A bipartisan bill introduced in Congress today would allocate $1 billion for cleaning up abandoned mine lands and advancing economic development in communities across the country that have been hardest hit by the coal-mining industry’s decline. The Revitalizing the Economy of Coal Communities by Leveraging Local Activities and Investing More (RECLAIM) Act would expedite the release of existing money in the Abandoned Mine Lands Fund, which comes from a per-ton fee on all coal mined in the United States.
The bill was introduced by Reps. Hal Rogers (Ky.), Matt Cartwright (Penn.), Morgan Griffith (Va.), Don Beyer (Va.), and Evan Jenkins (W.Va.). The bill will be referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources.
“The RECLAIM Act is an imperative effort to help reinvigorate our hard-hit communities through economic and community development,” said Rep. Morgan Griffith in a press statement today. “I will continue fighting along with Congressman Rogers and others to advance economic development strategies such as this which would help keep and grow jobs in Appalachia.”
“Many coal communities in Appalachia simply do not have the resources to reclaim the abandoned mine sites within their borders,” Rep. Hal Rogers said. “This bill allows these communities to be proactive in restoring these sites and utilize them to put our people back to work.”
The bill is designed to help coal-dependent communities diversify their economies while addressing pollution that remains from inactive coal mines. The money would be distributed to states with existing abandoned mine programs over a five-year period. The funding proportions going to individual states would mirror the formula currently used by the Abandoned Mine Lands Fund, which is based on historic coal production. State agencies would be encouraged to work with local governments and planning commissions to identify projects that meet the bill’s requirement of creating a lasting, positive economic impact.
Local support for such a program has been growing across the Appalachian coalfields for the past year. As of the end of January, 28 local government entities and organizations in the coal-bearing regions of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia have passed resolutions endorsing the plan. (See list below.)
The current Abandoned Mine Lands Fund, which is administered by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, prioritizes remediation of old mining sites that pose immediate health or environmental hazards. By expanding the funding criteria to focus on the economic potential of clean-up projects, the RECLAIM Act would encourage state and local governments to collaborate on laying the groundwork for creating permanent jobs. In particular, the bill highlights the importance of engaging community stakeholders in the process. It would also have other positive economic impacts such as benefiting tourism, removing visual blight from public areas, and improving the livability of communities. Examples of such projects include manufacturing facilities, forestry or agriculture projects, alternative energy facilities, and public parks and other tourism venues.
“We applaud Congressmen Griffith, Rogers and their colleagues for introducing this forward-thinking legislation,” said Adam Wells, Economic Diversification Campaign Coordinator with Appalachian Voices’ Wise County, Va., office. “More than two dozen local governments have called for federal investment in their communities. Releasing this funding now would support efforts taking place all across Central Appalachia to secure the region’s economic future.”