Organizations ranging from the United Mine Workers to the Sierra Club are expressing support for bills introduced by Senator Joe Manchin affecting coal communities.
“The economic situation for many families and communities in the Appalachian coalfields is already catastrophic,” stated Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America.
“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.”
Manchin, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, introduced the two pieces of legislation along with several of his Senate Democratic colleagues.
The Abandoned Mine Land Fee Extension Act would extend a fee levied on coal companies by 15 years. The fee funds the reclamation program that is set to expire this September.
The other bill is the Revitalizing the Economy of Coal Communities by Leveraging Local Activities and Investing More Act, meant to provide a boost for coal reclamation projects that provide economic development and growth in communities affected by the downturn in the coal industry.
“For generations, West Virginia coal miners have made tremendous sacrifices and done the heavy lifting that powered our nation to greatness. Both the RECLAIM Act and the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Fee Extension Act are much needed investments in coal communities,” Manchin said today.
“The RECLAIM Act will support struggling coal communities as they diversity their economies The AML Reclamation Fee Extension Act ensures communities are able to reclaim damaged land and water which is essential to creating safer and more inhabitable coal communities.”
The Abandoned Mine Land fund was established by Congress in 1977. Since then, the Abandoned Mine Lands program has eliminated more than 46,000 open mine portals, reclaimed over 1,000 miles of dangerous highwalls and restored water supplies to residents of coalfield communities. It also has protected people from hazards like landslides and flooding that result from leaving damaged lands unaddressed.
Funding for the AML program is set to expire this year, and new estimates indicate more than $20 billion in investment is needed to reclaim and restore remaining abandoned mines throughout the country. The newly-introduced legislation reauthorizes funding for the AML program for 15 years by extending a fee on coal severance.
The bipartisan RECLAIM Act would invest $1 billion in projects in twenty states. With abandoned mine sites made available for new uses, the RECLAIM Act funds projects on these sites with an aim of turning them into economic hubs to employ people in agriculture, tourism, retail, and renewable energy while injecting new resources into the local tax base.
“We applaud Senator Manchin for his leadership in introducing these two much needed pieces of legislation that will help jumpstart the economic and environmental restoration of coal country,” stated Karan Ireland, the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal senior campaign representative for Central Appalachia.
“These are solutions devised and supported by our communities who for generations have powered this country and are now most impacted by the decline of the coal industry. Now is the time to pass these bills into law so that we can begin to reclaim, restore, and rebuild a better Appalachia for all.”
President Biden has focused on abandoned mine lands clean-up as an opportunity to create jobs and promote economic development in the American Jobs Plan, which is the name for the administration’s infrastructure package.
The White House Interagency Working Group on Coal and Power Plant Communities and Economic Revitalization last week named 25 areas that need help. Of those, five are in West Virginia. The initial report advocated support a variety of strategies ranging from greater broadband access to the reclamation of abandoned mine lands.
“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.”
Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., generally praised the legislation today in a press conference with West Virginia reporters.
“Any legislation that moves forward the revitalization of our coal areas or a way to repurpose and revitalize our areas that we see all the time, we should go for,” she said. “And I think Senator Manchin’s bill is a good effort in that direction. Honestly, President Biden talks about this quite a bit.
“My cautionary flag here is we’ve heard this so many times — ‘We’re going to retrain and rework our workforce and it’s going to be great for everybody’ — and we know that hasn’t happened, and we’ve been left behind. And I just want to make sure nobody’s left behind.”