A Real Chance to Help Coal Communities—If We Fight for It

June 26, 2017 | 11:21 am
Photo: Wikimedia
Jeremy Richardson
Former Contributor

UPDATE (27 June 2017): The Natural Resources Committee has approved the Beyer amendment to strengthen the RECLAIM Act and has passed the bill out of committee. Thanks for your support, and stay tuned!

On Tuesday the House Natural Resources Committee plans to vote on the RECLAIM Act, H.R.1731. The bipartisan legislation, sponsored by Congressman Hal Rogers (R-KY-5), would free up $1 billion in existing funding from the Abandoned Mine Lands fund and put people to work cleaning up abandoned coal mines. It’s common-sense legislation that uses existing money (did I mention this is NOT a new tax?!) to create thousands of jobs reclaiming degraded mine lands and putting those lands to use in ways that spur local economic development.

Unfortunately, corporate coal interests have launched a last-minute effort to kill the bill.

A key moment

Central Appalachian citizens’ groups have been working for more than two years to organize local support for the bill and find champions on the Hill. A national coalition of environmental groups and labor unions support the bill. Grassroots support has been the driving force behind the bill being introduced last session, and reintroduced at the start of this session—this time with a Senate companion bill sponsored by the Majority Leader. But the current version lacks the requirement that reclamation projects help diversify local economies, which is why supporters are hailing the amendment introduced by Don Beyer (D-VA-8) to reinstate this as a requirement for funding reclamation projects. Here’s a letter signed by more than 40 local and national organizations, including the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Do these investments pay off? In a word, yes. The $90 million pilot project approved at the end of 2015 and again in 2016 funded projects in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania. An agriculture project in West Virginia is a great example of how abandoned mine lands might be put to commercial use.

Given how much our president talks about coal miners, you’d think he’d be on the phone personally calling legislators to pass this bill. Instead, he submitted a budget to Congress that cuts coal communities off at the knees.

What can I do?

Call your member of Congress. Now. Especially if you are represented by one of the members of the House Natural Resources Committee. They need to hear from you, because they’re hearing a lot of negative things about this bill from coal executives.

If you’re not sure who to call, just dial this special line that was set up to help people call in to support the bill: 1-347-269-4100

And your message is simple:

“The RECLAIM Act would create thousands of jobs in struggling coal communities. Vote yes on the RECLAIM Act—and the Beyer amendment—tomorrow. If you don’t serve on the Natural Resources Committee, share your support with Chairman Bishop.”

It won’t take more than 60 seconds. And it could make all the difference.

And, hey, Mr. President, if you’re reading this, feel free to make a few calls yourself—or even just tweet about it. It sure would be a great way to get some of those coal miners “working their asses off” (as you so colorfully put it).