On Monday, I am traveling from Whitesburg to deliver thousands of signatures in support of the RECLAIM Act and the Miners’ Protection Act to Sen. Mitch McConnell’s district office in London. I’m traveling there to demand that he support struggling coal communities like mine by bringing this legislation back home with him before Congress adjourns this week.
This is too urgent an issue not to act now.
With nearly 10,000 petition signatures from across the country, including more than 1,300 from right here in Kentucky, the RECLAIM Act has widespread support. This popular bill would bring $1 billion over five years back to coal communities to clean up polluting mine sites that were abandoned by coal companies decades ago, creating jobs that use skills laid-off strip miners already have.
The bill requires that these sites be reclaimed in ways that lead to community and economic development, and would bring a much-needed shot in the arm to our region during a time when we really need it.
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Thousands have also declared their support for the Miners’ Protection Act, which would ensure that more than 100,000 retired coal miners and their families receive the healthcare and pension benefits promised to them for many years of hard work in the mines.
Supporting the livelihoods of miners, retirees and widows is an important piece of building a bright future in our communities, and these benefits will have a positive impact on our local, rural economies as these dollars are spent and their effect multiples.
Last week, hundreds of Kentuckians called McConnell’s Washington, D.C. office, urging him to move the RECLAIM Act through the Senate in its waning days. However, many folks reported that they couldn’t get through to McConnell. Many said they had to call three, four, even seven times before they got an answer. Some, like me, never got through.
I care about this issue so much because, like many of my neighbors in Letcher County, I live on land that’s been in my family for generations. I love this important place and the family and community that makes it home.
Here, we wake up every day and do what we have to do to keep our families fed and our community going. We want to feel a hard day’s work and the pride of “I’ve done something today.” But right now — with the rapid decline of coal mining jobs due to changes in the global market for coal and the proliferation of natural gas for producing electricity — folks in the region can’t pull ahead no matter how hard we try. We refuse to give up on these mountains, but we need some tools in order to construct our dreams for this place.
Introduced by Congressman Hal Rogers back in February, the RECLAIM Act could help laid-off coal miners get their hands back in the dirt, putting them to work reclaiming old, polluting mines. There are billions of dollars worth of abandoned mines across the country, many of them in Kentucky. Opportunities like agriculture, recreation and even solar farms on reclaimed strip mines would create new jobs and help our young people stay in the region.
The RECLAIM Act isn’t just a five-year project; it could be the beginning of our new future. It represents a seed that, with a little nurturing, will help my community blossom. It would help us grow hope in a place where it’s been extracted.
As Senate majority leader, McConnell has more power than any other legislator to make the RECLAIM Act and the Miners’ Protection Act realities. The time is now for him to get behind coal communities and show leadership for our state and country by taking action on these two important pieces of legislation.
Kentuckians sent McConnell to D.C. to represent our interests. Right now we need him to pick up the phone and listen to what Kentuckians are calling for. We need him to pick up these bills and move them through the Senate before it’s too late.
Katie Dollarhide, a lifelong resident of Letcher County, is affiliated with Kentuckians for the Commonwealth.