A proposal to accelerate $1 billion in federal spending to help struggling coal areas such as Eastern Kentucky won approval from a U.S. House committee Tuesday, according to U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers.
Rogers, a Republican who represents the state’s eastern coalfield, is the sponsor of the bill, known as the RECLAIM Act.
The proposal now goes to the full House for consideration.
The bill would speed up the release of $1 billion to use in reclaiming abandoned mine lands. One goal would be to reclaim sites in ways that could boost economic development in places that have seen job losses in recent years.
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The number of coal jobs in Eastern Kentucky has dropped by more than half since 2011.
“I sponsored the RECLAIM Act to help revitalize coal communities all across the nation that have been devastated by the downturn of the coal industry,” Rogers said in a news release. “This bill represents a real investment in coal country — one that will provide much-needed resources to clean up the environment, create jobs and strengthen these communities from the ground up.”
The House Natural Resources Committee approved an amendment to the bill that more than 40 national or regional environmental and citizens’ groups backed.
The groups said in a letter to the committee that the change was needed to make sure spending would give top priority to projects that tie reclamation to long-term economic development.
Sarah Bowling, a member of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth from Pike County, which had pushed for the amendment, applauded the committee vote.
“This is a victory for Appalachia and a big day for Kentucky and those communities suffering from the decline of coal,” she said in a news release.
If the House approves the bill, it could have a powerful ally in the Senate. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in March that he supported Rogers’ proposal.
The National Mining Association has opposed the measure.