Dana Kuhnline, RECLAIM Campaign Coordinator
Cat McCue, Sr. Communications and Public Engagement Strategist
The U.S. House of Representatives today passed the RECLAIM Act (HR 2156) as part of The Moving Forward Act (HR 2), a bill to address America’s infrastructure needs and create jobs in the wake of the economic and health crisis caused by Covid-19.
The RECLAIM Act would invest $1 billion in projects that clean up abandoned coal mines and their polluted waters, and catalyze community economic development projects on or near the reclaimed sites. These funds would be invested in more than 20 states across the country, including Virginia.
In addition to the RECLAIM Act, the omnibus bill also includes HR 4248 to reauthorize the fee supporting the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Reclamation Fund. According to a recent study, in combination these two bills would create over 13,000 jobs per year restoring abandoned mine lands and waters in Appalachia.
These two initiatives were recently endorsed by more 100 organizations across the U.S. in a letter to congressional leadership.
The bills could bring $36 million over five years to Virginia (which has an estimated $426 million in unfunded AML sites). A total of 15 Virginian counties are burdened with remaining AML liabilities, with Wise, Buchanan and Dickenson counties topping the list.
For years, residents have advocated for these bills as job creation measures to support coal communities as they faced job loss and economic decline due to a disappearing coal industry. However, these jobs are even more critical for coalfield communities as they grapple with further economic decline due to the Covid-19 crisis.
“Passage of the RECLAIM Act and AML Reauthorization would be a game changer for Southwest Virginia communities, which have been working hard for several years to move these bills forward,” said Chelsea Barnes, New Economy Program Manager with Appalachian Voices. “The Senate must prioritize this legislation now to help Southwest Virginia and all coal-impacted communities recover and thrive, especially given the current economic recession.”
The bills will be sent as part of the Moving Forward Act to the U.S. Senate for consideration. Citizens across the country have collected hundreds of postcards, sent thousands of emails and passed local government resolutions in favor of the RECLAIM Act and the AML Reauthorization.