Reclaim Act

Put Kentuckians back to work and protect the environment

Demand for coal in the US is down, thanks to a natural gas boom that has created cheaper competition for coal-fired power. The Appalachian coal industry was hard-hit as coal extraction gradually slid west because mines are newer and cheaper to operate.

Kentucky coal production has been on the decline since an all-time high of 175 million tons in the early 90’s, to just about 60 million tons in 2015. During that same period, coal jobs in the state declined from about 25,000 to 8,000. Many jobs have also been lost because new mines use techniques that require fewer workers like strip-mining and mountain-top removal. This means that Kentucky suffers more than it benefits from coal.

There are nearly $10 billion worth of abandoned mines remaining across the country. Kentucky’s share is about $462 million. Fortunately, coal companies have been paying into the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund for decades, specifically for this purpose. How that money is spent should be decided by each state and local communities, who best know how to design projects that will both provide a short-term economic boost, but also long-term economic opportunity.

 

The federal Reclaim Act was introduced in 2015 by Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY) and last year had 27 co-sponsors from both parties. It proposes releasing $1 billion from the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund to assist communities that have been adversely affected by the coal industry or that historically rely on coal as its main economic support.  The act would direct money to create economic opportunities out of environmental problems by cleaning up $1 billion worth of abandoned mine sites—from abandoned highwalls to streams decimated by acid mine drainage—that harm our natural resources and health across the country. Kentucky’s share would be $100 million over 5 years.

If we want to invest in projects that will attract new employers, create new jobs, address environmental problems, and reinvigorate and diversify Kentucky’s local economies, we need to create widespread support for the Reclaim Act. The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement estimates that this will create 4,600 immediate reclamation jobs around the country, which provide a short-term economic boost at a time when action is needed. Long term economic benefits and environmental impacts are also created: reclaimed sites serve as locations for long term economic opportunities to create permanent local jobs. Abandoned mines across the country have been used to create thousands of jobs and attract industries in agriculture, recreation, tourism, renewable energy production, retail, and beyond.

There is great public support in communities for this bill. Public Opinion Strategies, a leading Republican polling firm, discovered that 89% of registered voters in Appalachia support the reclaim act. In addition, at least 87% of voters in each state support the legislation, which shows that there is a strong desire among its residents for more economic opportunities beyond the coal and mining industries. By a two-to-one margin, survey respondents want decision-makers to prioritize helping these areas transition and diversify their economies, rather than fighting government regulations to help bring back coal mining jobs.

The Reclaim Act was reintroduced in March 2017 with Senator McConnell as lead sponsor in the senate. This bill differs in one important was from the original: it no longer requires state abandoned mine land agencies to consider economic distress, economic diversification, and the input of local communities in their decisions about all sites.

Write your legislators: Support and improve the Reclaim Act

Write a letter to your legislators. Letters are most effective when they’re written in your own words. Please tell our elected officials why you support clean energy in Kentucky. You can find your legislators by clicking here or text your zip code to 520-200-2223.

Letters are most effective when you use your own words. Here are some prompts to help you.

  • Have you or someone from your family lost a job in the coal industry? If so, please tell your senators and representative the story and how this loss has affected the people you love.
  • Have you seen an abandoned strip mine or coal town that’s gone downhill? How do you think the devastation impacts Kentucky’s tourism industry?
  • Do you think local communities should have a say at public hearings about how Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund money is spent? Shouldn’t people with the greatest stake in a local economic project be consulted?
  • Do you think Kentucky should be investing more in renewable energy and energy efficiency instead of creating more abandoned mine lands as more coal companies file for bankruptcy?