The below table provides an overview of the status of the RECLAIM Act and AML Pilot Program.
The Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held a hearing on the RECLAIM Act (H.R. 1731) this week. With communities calling for the RECLAIM Act since at least 2015, the hearing is a milestone months in the making and demonstrates that citizen action to push the bill forward is making a difference.
In his opening statement, Chairman Paul Gosar (R-AZ) explained that H.R. 1731 addresses concerns raised with last year's RECLAIM Act and now "represents how an existing federal program can be leveraged to provide an economic stimulus for numerous states, including western members."
Ranking Member Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) agreed, stating, "The idea behind the RECLAIM Act is to take part of the large unexpended balance in the [AML Fund] and devote it to projects where cleaning up mines leads to economic and community benefits. This is, quite frankly, a win-win." Lowenthal did note, however, that "There are other provisions of the bill that I think may need some additional discussion before I can fully support it, but I hope that we can work constructively to get to that point and bring a bipartisan economic development solution to the House Floor. "
After opening statements, the Subcommittee heard the testimony of the bill's lead sponsor, Congressman Hal Rogers (R-KY). Three witnesses then testified:
- Robert Scott, Director of Kentucky's AML Program; representing NAAMLP & IMCC. Written testimony here.
- Fritz Boettner, Principal, Downstream Strategies. Written testimony here.
- Autumn Coleman, Director of Montana's AML Program; representing NAAMLP & IMCC. Written testimony here.
Boettner explains jobs benefits, notes bill language does not maximize economic revitalization potential
In Mr. Boettner's testimony, which is worth taking a few minutes to watch below, he explained, "Leveraging AML funds empowers communities to pursue a local economic future that they see fit—and provides tools to initiate projects that build on place-based assets and benefit local people." [Text of his oral testimony is here.]
"Before and since the introduction of the RECLAIM Act of 2016, there has been strong bipartisan support for a proposal to accelerate the disbursement of the AML Fund and to strategically tie mine reclamation with long-term economic opportunities. It is a bold idea at a time of urgent need."
"In its current form, the bill promotes the first goal of restoring abandoned mines, however, H.R. 1731 as written does not sufficiently promote the second stated goal of the RECLAIM Act: spurring economic diversification on reclaimed sites. This is because current language does not incentivize tying mine reclamation with creating long-term economic projects on 'Priority 1 and 2' AML sites," explained Mr. Boettner.
Mr. Boettner talked about a project he's involved with in Mingo County, West Virginia that will reclaim abandoned mines and then, on the reclaimed site, will construct an aquaponics facility to produce commercial-scale fish and produce for local and regional markets. The project is being spearheaded by Refresh Appalachia and the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority and "will support immediate jobs remediating the AML features, constructing project facilities, and installing solar panels and geothermal energy on-site. The project is also expected to create 10-12 full-time, permanent jobs and demonstrates the economic diversification opportunities possible with RECLAIM investments," explained Boettner.
In their testimonies, Mr. Scott and Ms. Coleman covered many of the intricacies of the AML program, including the huge remaining AML burden across the country and the need to be considering reauthorization of the program. Among other things, Mr. Scott said that Kentucky is in support of H.R. 1731 and Ms. Coleman outlined concerns about implementing RECLAIM across states and tribes with differing AML and economic circumstances.
Some Western members raise questions
The hearing was attended by Congressman Tipton (R-CO), Congressman Thompson (R-PA), Congressman Lamborn (R-CO), Congresswoman Cheney (R-WY), Congressman Westerman (R-AR), Congressman Pearce (R-NM), Congressman Soto (D-FL), Congressman Beyer (D-VA), and Congressman Bishop (R-UT), who chairs the full Natural Resources Committee.
It's unclear whether all members of the committee understood that RECLAIM monies cannot be used as a general economic development fund. RECLAIM funds can only fund mine reclamation, though reclamation projects could spur site reuse for long-term economic projects, if the policy is written to encourage it. Some western members, including Congresswoman Cheney, raised concerns with the bill.
