WASHINGTON, D.C. — A U.S. House committee heard Wednesday how the RECLAIM Act would redevelop abandoned mine sites and diversify coalfields in West Virginia.
The House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held a hearing Wednesday in Washington, D.C. RECLAIM stands for Revitalizing the Economy of Coal Communities by Leveraging Local Activities and Investing More.
Bill sponsor Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky) testified before the committee.
“The RECLAIM Act stands to create thousands of good paying jobs in the communities that need it most,” Rogers said.
Rogers said in his district in eastern Kentucky, they’ve lost more than 11,600 coal jobs over the last 8 years.
“It’s devastating. Families that relied on good paying jobs and the mines are now going bankrupt, moving out,” he told the committee.
The RECLAIM Act would provide $1 billion from the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund to help revitalize coal-impacted communities that have relied on coal production for jobs. Around $200 million of the money would go to West Virginia over a five-year period. The state would then work with communities to identify and fund economic development projects on abandoned mine sites.
Last year, Rogers and Third District Congressman Evan Jenkins (R-W.Va.), who introduced the bill, secured $90 million for an AML pilot program to advance reclamation work on projects in West Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania.
Rogers said during his testimony Wednesday that the RECLAIM Act will build on the momentum generated by the pilot project.
“This bill represents a real investment in coal country — one that will provide much needed resources to clean up the environment, create jobs and strengthen these communities from the ground up,” he said.
During his testimony, Rogers talked about one of the West Virginia projects, Patriot Guardens, which received $5.3 million through the pilot project. The restoration of the land combines agriculture and job training aimed at helping West Virginia veterans develop agriculture businesses.
Fritz Boettner, principal of the Geographic Information Systems Program at Downstream Strategies in Morgantown, also testified before the committee. He talked about a project Downstream Strategies got involved with through the pilot program. The Mingo County Redevelopment Authority and its partner Refresh Appalachia redeveloped a facility to grow fish and produce.
“This facility will be powered by renewable energy. It will support immediate jobs remediating the AML feature, constructing project facilities and installing solar panels and geothermal energy on site,” Boettner said. “The project is expected to create 10-12 full-time permanent jobs.”
Boettner said the Mingo County project is just one of many initiatives throughout the country that demonstrates the economic diversification opportunities made possible with RECLAIM funds.
“Dispersing a portion of the AML fund presents an opportunity to address environmental impacts of legacy mining at a moment when coal communities, including many in West Virginia, are faced with uncertain economic future,” he said. “it can create immediate and long term jobs in the new and exciting sectors.”
Jenkins offered these words in a news release Wednesday:
“As the House Natural Resources Committee heard, the RECLAIM Act will spur a new era of investment and revitalization in West Virginia and beyond. Our towns, counties and states need the resources to rebuild, diversify our economy, attract new employers, create jobs, and give hope to the people who call Appalachia home. Congressman Rogers is an exemplary leader for Appalachia, and I thank him and all of our cosponsors for their support for this critical issue. I am hopeful that the committee will consider this legislation quickly and send it to the House floor for a vote,” Jenkins said.
U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) have introduced Senate versions of bill.