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.