Boettner highlighted, "While public interest in the RECLAIM Act stemmed mostly from Appalachian states, the bill is intended to provide resources for AML reclamation as well as economic benefits to all states and tribes with AML programs. I hope that H.R. 1731 can be implemented in a way that allows states and tribes with diverse circumstances to take full advantage of their RECLAIM allocations while... leveraging the reclamation of AML sites to optimize lasting economic development opportunities."
Chairman Gosar took time in his opening to emphasize, "H.R. 1731 changes the [old RECLAIM] distribution formula to account for recent coal production – allowing Western states an opportunity to benefit from the goals of the RECLAIM Act...For instance, Colorado would receive $9 million per year, and Utah and New Mexico would both receive over $7 million. Without this legislation, those states would continue to receive only $3 million per year – an amount hardly sufficient to cover the administrative costs of AML programs."
Ensuring bill language lives up to the goal of economic revitalization
In his testimony, Congressman Rogers stated that one main goal of H.R. 1731 is to "spur economic development on that land to reuse it for job creation and business development." Lowenthal cautioned, however, "The text of the bill... threatens to undermine that purpose by not requiring the money to be used on those very types of projects." According to Boettner, "Under H.R. 1731’s current language states need only apply economic development considerations when reclaiming Priority 3 sites, which make up just one quarter of the country’s unreclaimed mines by cost... Maximizing [RECLAIM's job] potential requires us to ensure that the economic development criteria are applied to all AML sites—not just Priority 3 sites."
See pages 8-11 of Boettner's written testimony above to learn more about his concern with only incentivizing economic revitalization and community engagement for projects on 'Priority 3' sites.
Mr. Boettner closed by encouraging the committee: "If Congress finds a way to maintain a crucial purpose of the bill— leveraging AML funds for long-term economic benefit—in a way that enables all states and tribes to take full advantage of the funds available to them, then H.R. 1731 should be passed quickly."
Press & more resources:
Last week Congressman Hal Rogers (R-KY) introduced an amended version of the RECLAIM Act in the House (H.R. 1731). In the Senate, Senator McConnell (R-KY) introduced a version identical to Congressman Rogers’s (S.728), and Senator Manchin (D-WV) introduced a separate bill of the same name (S.738 ).
After months of advocates across Kentucky and the country calling on the Senate Majority Leader to support the RECLAIM Act, Senator McConnell is finally hearing citizens on this issue. However, the new language includes provisions that de-prioritize economic development and community engagement.
While the new version of the RECLAIM Act introduced by Rogers & McConnell would still distribute $1 billion for mine reclamation, the bill’s potential to promote economic diversification in struggling local economies has been significantly weakened.
Under last year’s 2016 RECLAIM Act, a funded project would be designed both to clean up an abandoned mine and to create long-term economic opportunities on the site once it’s reclaimed. This could be a solar farm on a reclaimed surface mine. Canoeing and fishing businesses that can now make use of a river once threatened by acid mine drainage. Or apple orchards on a reclaimed strip mine. These are all projects that both clean up the land or water and re-use it in a way that creates a long-term economic benefit.*
The beauty of the 2016 version of the RECLAIM Act was that it was a forward-looking proposal that incentivized mine reclamation projects to have a vision in mind for a longer-term economic opportunity, at a time when many communities with abandoned mines are struggling with a sharp drop in coal jobs.
Under the Rogers-McConnell bill, projects on “High Priority” abandoned mines would no longer be incentivized to have a long-term economic project on the reclaimed site. What does this mean?
Economic development considerations will apply to projects selected on only a quarter of the country’s abandoned mines. In the 2016 version, it was 100%.
The language that Senator Manchin introduced is identical to the 2016 version of the RECLAIM Act, so it maintains the focus on long-term economic diversification.
Quickly after the new bill’s introduction in the House, a Legislative Hearing on the RECLAIM Act was scheduled in the House Committee on Natural Resources. The hearing will be held before the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources on April 5 at 10am. The Subcommittee is chaired by Paul Gosar (R-AZ) and the Ranking Member is Alan Lowenthal (D-CA).
