Bill to aid coal communities gaining momentum

U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers
U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers

Efforts to revitalize coal country and revamp the future of Appalachia are gaining more momentum in the 115th Congress. This week, the House Natural Resources Committee will take another step toward making the RECLAIM Act of 2017 a reality for coal country.

In April, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and I reintroduced RECLAIM, a bipartisan bill to release $1 billion available federal dollars from the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation (AML) Fund over the next five years to fast-track reclamation and economic development where they’re needed th most.

Coal companies have been paying into the fund for decades, promoting environmental reclamation of land and water where coal has been mined in each state. The problem is that billions of these dollars have been sitting idle; in fact, $2.4 billion remains unused.

Tapping into languishing AML funds has been difficult over the years, in part because of multiple interests by each state. However, many of our coal mining communities are now in economic distress as a result of the decline of the coal industry, exacerbated by the Obama administration’s blatant anti-coal policies over the last eight years.

We lost over 13,000 coal-mining jobs in Kentucky alone, nearly all of which were coal miners in my congressional district of Eastern Kentucky.

Desperation breeds action, and for the very first time, we’ve broken down the silos between states, gained constructive input from each party and stakeholders from around the country to design a bill that will help rescue coal country.

Representatives from coal-mining states in the east and west, and Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. House and Senate have now unified in compromise to ensure AML funds are finally released back to coal communities where the funding can help restore our land for job creating opportunities.

I consider the RECLAIM Act a grand slam that will bring home supplemental resources to rescue coal country. With infrastructure and economic development funding readily available through the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Economic Development Administration and the AML Pilot Program, we will have a wealth of funding and administrative resources available to help our small communities develop innovative opportunities, restore confidence in small business growth, and put our hometown people back to work.

The RECLAIM Act has been revised, reshaped and strengthened by those who seek to help coal country the most. I am eager to continue the work on this critical bill as we shepherd it through the 115th Congress and pass it on for President Donald Trump’s signature into law.