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As Donald Trump’s signed executive orders to relax regulation of the coal industry, senators from both parties introduced separate legislation that seeks to stimulate jobs through mine land reclamation.
Two bills, one authored by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and the other by Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), were filed on the same day. Both bills even carried the same title, the RECLAIM Act, and were hailed as legislative support for job creation activities.
In his statement, McConnell explained the “legislation aims to accelerate $1 billion in available funding in the Abandoned Mine Reclamation (AML) Fund over the next five years to revitalize coal communities hit hardest by the downturn of the coal industry.”
“By working with local leaders and stakeholders, we will be able to provide additional support for vital environmental reclamation, economic development, and job training in Appalachia,” said Senator McConnell. “After suffering eight years of job losses in the coalfields, Kentucky families and communities are in need, and this bill would provide additional resources to these regions.”
In the House, Kentucky Representative Hal Rogers (R-5th) is introducing the companion bill. “Through this bill, we have an incredible opportunity to make sure that our coal producing states can access funding that is readily available to restore our land and revive our economy,” Rogers said.
Senator Manchin, and his Democratic colleagues in the Senate, re-introduced the previous Obama Administration proposal, and their language is supportive of the community groups and their economic development priorities. “This legislation will help the many mining communities throughout West Virginia and the country that have been devastated by the decline in the coal industry,” Manchin said. “Now, we must make sure these communities and their residents get back on their feet, and this bill will do just that by deploying funds that are just sitting unused in the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund.”
Manchin said the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement estimated that the bill could generate 4,600 reclamation jobs across the country. “While this investment is not all that is needed, it’s a start,” Manchin said.
Manchin’s version of the RECLAIM Act is co-sponsored Senators Tim Kaine (D-Virginia), Mark Warner (D-Virginia), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania).
McConnell’s version is co-sponsored by Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia). On the House side, Rogers has cosponsors in Matt Cartwright (D-Pennsylvania), Evan Jenkins (R-West Virginia), Morgan Griffith (R-Virginia), and Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-Pennsylvania).
The main difference between the language in the McConnell and Manchin proposals is the “prioritization of economic diversification,” says Eric Dixon, with Appalachian Citizens Law Center. “The McConnell bill de-prioritizes the economic development focus. That’s something we hope to fix as the legislation moves forward.”