Congressman Hal Rogers, who is the bill’s lead sponsor but not a member of the House Natural Resources Committee, will be attending the hearing to speak about the bill. He will be accompanied by three witnesses: Fritz Boettner (Principal, Downstream Strategies), Robert Scott (Director of KY’s AML Program), Autumn Coleman (Director of Montana’s AML Program).
We expect that the Fritz will share important messages with the committee about his experiences with communities in Central Appalachia working to build a new economy amidst recent economic challenges. He has experience working directly with economically-oriented mine reclamation projects in the region, and believes in the importance of solutions being locally-driven.
A video of the hearing should be posted here following its conclusion.
*To be clear, funds through the 2016 RECLAIM Act would not have been eligible as a general economic development fund (and they are not eligible for that under the new version of RECLAIM either). The money could only be used to fund the actual earth-moving reclamation part of the project.
**The new bill does not apply the “economic development nexus” to Priority 1 and Priority 2 AML sites, which comprise roughly 75% of the remaining abandoned mines, by cost, in the official AML inventory managed by OSMRE.
The below table provides an overview of the status of three main legislative initiatives that would support communities struggling with the decline of coal: the RECLAIM Act, the POWER Initiative, and the Miners Protection Act.
A growing number of organizations are demonstrating their support for provisions that would strengthen the RECLAIM Act to ensure that communities see the benefits of the initiative. These provisions are outlined below (and in PDF form here).
As of September 14, the following organizations have endorsed the principles and criteria below.
- The Alliance for Appalachia
- Appalachian Citizens' Law Center
- Appalachian Voices
- Citizens Coal Council
- Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation
- Greater Birmingham Alliance to Stop Pollution
- Kentuckians for the Commonwealth
- Mountain Association for Community Economic Development
- Mountain Watershed Association
- Sierra Club
- Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards
- Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment
- Union of Concerned Scientists
- West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy
- West Virginia Rivers Coalition
Priorities for the RECLAIM Act: Ensuring Communities Get a Program That Grows Local Economies and Cleans Up Abandoned Mines
Many coalfield communities are working hard to build a new economy amidst the recent changes in the coal industry. Despite the challenges, many communities see a bright future ahead and are taking steps to realize that vision. As part of that effort, many communities throughout the coalfields have demonstrated their support for the type of strategic federal investment that the RECLAIM Act would employ.
The RECLAIM Act is an opportunity to create innovative economic opportunities by addressing historic environmental problems (pre-1977 abandoned coal mines) in communities with significant economic distress. This bill could put laid-off miners and other local residents to work reclaiming abandoned mines in ways that develop long-term economic opportunities in agriculture, recreational tourism energy, and more on reclaimed mines.
The transition to a diversified economy should be guided by a set of principles oriented around creating strong, vibrant communities through a just process, beginning with deep engagement of community members in the process of forging their new economy. As a policy initiative that will assist communities in creating economic opportunities and addressing historic environmental problems, the RECLAIM Act should be congruent with those principles.
Likewise, the RECLAIM Act should fulfill criteria necessary for the program to achieve its explicit goals of growing local economies and cleaning up abandoned mines.
Improve the quality of life for people and communities affected by economic disruption, environmental damage, and inequality.
Foster inclusion, participation and collaboration.
Generate stable, family-sustaining, meaningful jobs and broad access to opportunities and benefits.
Promote innovation, self-reliance and broadly held local wealth.
Protect and restore public health and our environment.
Respect the past while also strengthening communities and culture.
The RECLAIM Act will be best suited to achieve the bill’s explicit goal of growing local economies and cleaning up environmental problems if the final language of the bill authorizes this policy to do the following:
- Ensure economic benefits reach communities with significant economic need. Targeting RECLAIM AML projects in communities with significant economic distress will improve the quality of life for the communities that have been most directly affected by changes in the economy and by environmental damage.
