Press Release

Advocates call on Congress for urgent action to help coal communities

Appalachian Voices and more than 100 organizations sign letter to House leadership

CONTACT:

Thom Kay, Senior Legislative Representative, thom.kay@appvoices.org

Cat McCue, Senior Communications Strategist, cat@appvoices.org

Washington, D.C. – More than 100 organizations have added their names to a sign-on letter urging leaders in the House of Representatives to prioritize several bills that would aid coal-impacted communities across America. These bills have stalled in Congress, despite bipartisan support and an urgent need for solutions in former coal mining communities. The letter was sent to House leadership this morning.

Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA) joined advocates from Appalachia in a press call to urge an end to the delays.

“From revitalizing our mine-scarred lands to taking care of the people who used to work them, our coal communities face many challenges,” said Rep. Cartwright. “There’s a lot of work to do, and it’s why I’m leading legislation supported by both Democrats and Republicans to reauthorize the Abandoned Mine Land Trust Fund, accelerate investments from it and ensure miners with black lung disease get the benefits they deserve. Coal country can’t wait any longer. I’m urging my colleagues in leadership to bring these bills to the floor to protect the rights of miners and their families, create jobs and revitalize our communities.”

Rep. Cartwright joined advocates to urge that House leadership bring the following legislation to the floor:

Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act Amendments of 2019 (H.R.4248), to address the clean-up of dangerous and polluting abandoned mine lands;

RECLAIM Act (H.R. 2156), to spur immediate job creation and create the conditions for longer term, locally driven economic development efforts in coal communities; and

Black Lung Benefits Disability Trust Fund Solvency Act (H.R.3876), to adequately fund the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund at prior level for 10 years.

These are key opportunities to support miners, clean up environmental hazards, lay the foundation for new jobs and create an economic boost for communities struggling with the decline of the coal industry.

This past week, the Senate announced upcoming votes on legislative packages that provide an opportunity to advance legislation for coal-impacted communities. Legislation such as the RECLAIM Act is a perfect fit for either of these packages, addressing changes in energy production, and the future health of our communities and public lands.

Advocates on the press call shared information on the ways these bills could begin to fix serious issues that are holding back their communities as they work to diversify and strengthen local economies.

West Virginia State Delegate Evan Hansen (D – Monongalia, 51) spoke about the need for just transition in the state for communities impacted by job losses in coal mining and coal generation. “We need to help diversify those economies and create jobs. We need the resources available at the national level to support our local and state efforts.”

Betty Sue Hess, Treasurer of the Vansant, Va. Chapter of the Black Lung Association talked about how her husband’s black lung disease has severely impacted their family and how this growing epidemic is impacting her larger community. She spoke about the desperate need for the Black Lung Excise Tax to protect miners and their families suffering from this serious illness and asked congress to help her community by ensuring the solvency of the Black Lung Trust Fund.

“I invite leadership to attend our black lung meetings and see firsthand the problems our members have. My neighbor had to sell his cattle. He can’t breathe the cold air, and in the summertime, the heat is unsafe. This disease affects the whole family, and the whole community, not just the coal miner,” said Dean Vance of Honaker, VA. Vance worked 13 years in coal mines before being brought out due to injuries from an explosion. This is his third year as president of the Black Lung Association of Southwest Virginia, Chapter 1. “Coal miners are dependent on a ten year extension of the Black Lung Excise Tax.”

“My hometown, like many others in the coalfields, deserves attention, clean water, good paying jobs, and a better quality of life. There is a great opportunity for those who have worked in the coal industry in the field of abandoned mine reclamation. Mine reclamation can become a major generator for job creation,” said speaker Bobby Hughes. Hughes is the executive director of the Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation and a lifelong resident of Representative Cartwright’s district in the coal region of Northeast Pennsylvania.

Advocates have gathered signatures from local and national organizations on a letter that was sent to Congressional leadership today. The diverse list of 109 organizations who have joined the letter includes national labor unions, community groups, economic development organizations, reclamation specialists, environmental non-profits, faith-based organizations, and black lung advocacy groups. There are nearly three dozen national and regional groups joining 75 organizations working locally across 15 states.

In the letter, they state: “Rebuilding regional economies takes many years. Coal communities and workers have powered American homes and businesses for more than a century, and they deserve support as America’s energy landscape changes.”

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