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KY Groups Ask McConnell for Swift Action on Mine Reclamation

Acidic water runoff from coal mine land in eastern Kentucky. (Ilovemountains.org/Flickr)
Acidic water runoff from coal mine land in eastern Kentucky. (Ilovemountains.org/Flickr)
March 14, 2018

FRANKFORT, Ky. – Kentucky's coal country could get new life under legislation on Capitol Hill.

A group of concerned citizens and organizations gathers today at the Lexington office of U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to encourage his action to pass the RECLAIM Act (HR 1731). The bill would release $1 billion from the federal Abandoned Mine Land Trust Fund to spur economic development projects.

As a former coal miner for nearly two decades, Larry Miller of western Kentucky thinks it would help communities struggling with the decline of the coal industry.

"It takes some development and it's not an immediate fix. It's not the entire piece of the puzzle for rural Kentucky, but it's a step forward," said Miller. "And having been in mines for a long time, I know what it's like to get laid off. The more opportunities we can have in our coal communities, the better we'll be.

"Kentucky's a poor state," he continued, "and we need all the help we can get."

Since 2009, more than 11,000 jobs in coal mining have been lost in Kentucky. Supporters of the RECLAIM Act – which also has been introduced in previous sessions of Congress – believe the best window to get it passed is now, as part of the appropriations bill that Congress must approve before March 24.

Kentucky would receive an estimated $100 million should the legislation pass.

The RECLAIM Act calls for funds to be released to sites that are connected to long-term economic projects. According to Miller, that includes agriculture, solar energy, industrial parks and recreational tourism, such as the Peabody Wildlife Management Area.

"Peabody did the work itself and reclaimed it, but it's a good example of what can be done," Miller observed. "There's a lot of wildlife and hunting, and it looks a lot better than it did before it was reclaimed."

He also is convinced that the environmental benefits of reclaiming old mines should be considered.

"If you've been around mine land, the water that comes off of it is sulfur – it has a copper color, and nothing lives in it. The pure copper that's coming out of the mine is just toxic, and all the strip pits, before they're mounded up," he said. "You don't see as much as you used to, some of it's been reclaimed, but there's still a lot that needs to be done."

At today's event, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and the Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition will present a giant scroll documenting support for the RECLAIM Act from elected leaders, communities, businesses and Kentucky residents.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - KY