Within each state, ensure a variety of stakeholders shape the vision and priorities regarding the types of projects to be pursued under this program. In order to solicit and develop the most strategic economic projects possible across the state, collaboration and the sharing of expertise from various relevant sectors is necessary at the administrative, or program-wide, level. While state AML officials possess significant mine reclamation expertise, they are not agencies tooled for economic and community development. In order to bolster the ability of these agencies to develop mine reclamation projects with an economic focus, and to ensure that eligible communities actually receive needed support, it is crucial to ensure that a variety of stakeholders shape the vision and priorities regarding the types of projects to be pursued under this program. Critical stakeholders include community members in directly-impacted areas, local governments, mine workers and their unions, business leaders, watershed organizations, planning and economic development experts, and community-rooted non-profit and advocacy organizations. Doing so would allow the agency to benefit from the expertise of professionals and community members with useful perspectives on local economic needs, strategic community development tactics or plans, or other factors vital to the development of projects that both successfully reclaim sites and achieve strategic community development goals. We think it is important to ensure that citizens of impacted communities who might not otherwise be aware of the AML program are made aware of the remarkable opportunity presented by this program. We also believe that the officials implementing projects stand to benefit in terms of project ideas and local support by soliciting ideas and input through a series of public meetings in impacted communities. The greater the local buzz and interest, the better selection of projects—and the greater the opportunity for collaboration. Genuine community involvement is crucial to the long-term success of this program.
Ensure that each individual project is characterized by robust stakeholder collaboration. Stakeholder collaboration will foster inclusion and collaboration that will result in the projects with the greatest impact. Community members often know best what their local economy needs. The success of RECLAIM will rely on implementation of projects with significant community buy-in, which is best achieved if the multiple actors in impacted communities (as outlined above) are given the chance to introduce projects. An ideal process gives everyone with a stake in the outcome a chance to be heard and considered, not just elected officials, agencies, and major business leaders.
Prioritize innovative economic projects that direct economic benefits to the local community. Prioritizing local businesses, projects that are locally-owned, and/or projects that build on the community’s existing assets will ensure that the wealth—broadly conceived—produced by these economic projects stays in the local community. This will also increase the likelihood of projects that create stable, family-sustaining, and meaningful jobs.
Ensure that states have sufficient time and resources to solicit, select, and implement the best projects. Giving states adequate time to identify and develop projects will enable them to implement a robust participatory process and work with communities and their staff and partners to create the most innovative, forward-looking projects possible.
As Congress is considering a bill that would use $1 billion to reclaim abandoned mines, a new analysis has confirmed what people in the Appalachian coalfields have known for many years: residents in thousands of communities across the region are threatened by abandoned mines.
5.5 million people across the Appalachian Coal Region live within 1 mile of an pre-1977 Abandoned Mine Land (AML), which includes features such as abandoned mine shafts, streams polluted by acid mine drainage, abandoned highways, unreclaimed strip mines, gob piles, and mine fire., according to an analysis by C. M. Mayne. View the full analysis—and more maps—here.
If 5.5 million Appalachians live near abandoned mines, it's hard to imagine how many people across the entire country live nearby a mines. With such a large number of people who's homes and communities are threatened by abandoned mines, the need to pass the RECLAIM Act is more apparent now than ever.
Heard about the "POWER Plus Plan" or the "RECLAIM Act" but not sure what they are? Curious about how mine reclamation could create jobs in communities struggling with the decline of the coal industry? Want to know how you can support a bill that would assist a just economic transition in these communities?
The Alliance for Appalachia's Economic Transition Team is hosting a free webinar to focus on the RECLAIM Act, which was introduced by Congressman Hal Rogers (KY) in February and is the legislative vehicle moving forward the reclamation piece of the POWER+ Plan. The webinar will be for folks in Appalachia and outside the region, alike.
