After months of grassroots momentum building behind the RECLAIM Act, the House Natural Resources Committee strengthened and approved the bill during a markup this week. The bill would use $1 billion to clean up abandoned mines and spur local economic projects, and now moves forward to consideration by the full US House of Representatives.
“The RECLAIM Act could do a lot of good in getting new economic endeavors going in Letcher County. We have abandoned mines that hamper development and this could help us diversify our economy here. It’s important that we get this money out of Washington and invested in places that really need it, which is why I’m proud that Letcher County Fiscal Court has supported the proposal since 2015,” said Jim Ward, Judge-Executive of Letcher County, Kentucky.
The policy idea originated in communities impacted by abandoned mines, and was included in the 2015 POWER Plus Plan proposal. Throughout 2015, nearly 30 local governments and representative bodies across Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee, and Virginia passed resolutions supporting the RECLAIM Act, leading to its introduction in 2016 by Congressman Hal Rogers and a bipartisan set of cosponsors.
“This vote is a victory for folks throughout Appalachia putting their blood, sweat, and tears into building a bright future here. It’s not often that a piece of legislation that’s rooted in grassroots support like this really has legs in Washington. The economic benefits of RECLAIM could help families in the region who are currently being forced to pick up and leave their homes to be able to stay,” said Eric Dixon, ACLC Coordinator of Policy and Community Engagement.
The RECLAIM Act (H.R. 1731) would use $1 billion of the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Fund to clean up abandoned coal mines. The legislation would also catalyze economic projects on reclaimed sites that pose long-term benefits for local communities.
When the legislation was reintroduced in 2017 it included new language that weakened the legislation’s ability to spur economic development on reclaimed sites and involve community stakeholders in shaping projects. Representative Don Beyer offered an amendment during the markup to address these concerns. The amendment, which prioritized economic development and stakeholder collaboration, was approved by the committee.
“The RECLAIM Act is the most exciting policy proposal for coal country right now and it is getting deserved, bipartisan support. This legislation provides an economic shot in the arm and an investment in the future of Appalachia—all without spending taxpayer dollars,” said Evan Smith, attorney at ACLC.
“There are several individuals in Congress who were key. Congressman Rogers demonstrated strong and persistent leadership on the bill, Chairman Bishop gave this legislation a fair hearing and shepherded it through the committee, Congressman Beyer led the effort to strengthen the bill, and Ranking Member Grijalva and members of the House Natural Resources Committee helped amend and pass the RECLAIM Act out of committee,” said ACLC Director Steve Sanders.