Thom Kay, Legislative Director, firstname.lastname@example.org, 864-580-1843
Cat McCue, Communications Strategist, email@example.com, 434-293-6373
Read our March 5 blog for more background.
Washington, DC — As coal-impacted communities grapple with economic decline and public health risks made significantly worse by the Covid-19 crisis, Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA) and Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-PA) introduced two bills in the House today to spur immediate job creation and help ensure that coal country is a part of the economic recovery.
The bills — Revitalizing the Economy of Coal Communities by Leveraging Local Activities and Investing More Act (RECLAIM Act) as well as legislation to reauthorize the Abandoned Mine Lands fund (titled Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act Amendments of 2021) — would create an estimated 13,000 new jobs in Appalachia immediately in reclamation alone. Both have significant bipartisan support.
“These bipartisan bills work hand-in-hand by reclaiming and restoring abandoned coal mines and the waters they pollute, and turning them into innovative economic hubs that create jobs in agriculture, tourism, retail, and renewable energy,” said Lou Ann Wallace, a member of the Board of Supervisors in Russell County, in Virginia’s historical coal region. “Together, these bills will create an estimated 13,000 new jobs across Appalachia in reclamation alone. It’s also extremely important to point out that this is an opportunity to prevent disaster by protecting our communities against flooding and landslides and we certainly have experienced this first hand in my district of Dante, in Southwest Virginia.”
Appalachian communities that have depended on the coal industry have been hit doubly hard in the last year, with more mines and power plants expected to close as the coal economy’s decline is accelerated by Covid-19.
The RECLAIM Act, by investing $1 billion in projects to clean up abandoned coal mines and the waters they pollute in 20 states, is a vital step toward strengthening infrastructure, creating thousands of new jobs and sparking economic development and recovery in coal communities across the country. RECLAIM Act funds can be used to strengthen the nation’s infrastructure by repairing land and waterways damaged by mining, treating polluted waters, sealing and filling abandoned mine entries, and developing erosion prevention measures to prevent dangerous landslides and mudslides. With abandoned mine sites made available for new uses, reclamation projects can turn them into economic hubs that employ thousands of people in agriculture, tourism, retail and renewable energy while injecting new resources into the local tax base.
The bill to reauthorize the Abandoned Mine Lands Fund would reauthorize the fee that coal companies pay into the fund, which is used to stabilize coal sites and clean up damaged land and water. Over the years, the program has eliminated 46,000 open mine portals, restored more than 1,000 miles of dangerous mine lands, and protected more than 7 million people from hazards like landslides and flooding. Going forward, it will take at least $11.5 billion to reclaim abandoned mine lands nationwide according to a federal estimate, which is likely low. But there is only $2.2 billion left in the fund. Reauthorizing the AML fee for another 15 years is essential to maintain the integrity of the program.
In recent years, Appalachian Voices has seen first hand, through a congressional pilot program, how investments to fund mine land reclamation coupled with economic development can allow community leaders to make real changes.
“That initial federal funding demonstrated that coal-impacted communities are poised for revitalization if they are simply given the resources to do so,” said Chelsea Barnes, New Economy Manager for Appalachian Voices. “It’s time for Congress to make a real investment here to create jobs, grow the local economies, remediate environmental harm and improve the overall resiliency of these communities.”
Dozens of local governments and representative bodies passed resolutions supporting the RECLAIM Act in recent years in part because many reclamation projects have already shown positive impacts on local communities. Many more projects are poised to create jobs with federal investments. The RECLAIM Act would direct millions of dollars in reclamation and economic development investments to states and tribes to build on and expand these successes, including $36 million to Virginia, $116 million to Kentucky, $20 million to Tennessee, more than $200 million to West Virginia, and $61 million to Ohio. (State breakdown here.)
Last year, a version of the RECLAIM Act bill passed the House as part of the Moving Forward Act (HR 2), but then stalled in the Senate. As the urgent need to act grows, so has momentum for reclamation opportunities. In an Executive Order signed in January, President Biden recognized the economic development and job creation possibilities created by reclamation.
The introduction of this legislation provides Congress with a bipartisan step forward to turn that potential into reality. Along with investing in the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund and reauthorizing Abandoned Mine Land Fund, passing the RECLAIM Act would be a start to the important work to ensure an equitable and sustainable economic future in coal communities and a bipartisan victory for the people and places that powered our country for generations.
Appalachian Voices is a leading nonprofit advocate for a healthy environment and just economy in the Appalachian region, and a driving force in America’s shift from fossil fuels to a clean energy future.