The webinar will give an overview of RECLAIM and its potential impact on communities struggling with the decline of the coal industry. It will also include a discussion of how the Alliance and its member organizations have been moving forward a strategy to build support around the legislation, and how you can be part of the movement.
There will be time at the end for Q & A. We hope you'll join us Monday, April 18 @ 12:00pm. If you cannot attend the live webinar, don't worry! We will send around a link to the recording afterwards.
Call information for audio:
+1 (415) 655-0060
Got an idea for a project that could help grow your local economy from the bottom up? Well, we've got good news.
The federal government has announced a significant sum of money (tens of millions of bucks!) for projects that can help transition local economies and support community development in places struggling with the decline of the coal industry.
The 2016 POWER Initiative presents a massive opportunity for economic transition, and it could be the opportunity you need to finally make your dream economic project— maybe a hemp farm or a local recreational tourism business— a reality.
If turning your idea into a concrete project that can be submitted in a grant application sounds daunting, you're not alone. That's why the government is offering technical assistance grants to help you develop your grant application. Workshops and webinars on these opportunities will be offered over the next month (see below)
Register for a workshop here.
- Wise, Virginia, April 14
- Manchester, Kentucky, April 22
- Hidden Valley, Pennsylvania, April 27
- Sutton, West Virginia, May 18
- Tuscaloosa, Alabama, May 24
And if you can't make it to any of the workshops (or even if you can!), check out the POWER Initiative webinars. Recorded webinars on What is the POWER Initiative? and Research and Data- What is a Coal-Impacted Community? can be accessed here. Upcoming webinars:
- April 20, 2016, 2:00 p.m. ET. "POWER Implementation Grants: The Application Process"
- May 4, 2016, 2:00 p.m. ET. "ARC POWER Technical Assistance Application Process"
- May 18, 2016, 2:00 p.m. ET. "Where to Find Matching Funds"
- June 1, 2016, 2:00 p.m. ET. Topic to be announced
Your community could be eligible for new funds to reclaim abandoned coal mines, if a new bill makes its way through Congress.
Last week word broke of the RECLAIM Act, a bill that would invest $1 billion in communities struggling with the decline of the coal industry. The bill would put people to work reclaiming abandoned coal mines and would create long-term economic opportunities in agriculture, recreational tourism, energy, and more on reclaimed mine sites.
If you're interested in how many abandoned mines are eligible in your community, The Daily Yonder has developed a nifty interactive map that illustrates on a county basis how much it would cost to reclaim the abandoned mines eligible for these funds.
The darker the red, the greater the extend of remaining abandoned mines. Click the graphic to check out the interactive map. Image: The Daily Yonder.
The $1 billion RECLAIM Act is only a proposal at this point and still has to make its through Congress.
In addition to this proposal, states and tribes currently receive some funding for mine reclamation under the federal Abandoned Mine Land (AML) program. Though the requirements around the current funding are less focused on economic transition, the abandoned mines outlined in the interactive map are eligible for the current funding. If you think you'
The RECLAIM Act would roughly double the amount of annual funding for abandoned mine reclamation, and would put a greater emphasis on creating economic opportunities.
A bipartisan group of legislators headed by Congressman Hal Rogers announced today that they are introducing the “RECLAIM Act.” The bill would release $1 billion to put people to work reclaiming abandoned mines and create economic opportunities in communities struggling with the decline of the coal industry. (View a summary of the bill)
Releasing funds for mine reclamation is a big piece of the POWER+ Plan, a federal proposal that was introduced by the Administration last spring. In Appalachia, the POWER+ Plan could do a lot to help drive the transition to a more diverse, sustainable, and just economy, and help families who are reeling as the economy here bottoms out.
Over the past six months, a community-led movement to pass the POWER+ Plan has spread like wildfire across the region. Twenty-eight (28) local governments and organizations across Appalachia have passed resolutions supporting the POWER+ Plan.
“I was happy back in August when our county government here in Harlan County passed a resolution in support of POWER+. I’m just as happy now that others are starting to see the potential that we see here for a just transition. It’s been coming a long time. This gives me a lot of hope and optimism for the future,” said Kimberly Shepherd of Harlan County.
