Reclaim Act represents massive environmental and economic revitalization of Appalachia
We have a unique opportunity to reclaim, revive and diversify our coal-reliant communities across the United States.
 
In Kentucky, the coal industry’s recent decline has devastated our small communities, established by generations of hard-working men and women in underground and surface mines — too many of which are now closed. In fact, more than 13,000 coal miners lost their jobs over the last eight years, bringing coal employment in Kentucky to its lowest levels since the 1800s.
 
Reviving communities hit hard by the downturn of coal production should be addressed in multiple ways. First, regulatory relief is critical to maintaining the several thousand coal mining jobs remaining in the state. Second, we need to focus on ways to assist these hard-hit communities. That’s why last week we joined together for the introduction of the Reclaim Act of 2017, which can help communities clean up and redevelop abandoned mine lands and help revitalize local economies.

As coal jobs left the region, communities saw growth in crime and drug abuse that strained social services — all of which has been devastating to local families. 

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Our legislation builds upon a successful pilot program that we championed in last year’s government-funding bill. That program brought $30 million to Kentucky to reclaim and develop abandoned mine sites so that communities could repurpose those lands. We were encouraged to see the good that the program did in Kentucky and across Appalachia.  

 

The Reclaim Act would continue and build upon its success by funding serious environmental clean-up and enhancing economic growth and diversification.

The Reclaim Act of 2017 would release $1 billion of the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation (AML) Fund over five years for the clean-up of abandoned mine sites. The AML Fund, which was created to help states restore land and water impacted by coal mining operations, currently has approximately $2.4 billion of unused funds. This bill would use part of those funds to help Kentucky and states with similar needs make thousands of former mine sites useable once again. Making this money available to increase the clean-up rate is an important step towards empowering local communities to develop that land in a way that creates more economic opportunity in the region.

In addition to the money for mine clean-up, our legislation would also open up funding to assist Appalachian states with the redevelopment of reclaimed land.

Much like last year’s pilot program, affected states would be eligible to compete for funding from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) — an organization dedicated to the economic development of this region — to use toward the renewal of these lands. With these grants, coal communities throughout Appalachia could begin diversifying their industries and revolutionizing their local workforce. These ARC dollars emphasize creative thinking from states and localities — not Washington bureaucrats — by giving these states the flexibility to determine the best way to invest in the local economy.

The initial success of the pilot program was very encouraging, and we hope to continue the spirit of that program by enacting the Reclaim Act to support the effective revitalization of eastern Kentucky.

In our state, coal miners and their families are suffering, and we are committed to delivering much-needed relief to these communities. That’s why we’re working with the Trump administration to halt job-killing regulations in the coalfields.

Congress is working diligently to pass legislation that will level the playing field for coal and ensure it will continue to be a part of our national energy portfolio in the years to come. President Trump signaled his commitment to this endeavor recently by signing the Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth executive order to review burdensome regulations on coal mining. However, we should also consider important proposals like this bill to provide financial, environmental and economic support to hard-hit coal regions.

Job growth is crucial to the development of Appalachia, and we believe that revitalizing the region by fostering community engagement is an important step toward accomplishing that goal.

We are proud to work together on these issues vital to Kentucky, and we look forward to working with both houses of Congress as we consider the Reclaim Act.

McConnell is Senate majority leader and Rogers represents Kentucky’s 5th District and is a member of the Congressional Coal Caucus.


The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.