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RECLAIM Act to Invest in Coal Communities Gains Traction After Lull

The RELCAIM act would give coal communities $1 billion to clean up abandoned mines and launch job-creating businesses. (cherylvb/Adobe Stock)
The RELCAIM act would give coal communities $1 billion to clean up abandoned mines and launch job-creating businesses. (cherylvb/Adobe Stock)
April 18, 2019

WHITESBURG, Ky. — A bill that would give coal communities $1 billion to clean up abandoned coal mines and boost local economies was reintroduced in the U.S. House last week.

Pennsylvania Democrat Matt Cartwright and Kentucky Republican Hal Rogers joined other lawmakers as co-sponsors. The RECLAIM Act would disperse the $1 billion to coal-mining regions in Kentucky and other states over a five-year period. Funds would be spent on clean-up of pollution and toxic waste left over from mining operations and to support new businesses.

The money would come from savings in the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Fund. The fund was established in the 1970s to collect fees from the coal industry to restore land affected by coal-mining operations. Supporters of the bill such as Sarah Bowling, a Pike County native who comes from a family of miners and mine operators, say grassroots momentum to pass the bill is growing.

"People in the communities, they are aware of it because we've been working on this for several years now. And these are people that just want to work. They just want jobs. They want to be able to feed their families. And this would be one way to do that,” Bowling said. “RECLAIM is not the end-all. It is not the solution to the economic decline of the coal community. However, it's a great step in the right direction."

The RECLAIM Act has had a rocky legislative road. It was introduced in the House in 2016, and again in 2017, where it moved through the House Committee on Natural Resources, but then stalled.

The decline in coal-mining jobs has taken a toll on Eastern Kentucky and other mining communities. Thousands of workers have been laid off. Bowling said cleaning up the land is the first step toward generating economic opportunity in regions that have historically relied on coal production.

"Our economy in Eastern Kentucky has declined so substantially, and it's so apparent,” she said. “I lived in West Palm Beach for almost a decade and came back to live in Kentucky, and so I was spending more time in Eastern Kentucky. And, you can just see crumbling infrastructure and equipment on the side of the road. It looks dramatically different than it did in 2000, when I left."

Studies have estimated there are more than 40,000 abandoned mines in the U.S. In Kentucky, plans are being made to use RECLAIM funds to build a mining museum and scenic overlook.

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Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - KY