It’s December after the midterm elections, so Congress is now in what is known as the “lame-duck” period, when legislators who lost their election or chose not to run for reelection are still in power until the new Congress is seated. Because the Republican Party is taking over leadership in the U.S. House in 2023, this means that Democrats have less than a month to exercise their narrow majority in both chambers of Congress.app
The current Congress has less than a month to finish its business before the new 118th Congress is seated on Jan. 3, 2023, and they have a lot on their agenda. Legislators need to get their ducks in a row to pass the Fiscal Year 2023 government funding bill as well as the annual National Defense Authorization Act. In addition, Democrats want to get some of President Biden’s political appointees and judges through the Senate approval process, and they’re also prioritizing same-sex marriage laws, changes to electoral certification, and possibly energy permitting reform and even a public lands package. That’s a lot for Congress to wade into in just a few weeks, and there’s sure to involve a lot of squawking.
Appalachian Voices is working on a number of issues as these final votes near, and there are lots of ways for you to get involved to help ensure environmental protection for Appalachian communities.
Continuing to fight against Sen. Manchin and Majority Leader Schumer’s energy permitting “side deal”
After Manchin’s Energy Independence and Security Act of 2022 failed to garner enough support in September, he vowed to keep swimming along, working on negotiations to advance his permitting bill. You may recall, the Energy Independence and Security Act as Manchin’s “permitting reform” bill that attempts to green-light the Mountain Valley Pipeline and rolls back protections for communities impacted by energy projects. Now, Manchin is trying to attach his bill to the National Defense Authorization Act or the omnibus government spending bill.
Just this week, you helped us block efforts to attach his dirty deal to the NDAA in the House! We were able to briefly celebrate until we learned that Manchin is now trying to attach a new version of the bill, now called the “Building American Energy Security Act of 2022,” to the must-pass legislation.
Unleashing funding for acid mine drainage treatment
Coal-impacted communities won a huge victory in 2021 when Congress passed the bipartisan infrastructure law, which included a golden egg of $11.3 billion for cleaning up abandoned coal mine lands. Unfortunately, the bill had a technical error that prohibits states and tribes from using any of that funding for “set-aside accounts” that are necessary for treating acid mine drainage in streams and rivers throughout coal country.
Acid mine drainage turns waterways orange and makes them unlivable for wildlife such as fish and ducks (lame or otherwise). The STREAM Act fixes this problem, allowing states and tribes to use their allocations from the abandoned mine land fund to build acid mine drainage treatment facilities. The House passed this bill with near-unanimous support over the summer, but the Senate is running out of time to consider the bill on its own despite holding a hearing in the Energy and Natural Resources Committee Dec. 1. So we need Congress to attach this bill to the year-end omnibus spending bill! We’re deeply appreciative of the many advocates who have supported this bill this year. Help get it over the finish line!
Improving benefits for coal miners with black lung
Miners with black lung disease are promised health and disability support when they can no longer work. Currently, the monthly benefit levels don’t keep up with inflation — which is an enormous problem for miners and their families during this time of record inflation. Appalachian Voices is supporting members of the Black Lung Association asking Congress to update the benefit levels to keep up with inflation. Like the STREAM Act, the best channel forward for this change in law is to float along with the omnibus government spending bill.
Approving President Biden’s nominees for the TVA Board
TVA is the nation’s largest federal utility, and it serves 10 million people in the South and Appalachia. Unless the Senate acts soon to confirm Biden’s nominees, the TVA Board will only have three directors on its nine-member board. Because the board is nearly empty, major decisions about retiring coal plants have been delegated to the utiltiy’s pro-fossil fuel CEO. The TVA Board has a crucial role to play in helping Biden reach his climate goals — and without a functioning board, the administration will be swimming upstream trying to meet those goals.
Since April 2021, the president has named six qualified board members — all of whom have now moved out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and are ready for a vote on the Senate floor!
We are quickly running out of time to confirm new board members who can put TVA back on track and stand up for the people of the Tennessee Valley.
Funding for Abandoned Mine Land Revitalization Program
Every year as part of the government spending bill, Congress has to appropriate funding for the Abandoned Mine Land Economic Revitalization Program, which supports economic and community development projects on coal mined land in Appalachian states and on Crow, Hopi and Navajo land. Earlier this year in the Fiscal Year 2022 bill, Appalachian Voices successfully lobbied for the highest-ever funding level for this program at $122,500,000. With that feather in our cap, this fiscal year, we’re working to increase that level of funding and gain more transparency and better guidance for the program so that states and tribes can move projects through the approval process more efficiently but with more stakeholder input.
Counting down the 2022 legislative session
That all adds up to a lot on our plate, and much of it hinges on getting members of both parties (including some of those lame ducks) to come to the table and work together. And while sometimes that feels impossible, we remain hopeful we can get it all done before we hang new calendars on the wall. We couldn’t do any of this important work without our partners or without members and supporters like you — thanks for jumping in the water and swimming with us!