Residents of Kentucky’s coal counties are holding out hope that next year will bring the passage of the RECLAIM Act — legislation meant to free a billion dollars from the federal Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund to help spur economic development in communities hurting from the downturn in the coal industry.
The original RECLAIM Act was introduced in February by Kentucky Congressman Hal Rogers and 27 other representatives. But despite its bipartisan support, the bill never moved out of committee. Now, another version has been introduced in the Senate.
The Senate bill was introduced by West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, and co-sponsored by Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Tim Kaine and Mark Warner of Virginia and Robert Casey of Pennsylvania. All represent coal states, and all are Democrats.
The bill would send money from the federal Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund to reclaim abandoned mine sites. Proponents of the bill say it would create jobs by putting people to work doing the reclamation, as well as creating spots for future economic development.
For Letcher County resident Katie Dollarhide, it could be the boost her community needs to recover from the collapse of the coal industry.
“It would mean cleaning up the environment that has been devastated for generations and generations and generations,” she said. “There’s money sitting there in a fund that has billions and billions and billions of dollars — I don’t know how much. It’s sitting there, just taking in the interest and that’s great, that it’s building up. But right now, we need that to boost our economy.”
Rep. Rogers’ original RECLAIM Act mirrors a provision of President Barack Obama’s Power + plan. Since it was proposed in 2015, that plan has been endorsed by communities all over Appalachia, including the Kentucky cities of Whitesburg, Evarts, Vicco, Benham and Hindman, and seven Eastern Kentucky counties