The bill will hit the House floor with bipartisan support from across Appalachia. Matt Cartwright (D-PA), Evan Jenkins (R-WV), Don Beyer (D-VA), and Morgan Griffith (R-VA) are all original co-sponsors of the bill. As momentum for the POWER+ Plan continues to grow, the hope is to see other legislators from coal areas step up.
The bill would disburse $200 million per year, over five years, to states and tribes for the purpose of implementing mine reclamation projects that create long-term economic opportunities in agriculture, energy, recreational tourism, and more (like the projects featured here).
Let's continue to build on this momentum and see that the RECLAIM Act and the other pillars of the POWER+ Plan, such as legislation to ensure 100,000 retired miners and their families receive the healthcare and pension payments they earned, make it through Congress.
Show your congressional representatives you support the bill by clicking the button below
Here's a roundup of statements, quotes, and news coverage on the announcement of the RECLAIM Act:
- Official announcement from Congressman Hal Rogers
- Statement from Appalachian Citizens' Law Center
- Statement from Kentuckians for the Commonwealth
- Statement from West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy
- Statement from Appalachian Voices
- Statement from MACED
“Communities across East Kentucky have spoken, and today’s introduction of the RECLAIM Act signifies that Congressman Rogers has heard them,” said Eric Dixon of Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center. “I am excited that Congressman Rogers not only supports the bill but has gone a step further and is sponsoring it himself, and I am proud that Kentucky is leading this effort. I hope to see the rest of Kentucky’s congressional delegation step up.”
“We applaud this historic bipartisan bill by Congressman Evan Jenkins and others to help diversify West Virginia’s economy and help struggling coal communities,” said Ted Boettner, Executive Director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy. “The RECLAIM Act is an important and significant step toward building a stronger economy in West Virginia in the wake of the state’s declining coal production.”
“We applaud Congressmen Griffith, Rogers and their colleagues for introducing this forward-thinking legislation,” said Adam Wells, Economic Diversification Campaign Coordinator with Appalachian Voices’ Wise County, Va., office. “More than two dozen local governments have called for federal investment in their communities. Releasing this funding now would support efforts taking place all across Central Appalachia to secure the region’s economic future.”
"In this time of transition in the mountains, it is essential that we take care of our communities, our people, the land on which we live and the water that we drink. We cannot build a better economic future without doing so, and the RECLAIM Act would help us move forward down that path toward a brighter Appalachian future." —MACED statement on the RECLAIM Act
Carl Shoupe, a retired UMWA coal miner in Harlan County, Kentucky, mailed a letter to Congressman Hal Rogers today encouraging him to push the POWER+ Plan through Congress in 2016. The letter was accompanied by copies of the 14 resolutions that local governments and organizations have passed in Rogers' 5th District supporting the POWER+ Plan.
Carl serves on the Benham Power Board, one of the 14 Kentucky localities that have passed POWER+ support resolutions. Read Carl's letter here:
Dear Congressman Rogers,
My name is Carl Shoupe and I am a retired, third-generation coal miner and a member of the Benham Power Board, which passed a resolution in support of the POWER+ plan last year. The Benham Power Board and the Benham City Council, along with 12 other local governments and organizations in the 5th District in Kentucky, and 14 more throughout the Central Appalachian region passed these resolutions to demonstrate our commitment to building a bright future here in our beautiful mountains as the coal industry continues to decline. We believe the investments from the federal government that the POWER+ Plan calls for would be an important component of helping our struggling region transition to a new, strong economy good for all eastern Kentuckians.
I am writing to share with you the resolutions that have passed in the 5th District, the list of resolutions from other areas, and to ask you to pass POWER+ through Congress this year.
Folks from all walks of life are working hard together to help create our next economy; we truly are working to “shape our Appalachian region.” As the resolutions say, we believe our transition should be one that “celebrates culture; invests in communities; generates good, stable and meaningful jobs; is just and equitable; and protects and restores the land, air and water.” The POWER+ Plan is a great first step toward this just transition Appalachians have been working together to build.
