On April 9, the RECLAIM Act was introduced in Congress with bipartisan sponsorship for the crucial initiative supporting coal-impacted communities in Appalachia. The bill, HR 2156, would commit $1 billion in existing funds to clean up abandoned coal mining sites and impacted waters. Importantly, it prioritizes public input and community participation in determining which projects are chosen and how they are implemented.
The reclamation projects would link to economic development efforts driven by local communities, such as agriculture, renewable energy and recreational tourism projects. The sites could serve as long-term opportunities to create permanent local jobs, helping to lay a foundation for future economic development and diversification in coal communities.
RECLAIM Act would expedite the distribution of $1 billion from the Abandoned Mine Land Fund to states and tribes starting in fiscal year 2020.
The RECLAIM Act is urgently needed now to create jobs, empower local communities and build long-term opportunities for working families in communities where coal has historically been the backbone of the local economy.
The bill would provide an immediate economic boost to communities and could put laid off miners – who possess the skills necessary for this type of reclamation work – and others to work. Government estimates show the funds could create at least 4,600 direct reclamation jobs across the country.
RECLAIM’s introduction follows a hearing March 28 on innovative mine reclamation. Among the witnesses supporting the bill was Kentucky resident Eric Dixon, with Appalachian Citizens Law Center:
I live in Knott County, Kentucky, in a region of Central Appalachia with a long history of coal mining. There is an abandoned coal mine less than a mile from my front porch. Along my drive to work, I pass dozens of remnants left from unreclaimed pre- and post-Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (“pre-SMCRA” and “post-SMCRA”) coal mining. To provide a sense of what unreclaimed mine features often look like in the community, I took the photos below last week of a spot on my route where acid mine drainage pours heavy metals out of the mountainside into Sandlick Creek. It starts at the local fire department and runs along front yards 10 of homes where children are often playing.
Appalachian Voices worked in close partnership with the RECLAIM Coalition to educate lawmakers on the importance of this bill. The bill’s lead sponsor is Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA), with Hal Rogers (R-KY), Don Beyer (D-VA), and G.T. Thompson (R-PA) as original cosponsors. Since introduction, a number of representatives have agreed to co-sponsor and we expect the numbers to grow.
HR 2156 is almost identical to the version that was passed by the House Natural Resources Committee in 2017. We are hopeful the committee will vote positively on the current version soon, followed by a floor vote. We and our allies are also working with supporters in the Senate to introduce the bill there in the coming weeks.