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House Passes Bills Aimed at Cleaning Up Abandoned Mine Lands

Environmental problems such as polluted streams, erosion and piles of coal waste can be traced back to abandoned mine lands. (Adobe Stock)
Environmental problems such as polluted streams, erosion and piles of coal waste can be traced back to abandoned mine lands. (Adobe Stock)
July 7, 2020

WHITESBURG, Ky. -- House lawmakers have passed legislation that would disburse $1 billion to states over the next five years - including $116 million to Kentucky - to clean up abandoned mines and jumpstart economic and community-development projects.

The RECLAIM Act was passed as part of a package of legislation aimed at creating jobs and addressing the nation's infrastructure needs amid the economic and public-health crisis caused by the coronavirus.

Rebecca Shelton, policy and organizing coordinator with the Appalachian Citizens' Law Center, said even before the pandemic, the bill had strong bipartisan support.

"The RECLAIM Act is a newer piece of legislation, but it's coming after five years of a program called The Abandoned Mine Land Pilot program, that has really been a test run for what RECLAIM would offer," Shelton said.

A study by the Sierra Club estimates that, if passed, the legislation would create thousands of jobs in Appalachian communities related to abandoned mine land and water-restoration work. The bill now awaits Senate consideration.

More than 20 local governments in eastern Kentucky have signed resolutions in support of the RECLAIM Act. And Shelton said for years, residents and local elected officials have pushed for job-creation measures in communities experiencing economic decline because of a shrinking coal industry, now exacerbated by COVID-19.

"There have been coalitions and organizations that have been thinking for a long time about how do we build a new economy in these regions now that the coal industry has continued to decline, and that's more important that ever before," she said. "And these bills would be a small piece but a very important piece of that work."

In addition to the RECLAIM Act, the Moving Forward Act also includes House Resolution 4248, which would reauthorize the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Fund used to support ongoing clean-up efforts in coal communities. That fund is set to expire at the end of 2021.

Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - KY