Congressman Rogers hears eastern Kentuckians' call for just transition, introduces RECLAIM Act

A strong grassroots movement toward just transition in eastern Kentucky and Central Appalachia, including major federal investment in the region, has resulted in new legislation.

Carl Shoupe sends Congressman Hal Rogers the resolutions that were passed by local governments asking him to support the POWER+ Plan. Carl is a retired coal miner, member of KFTC, and member of the Benham Power Board, which passed a resolution in August 2015.Today U.S. Representative Hal Rogers introduced the RECLAIM Act (Revitalizing the Economy of Coal Communities by Leveraging Local Activities and Investing More). The bipartisan bill aims to accelerate the use of $1 billion in funding in the Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) Fund to help revitalize coal communities hardest hit by the downturn of the coal industry.

“This is great news. I am thrilled that Kentucky is taking the lead with Congressman Hal Rogers’ introduction of the bill,” said KFTC Chairperson Dana Beasley Brown. “A proposal to restore the land and water of abandoned mine sites in eastern Kentucky in ways that will put people back to work and create economic development opportunities is what folks in the region and beyond have been working hard toward for years.”

The legislation distributes $200 million annually to states and Indian tribes to carry out reclamation projects that will create favorable conditions for economic development in the surrounding area.

The AML Fund was created in the 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) to address environmental damages from abandoned coal mines. A change in the statutory language of SMCRA is required to allow funds to be used for those expanded purposes.

“This legislation, if passed, will bring a much-needed kick-start to our struggling economy and put laid off miners and others back to work while restoring the land and water of abandoned mines in ways that create economic and community development,” said KFTC member Carl Shoupe who has worked to build local support for this and other investments in Appalachia’s bright future.

The RECLAIM Act mirrors a proposal from the White House in February 2015 that was part of a broader POWER+ Plan which included job training, strengthening the health and pension plans of 100,000 retired coal miners and their families, and other direct investments in communities affected by the nation’s transition from coal.

That proposal did not gain much traction until last fall when communities in eastern Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia and Tennessee began passing resolutions in support of the POWER+ proposal. The Kentucky resolutions called on Rep. Rogers to sponsor the legislation necessary to allow the extra $1 billion in AML funds to be used for economic and community development projects.

"This just shows that all of our little actions together can add up to something big"

“We have been working together locally as a community for quite some time, and are excited to see the ball start to roll in our favor, to see representatives from our state on our side,” said Kimberly Shepherd of Harlan County. “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.”

Resolutions in support of POWER+ were passed by fiscal courts in Letcher, Floyd, Knott, Harlan, Bell, Pike and Perry counties; city councils in Vicco, Hindman, Evarts, Benham and Whitesburg; the Benham Power Board and the Appalachian Renaissance Initiative Student Senate; plus 14 locals governments in Virginia, West Virginia and Tennessee.

“This just shows that all of our little actions together can add up to something big,” said Carl Shoupe, a retired third-generation coal miner.

Those who wish to show support for the RECLAIM Act can sign an online petition and get more information at www.powerplusplan.org.

A summary of the bill can be found here.

The complete bill can be downloaded here.

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