renew funding for a pilot program that restores abandoned coal mine sites with economic development potential. The first amendment expands the eligible states from three to six (Virginia, Alabama and Ohio were added to West Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania); and the second amendment provided for $115 million in annual funding instead of the $90 million initially proposed.
Congress passed a similar funding package in last year’s budget and the grants have been used to reclaim former coal mines in order to restore vibrant local economies.
“This program has funded some great projects that have already broken ground in coal communities throughout Appalachia,” said Thom Kay, the senior legislative representative for Appalachian Voices, the publisher of this paper. “Representatives Johnson and Griffith have ensured the benefits of the program reach even more communities, and we’re grateful for their efforts.”