Press Release

Final budget bill includes unprecedented AMLER investment and STREAM Act, but neglects critically needed black lung benefits improvements

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 22, 2022

Contact:
Trey Pollard, trey@pollardcommunications.com, 202-904-9187

COAL COUNTRY — Today, Congress finally passed FY2023 appropriations legislation and secured two major victories for coal-impacted communities. The omnibus appropriations legislation passed today included the STREAM Act and an unprecedented $135 million investment in the AMLER program — but, the Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act was left out despite the urging of advocates from across coal country. Community leaders released the following statements in response to the status of each of these issues, which are also summarized below:

  • The Safeguarding Treatment for the Restoration of Ecosystems from Abandoned Mines Act. The bipartisan STREAM Act guarantees that major new investments in abandoned mine land clean up can be directed to address acid mine drainage that threatens waterways across the country. Introduced by Reps. Matt Cartwright, D-Penn., and David McKinley, R-W.Va., in the House and by Sens. Bob Casey, D-Penn., and Mike Braun, R-Ind., in the Senate, the bill addresses a technical issue in the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to ensure that some of the $11.3 billion in funding for the Abandoned Mine Lands program can be put in set-aside accounts for the long-term treatment of AMD. The STREAM Act just passed the Senate by unanimous consent last week, and now is included in the omnibus legislation that passed today and heads to President Biden’s desk to be signed into law. For more on the bill, visit here or watch this video from the Prairie Rivers Network in Illinois.

    “Pollution from acid mine drainage is prevalent in my community and across the coalfields of Tennessee,” said April Jarocki, Board Vice President, Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment. “I applaud Congress for acting to pass the STREAM Act to address this challenge. Cleaning up abandoned coal mines including acid mine drainage will help remove barriers to economic development and support communities in building safe and healthy places to live.”

    “We’ve worked for many years to restore water quality to polluted tributaries in West Virginia, but there’s still a lot of work to be done,” said Amanda Pitzer, Director at Friends of the Cheat in West Virginia. “We are thankful to Sen. Manchin for his leadership in getting this bill over the finish line. With the passage of STREAM, we have the potential to expand paddling, fishing and swimming throughout the Cheat River watershed. With continued support of the Abandoned Mine Land fund and the ability for our states to put money in the acid mine drainage set aside account, we’re ready to expand our work to clean up our watersheds and bring more people back to the river.”

    “A major number of acid mine drainage discharges in Pennsylvania are still in need of treatment,” said Bobby Hughes, Director at Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation. “These funds are necessary to help states and community groups ensure that the appropriate costs are considered during the planning, design, construction and long-term operation of these AMD treatment systems, which will need ongoing maintenance and repairs. Further, the addition of language to address mine fires is helpful for Pennsylvania. Mine fires are very costly projects, and my hope is that expanded attention for mine fires can help Pennsylvania address this issue. More robust funding to address mine fires across the country could reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses that are being emitted and make communities safer.”

    “The history of coal mining in Illinois has long impacted our water, land, and communities, and we are excited for the potential to treat acid mine drainage now that funding is finally available,” said Amanda Pankau, Senior Energy Campaign Coordinator, Prairie Rivers Network. “We are thankful to Senator Durbin for his co-sponsorship and to Senator Duckworth for voting to pass the STREAM Act to protect our communities and restore our waterways.”

  • $135 million in funding for the Abandoned Mine Land Economic Revitalization Program. Created in 2016 to reclaim abandoned mine lands and spur economic development in coal communities, the AMLER program provides funding for job-creating projects in places where they are needed most. Community advocates note the program is already oversubscribed, meaning opportunities and economic growth may be going untapped. This increased funding would lead to more economic development and more job creation. For more on this request, visit here.

    “The AMLER program provides needed economic stimulus in coal communities, and these resources will help ensure new jobs are created while spurring new economic growth in the places that need it most,” said Chelsea Barnes, Legislative Director for Appalachian Voices. “This is a program that we know works to improve our communities, so we are grateful that Congress has made this record-setting investment to help us all get the job done.”

  • The Black Lung Benefits Improvement Act. While this bill was not included in appropriations legislation, it has gained momentum in recent months. Reintroduced this Congress by U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Bob Casey, D-Penn., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Mark Warner, D-Va., this bill passed through House committee but has since stagnated. The BLBIA helps solve a number of the problems miners with black lung and their families face. Specifically, it ensures miners have representation in their fight to secure benefits and updates benefit levels so that they adjust with inflation. It will ensure those who sacrificed their health working to power our country get what they’ve earned. With funding for the Black Lung Disability Trust Fund secured by the Inflation Reduction Act, this bill offers a crucial complement, tearing down long-standing barriers to a safety net for miners with black lung. For more on this bill, visit here.

    “We’re disappointed that Congress didn’t take action to improve black lung benefits in the spending bill,” said Rebecca Shelton, Director of Policy and Organizing for Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center. “The black lung benefits system needs an update, in particular the calculation of benefits needs to be more closely tied to the cost of living. Though inflation is up by over 8% compared to last year, miner benefits will increase by only 4%. Over the years, black lung benefits have fallen further and further below the value that Congress intended when they passed the Black Lung Benefits Act in 1972.”

The grassroots fight for these coal community priorities has been going on for years as a key part of the effort to spur equitable, sustainable economic growth in the places where coal once dominated.


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