Communities struggling with decline of coal can’t wait any longer on RECLAIM Act

Coal mining communities have put their people in the mines—and their lives at risk—to make the cheap fuel that powered American homes and industry for more than a century, but as the coal industry has declined, these communities are being left behind. We can’t let that happen.

Coal communities like here in Letcher County, Ky., are doing all we can to build a bright future. We’re proud to be home to rich assets, including our mountains, water, people, and heritage. People here want to give a good day’s work for a good day’s pay, but right now it’s extremely difficult to find any opportunities.
 
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Throughout the country, thousands of coal mining jobs have been lost, and coal communities are feeling the gut-wrenching pain of those losses. While the announcements of mass layoffs have become routine, dealing with them hasn’t gotten easier.
 
In order to build a strong, healthy economy, communities like ours are going to need some tools to do it. The country has benefited from what coal communities have sacrificed, and they deserve the nation’s support in charting a new course. The RECLAIM Act would bring $1 billion back home to communities struggling with the decline of coal. The bill would release funds already sitting in the Abandoned Mine Lands Fund--$1 billion over five years--to clean up polluting abandoned mines in ways that lead to longer-term community and economic development.
 
The demand for legislation like the RECLAIM Act has been led by directly-impacted communities and workers themselves. Small local governments across multiple states introduced and unanimously passed resolutions supporting the POWER+ Plan, which gave rise to the RECLAIM Act, Miners’ Protection Act and other policies whose intent is to help these regions begin building their new economies. Twenty-eight resolutions were passed, 14 of those in Kentucky alone. We know the bill is not just needed in coal communities; it’s been demonstrated over and over how greatly it’s wanted.
 
We also know that the RECLAIM Act would create thousands of jobs across the country for laid-off coal miners and others. We know that the RECLAIM Act does not use a cent of taxpayer money. We know that it would create businesses and economic diversity in places that need it. We know it’s a strongly bipartisan bill, championed by my representative, Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), and co-sponsored by 26 legislators from 12 states ranging from to West Virginia to Colorado. And finally we know that, despite some confusion in recent reports, the RECLAIM Act and the Miners’ Protection Act—another important bill for coal communities—are complementary bills; they are funded through separate pots of federal money.
 
At a time when Washington is sharply divided, the RECLAIM Act is one thing we can all agree on. The bill is supported by 89 percent of voters polled in 7 impacted states, including here in Kentucky.
 
This week, as House Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanPaul Ryan researched narcissistic personality disorder after Trump win: book Paul Ryan says it's 'really clear' Biden won election: 'It was not rigged. It was not stolen' Democrats fret over Trump-district retirements ahead of midterms MORE, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidTo Build Back Better, we need a tax system where everyone pays their fair share Democrats say Biden must get more involved in budget fight Biden looks to climate to sell economic agenda MORE, and my senator, Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellMcConnell, Shelby offer government funding bill without debt ceiling Franken targets senators from both parties in new comedy tour Woodward: Milley was 'setting in motion sensible precautions' with calls to China MORE, settle on what makes it through Congress this year. I urge them not to go home without the RECLAIM Act.
 
Congress has a chance to make the right choice—and help thousands of people—with this decision. Nationally, the unemployment rate might be below 5 percent, but in many coal communities the rates are double that, as they are here in Letcher County where more than 10 percent of folks can’t find work. That doesn’t even account for our neighbors who’ve been forced to make the heart-breaking decision of uprooting their families to make a living away from home. Letcher County once had thousands of coal jobs. In 2016, it had fewer than 100.
 
People living in coal communities can’t wait another year. Surely Congress can bring home a bill that is strongly bipartisan, doesn’t use any taxpayer money, and delivers economic hope to pockets of America that urgently need it.
 
Eric Dixon is Coordinator of Policy and Community Engagement at Appalachian Citizens' Law Center in Whitesburg, Kentucky.

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