By Matt Combs
May 1, 2019 - U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., was among a group of five senators Tuesday who reintroduced the "Revitalization the Economy of Coal Communities by Leveraging Local Activities and Investing More (RECLAIM) Act."
The RECLAIM Act aims at using coal mine reclamation monies to bolster economic development in communities most impacted by the downturn of the coal industry.
Along with Manchin, the act was introduced by Sens. Tim Kaine, D-Va., Mark Warner, D-Va., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill.
“The RECLAIM Act is an investment in the coal communities that have done the heavy lifting that produced the energy that powered our country to greatness," Manchin said in a news release. "These bills will provide a boost to struggling coal communities to help diversify their economies without a dime of taxpayer money."
In the release, Kaine argued that mine reclamation is a jobs supporter while benefiting the environment, and Warner added that RECLAIM will "reinvigorate" the communities that fueled the growth of the nation.
If passed, the RECLAIM Act of 2019 would release $1 billion of the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund to communities most directly impacted by the downturn in the coal industry.
The funds are currently set to go towards reclamation projects, but the RECLAIM Act would stipulate that the states use the money on reclamation projects which would create conditions favorable to economic development.
In total, $195 million would be distributed to states with Abandoned Mine Land (AML) programs each year from 2020 to 2024.
Created by Congress in 1977, AML funding was aimed at using fees gathered by working coal mines to clean up abandoned mines which were left before more stringent reclamation laws were put in place.
While those funds have supported approximately $600 million in clean up projects in West Virginia, the federal government estimates that the state itself has more than $1 billion in reclamation projects that still need to be funded. Some organizations say that figure is much higher.
Nationally, the U.S. Department of Interior estimates that more than $10 billion in reclamation projects exist, though those projects are threatened due to the fact that the fees which make up the AML fund are set to expire in two years.
Earlier in the month, Manchin was part of a group of senators who introduced a bill which would extend those AML fees for 15 more years.
While the group of senators who introduced RECLAIM on Tuesday was made up of entirely Democrats, the push to release the $1 billion towards economically prudent reclamation projects has received bipartisan support.
In 2017, Sen. Shelly Moore Capito, R-W.Va., was joined by Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., introducing a similar bill which gained support from both Democrats and Republicans across both houses of Congress.