A congressional subcommittee will hear testimony Thursday in support of a bill that would help clean up and redevelop surface mine land. The bill enjoys bipartisan support, but still faces hurdles.
A 2015 report found that as many as 6.2 million acres of land and water were harmed by mining operations that ended prior to 1977, when significant standards were put in place to protect communities and environments near mine sites. The RECLAIM Act would distribute up to $1 billion to restore abandoned mines, primarily in Appalachia, and prepare them for future economic development. The money would come from the Abandoned Mine Lands fund, which is supported by a tax on coal.
“This bill offers an opportunity for us to provide clean water and a healthy environment for these communities hit by the economic reality of a coal industry in decline,” said Congressman Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), chair of the energy and environment subcommittee that will hear testimony on the measure. “It is only appropriate that the coal industry, the driving force behind the pollution, continue to pay for the health and well-being of these communities.”
Eric Dixon, senior policy coordinator at the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center, is scheduled to testifying on the RECLAIM Act. He says the bill would accelerate cleanup of idle mines while spurring economic development once cleanup is complete.
“There is real support for this bill,” Dixon said. “It wasn’t made the priority in the House and the Senate that it needed, but we are hopeful that a strong version of the bill is going to be reintroduced soon, and that we’re going to continue to pick up more Republican and Democratic sponsors and move the bill forward.”
The RECLAIM Act was introduced in 2017 by Congressman Hal Rogers and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, both Republicans of Kentucky, and enjoys bipartisan support. A 2016 survey found that 89 percent of Ohio Valley voters approve of the RECLAIM Act, and over 50 local governments in five Appalachian states have passed resolutions in support of the bill, Dixon said.
A 2017 version of the bill failed to pass the full House vote. The measure continues to face opposition from the National Mining Association.
A new version of the bill has not yet been filed.
Also up for consideration in Thursday’s hearing will be the Community Reclamation Partnerships Act, which would ease liability for community groups that take on mine land cleanup on their own dime.
“There’s no constituency for acid mine drainage,” said Chris Woods, CEO of Trout Unlimited, a water conservation organization based in Virginia. Woods is scheduled to testify on the Act. “It’s shocking to me that we have been unable to pass this legislation.”
The CRPA passed in the House of Representatives in 2017 but failed to come to a vote in the Senate. Woods hopes the measure will have more success in a non-election year.
Woods also hopes to raise with Congress the need to reauthorize the Abandoned Mine Lands fund, which expires in 2021.
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