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House committee approves coal country bill

House committee approves coal country bill
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The House Natural Resources Committee easily approved a bill Tuesday to help revitalize coal communities affected by the industry’s downturn.

Members approved the RECLAIM Act on a voice vote with limited opposition, sending the measure to the floor with bipartisan support.

The bill would pump $1 billion in mine cleanup funding into Appalachian communities over the next five years. It would fund abandoned mine cleanup efforts in the region, but also require funding go toward projects to help overhaul local economies that were once coal-dependent.

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The legislation is nearly two years in the making, and it has the support of Appalachian lawmakers and local economic development groups desperate to pump money into struggling communities.

But some groups had criticized early versions of this year's bill for not focusing enough on overhauling local economies. They rallied behind an amendment from Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) that would require all projects funded by the bill to contain some type of economic overhaul effort.

Members approved Beyer's amendment on a voice vote Tuesday.

The amendment “is designed to ensure the money spent in this bill goes where it’s needed the most: the struggling communities of Appalachia who have seen their economic prospects harmed by the continued disappearance of the coal industry,” Beyer said.

The amendment contains provisions requiring input from local communities on the projects funded by the bill.

It also allowed Western states that pay into the mine cleanup fund to receive money from the bill without having to focus on economic development activities. That provision was designed to disarm opposition to the bill that cropped up last session, when Western states argued the bill prioritized economic diversification better suited for Appalachian communities than in states like Wyoming.

Beyer’s amendment passed unanimously and the measure was reported to the floor with minimal opposition.

The RECLAIM Act has powerful cosponsors this session, including former House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellEx-lawmaker urges Americans to publicly confront officials Manchin wrestles with progressive backlash in West Virginia Democrats slide in battle for Senate MORE (R-Ky.).

The National Mining Association (NMA), an industry group, came out against the bill last week because it could complicate their push to overhaul — and eventually shut down — the federal mine clean-up fund in a couple of years.

No member mentioned NMA’s opposition to the measure on Tuesday.