Eastern Kentuckians push Sen. McConnell to support RECLAIM Act and Miners Protection ActSenate leader is key to bills passing before Congress adjourns
More than a billion dollars for economic development could come to communities hard hit economically by the decline of the coal industry, and eastern Kentuckians are making a final push to get Congress to pass the necessary legislation.
Three members of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth delivered nearly 10,000 signatures to U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell’s London office on Monday. The petition urges him to see that the RECLAIM Act is included in the flurry of bills expected to pass before Congress adjourns for the year.
They also delivered thousands of signatures in support of the Miners Protection Act, a bill stalled in the U.S. Senate.
“We were here today to deliver nearly 10,000 signatures in support of the RECLAIM Act and many thousands in support of the Miners Protection Act, to make sure these bills get through Congress this year,” said Eric Dixon of Letcher County. “It’s a proposal sitting in Sen. Mitch McConnell’s lap that he can take up and move through Congress this year.”
The RECLAIM Act would take $1 billion of existing money that is sitting in the Abandoned Mine Land Fund and deliver that money to states to put people – laid off coal miners and others – to work reclaiming abandoned coal mines and streams.
“Once those sites are reclaimed, we can get businesses going on those sites, in agriculture and renewable energy and recreational tourism,” Dixon added. “It’s an immediate economic boost at a time when our communities need it.”
Katie Dollarhide, a second Letcher County resident who delivered the petitions, added, ““It would also create longer-term economic opportunity as the bill requires that these sites be reclaimed in ways that lead to community and economic development. The bill would bring a much-needed shot in the arm to our region during a time when we really need it.”
President Obama proposed the accelerated release of the $1 billion nearly two years ago as part of a larger Power+ Plan to help communities hard hit by the loss of coal jobs. In February of this year, U.S. Rep Hal Rogers introduced the RECLAIM (Revitalizing the Economy of Coal Communities by Leveraging Local Activities and Investing More) Act that put that proposal into legislation.
However, the bill has not moved and Congress has only a few days left before they adjourn for the year and a new Congress takes over next year.
Sen. McConnell, the Senate majority floor leader, is key to seeing that the legislation is passed this year.
“We’ve seen this community-led effort across Central Appalachia, across eastern Kentucky, to make this happen,” said Dixon. “We know that people want it to happen and now we need to make sure the people in Congress make it happen this year. It’s not something that can wait. Communities can’t wait on this.”
KFTC members and allies also are pushing McConnell to make sure the Miners Protection Act, a bill that was introduced 17 months ago but has been stalled by Senate Republicans, is passed this year.
The Act would shore up retired coal miners’ union health care and pension benefits for tens of thousands of retired coal miners and their families. The current fund is near insolvency as coal company have declared bankruptcy and reneged on their pension and health care commitments for retirees.
The Miners Protection Act also would tap into the Abandoned Mine Land Fund, redirecting excess funds to shore up the miners fund. The AML Fund is supported by a fee on coal companies to fund mine reclamation projects, so no additional tax dollars are needed.
KFTC members have been pushing hard to get the two bills passed before Congress adjourns. Besides the petitions, the sponsored two telephone town halls to explain what’s at stake, and participated in a national call-in day to McConnell’s office.
Hundreds called and many reported the phone lines were tied up for days.
“As senate majority leader, you have more power than any other legislator in the country to make the RECLAIM Act and the Miners Protection Act a reality,” Dollarhide wrote in a letter to McConnell accompanying the petitions. ”The time is now to get behind coal communities and show leadership for our state by taking action on these two important pieces of legislation.”
On Tuesday, the petitions were delivered to McConnell Washington, D.C. office, and on Thursday to each of his other Kentucky field offices.
Dixon also had an op-ed published on Monday in The Hill, a publication read by many members of Congress.