RECLAIM Act hearing highlights jobs benefits, concerns about language

Hearing on the RECLAIM Act, April 5, 2017.

Hearing on the RECLAIM Act, April 5, 2017.

Left to right: Sarah Bowling of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Eric Dixon of Appalachian Citizens' Law Center, Thom Kay of Appalachian Voices, Colin Lauderdale of Western Organization of Resource Councils, and Fritz Boettner of Downstream Strategies were among those who travelled to Washington, DC to attend the hearing.

Left to right: Sarah Bowling of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, Eric Dixon of Appalachian Citizens' Law Center, Thom Kay of Appalachian Voices, Colin Lauderdale of Western Organization of Resource Councils, and Fritz Boettner of Downstream Strategies were among those who travelled to Washington, DC to attend the hearing.

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."


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