Environment

A U.S. House committee has advanced a bill that would send a billion dollars for mine reclamation and economic development in coal communities.

The RECLAIM Act was first proposed in 2016 by Kentucky Rep. Hal Rogers. It authorizes the release of $1 billion over five years from the federal Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund. The money would be earmarked for cleaning up abandoned mine sites, as well as identifying and funding economic development projects on the sites.

Rogers’ spokesperson didn’t respond to a request for comment.

In the committee markup before the House Natural Resources Committee today, Virginia Rep. Don Beyer offered an amendment to add more emphasis on economic development.

“As introduced, the bill would exempt the highest priority abandoned mine lands sites from needing to be connected to the possibility of economic development, which is actually the stated goal of the RECLAIM Act,” he said.

Beyer’s amendment, which passed the committee on voice vote, requires all the abandoned mine lands reclaimed through the act have some connection to an economic development project.

Thom Kay of nonprofit Appalachian Voices said that amendment made the RECLAIM Act a stronger bill.

“The RECLAIM Act gives communities an opportunity to create new jobs on abandoned mine sites that have plagued the region for decades,” he said. “What’s really important is that communities have control over that money to get the most out of it, and that’s what the bill does.”

That was echoed by Sarah Bowling. She’s a member of the social justice group Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and a native of Pike County who’s pursuing a masters degree at Eastern Kentucky University.

Bowling said she sees the bill as a win-win for communities like hers.

“It cleans up this hazardous site and then it offers sustainable jobs to folks who have been out of work,” she said. “So you give out of work miners and others jobs reclaiming the land, which is kind of a short boost, and then because of the economic development nexus, you provide for sustainable employment and tax dollars which go back into these communities that are really suffering.”

The bill also contains a provision to move the headquarters of the Appalachian Regional Commission out of D.C. to somewhere in Appalachia. U.S. Rep. Donald McEachin of Virginia proposed striking that portion of the bill, but because it’s not within the jurisdiction of the Natural Resources Committee, he withdrew the amendment.

The RECLAIM Act has bipartisan support but didn’t pass out of committee unanimously. And trade group the National Mining Association has recently been lobbying against the measure.

Next, the measure has to clear the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee before heading for a vote before the full House.

Erica Peterson is WFPL's Assignment Editor.