By Charles Boothe
May 1, 2021 - A group of U.S. Senators has introduced legislation to extend a program that provides money for coal reclamation projects to help communities impacted by the downturn in the coal industry.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, along with his Virginia colleagues Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine and others, introduced the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Reclamation Fee Extension Act of 2021 and the Revitalizing the Economy of Coal Communities by Leveraging Local Activities and Investing More (RECLAIM) Act of 2021.
The AML Extension Act would provide a clean 15-year extension of the fee levied on coal companies that funds the AML Reclamation Program, which is currently set to expire this September. The RECLAIM Act would provide a boost for coal reclamation projects that provide economic development and growth in those impacted communities.
“For generations, West Virginia coal miners have made tremendous sacrifices and done the heavy lifting that powered our nation to greatness,” Manchin said in the announcement of the legislation. “Both the RECLAIM Act and the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Fee Extension Act are much needed investments in coal communities. The RECLAIM Act will support struggling coal communities as they diversity their economies.”
Manchin said the AML Reclamation Fee Extension Act makes sure communities can reclaim damaged land and water “which is essential to creating safer and more inhabitable coal communities. I am proud to reintroduce both these bills which would ensure our hardworking coal communities are able to thrive once again.”
Warner said Appalachian communities have a long legacy of coal mining.
“As we continue our economic recovery following the COVID-19 crisis, we’ve got to reiterate our commitment to not leaving these communities behind,” he said. “That’s why I’m pleased to be joining my colleagues on these efforts that will speed the release of significant funding to help repair the environmental damage caused by abandoned mines, fast-track investments to create new economic opportunities in these areas, and improve the health and safety of Virginia’s coal mining communities.”
“As we move toward an economy powered by clean energy, we must remember the coal mining communities that have worked hard to power our nation for decades, often at great risk to themselves,” Kaine said. “These two critical bills would streamline the release of $1 billion from the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund, help diversify the economies of coal communities, and provide cleaner air, land, and water in and around reclaimed mine land.”
Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, said coalfield communities continue to be in dire need of help.
“The economic situation for many families and communities in the Appalachian coalfields is already catastrophic,” he said. “Things will not get better by themselves. Congress needs to act this year to pass the RECLAIM Act and the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Fee Extension Act, as well as other initiatives to provide job, training and further assistance to dislocated coal miners and their families.”
“Furthering the clean-up of abandoned mine lands is an opportunity to prevent disasters and create jobs in places hit hardest by coal’s decline,” said Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition. “These measures couldn’t come at a more important time for our communities. We applaud Senator Manchin for acting to restore our damaged lands and waters as a way to ensure national investment strategies emphasize the economic revitalization of coal country.”
Appalachian Voices Legislative Director Chelsea Barnes said this is a step toward job creation.
“The RECLAIM Act and Reauthorization of the Abandoned Mine Land Fund are vitally important to support Appalachian coal mining communities and boost local economic development efforts at this critical time,” she said. “We appreciate the senators’ work on this and we urge Congress to take these meaningful steps to create thousands of jobs in the communities that have powered our nation for more than a century.”