Just Transition gets a boost with approval of RECLAIM Act by congressional committee

There was a significant step forward today when a Congressional committee added a key amendment back into the RECLAIM Act and then approved the bill, sending it to the House floor.

KFTC and allies have pushed for the amendment since the bill was introduced earlier this year without necessary language tying the use of funds to economic development projects, with requirements for community engagement.

Passage of the RECLAIM Act became less certain last week when the National Mining Association sent a letter to lawmakers expressing its opposition to the bill, though it seems to have had no affect on today’s vote. The bottom line is that the coal industry wants to do away with the federal program, which is paid for by a per-ton tax on mined coal.

With that important addition, the House Natural Resources Committee passed the RECLAIM Act (H.R. 1731) Tuesday morning.

“This is a victory for Appalachia and a big day for Kentucky and those suffering from the decline of coal,” said Sarah Bowling, a KFTC member who has traveled on several occasions to Washington DC in support of the legislation. “It priorities the economic development that we really need in eastern Kentucky.”

The RECLAIM (Revitalizing the Economy of Coal Communities by Leveraging Local Activities and Investing More) Act calls for the accelerated release of $1 billion over five years from the federal Abandoned Mine Lands Fund. AML money is used to pay for the remediation of abandoned coal mining sites, but is limited now to environmental benefits.

Passing the RECLAIM Act is a priority of KFTC’s Just Transition work. Starting two years ago, eastern Kentucky members and allies built grassroots support for the legislation that eventually led to Rep. Rogers introduction of the bill in February 2016.

The bill did not get a vote last year. Earlier this year, Rogers re-introduced the bill – though it did not have the economic development and community engagement provisions that make the legislation part of a transition strategy. Sen. Mitch McConnell introduced an even weaker version in the Senate.

The committee amendment, offered by Rep. Don Beyers of Virginia, restored the key language.

“It’s really empowering because it was a community-led movement, the culmination of months and months of work,” Bowling added. “We were really pushing for that amendment. The whole purpose of this bill is economic development.”

Rep. Rogers acknowledged the work of RECLAIM supporters in an op-ed this week in the Lexington Herald-Leader. “The RECLAIM Act has been revised, reshaped and strengthened by those who seek to help coal country the most."