I was encouraged to learn of the $90 million in the federal budget that you secured for reclaiming and restoring Abandoned Mine Lands in ways that could create economic and community development. This shows me there’s momentum toward fully funding the $1 billion in AML reclamation through the full POWER+ proposal, and I am writing to encourage you—with the support of our local governments and organizations behind you—to see the AML portion of the proposal, along with the miners benefits fund proposal and the funding for workforce development and job training, through the legislative process.
Last summer I was in a community meeting here in my small, former coal-camp town of Benham where we gathered to learn and talk about the POWER+ Plan. In that meeting, Dan Mosley, my Judge Executive here in Harlan County, said about the decline of the coal industry here: “The time has come to wipe away our tears. We have no choice but to diversify.” I wholeheartedly agree, and hope you do too, that right now we have the opportunity to build a future here in our beloved mountains with a strong economy and restored water and land for our children and grandchildren to thrive in. Please join us in building that future by working to push the POWER+ plan through Congress.
Originally posted by Appalachian Citizens' Law Center, December 18, 2015
Over the past months, support for the the proposed POWER+ Plan has blossomed across Appalachia, and another step was taken today in making the Plan—and the vision of a just economic transition that it represents—a reality.
The POWER+ Plan is a proposed multi-billion dollar investment in communities struggling with the decline of the coal industry to help diversify and strengthen their economies. 26 localities and groups across four Appalachian states have passed resolutions supporting the POWER+ Plan (see list here). The Plan was put forth in the Administration’s FY2016 budget.
The Omnibus bill signed by the President today does not fund the POWER+ Plan in full, but it does include some projects similar to those proposed in the Plan.
“Developing a $90 million pilot project for economic development on reclaimed mines is a great first step. That money will get some things going here in the region, but it’s only a pilot project, it’s only for three states, and it’s only for one year,” said Eric Dixon, Coordinator of Policy and Community Engagement at Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center.*
The Abandoned Mine Land (AML) pilot project included in this budget can pave the way to the full POWER+ Plan, which includes an investment in mine reclamation that is more than ten times larger than $90 million for AML included in this budget. We hope to see Congressman Rogers use the momentum from this pilot project to spearhead legislation in 2016 that would make a longer-term, $1 billion investment in putting laid off miners and others to work reclaiming mines.
The budget also includes provisions that will deliver $50 million to the Appalachian Regional Commission and $15 million to the Economic Development Administration for projects and grants under the POWER+ Plan.** This funding is a win for communities with struggling economies who will now see increased opportunities for economic development and workforce retraining money. Notably, though, the budget only partially funds or altogether leaves out POWER+ funding for USDA, EPA brownfield grants, and the DOL.
In a disappointing move, Congress also will not take any action on the UMWA portion of the POWER+ Plan, which would help strengthen a fund that provides crucial healthcare and pension payments for more than 100,000 retired miners and their families. If action is not taken early in 2016, thousands of people throughout the region who spent their lives working in the mines could lose the benefits they need and deserve.
According to an August article in Reuters, working through AML funding with Wyoming may have been a political obstacle to passage of the POWER+ Plan, but the FAST Act that passed earlier this month includes a provision that will deliver $242 million to Wyoming through the AML program.***
With potential political concerns with Wyoming out of the way and with robust local support for the Plan, Congressman Rogers and Senator McConnell now have all they need to take the momentum gained from this AML pilot project and make the full POWER+ Plan a reality early in the new year.
*The $90 million provision for AML projects that create economic or community development opportunities can be found on pages 734-5 of the bill here.
** According to page 99 of this PDF of an accompanying report on the omnibus budget, within the Appalachian Regional Commission’s $146 million budget “$50,000,000 is provided for the POWER Plus Plan.”
***The provision that delivers the $242 million payment to Wyoming can be found on pages 451-2 of the the FAST Act here.