The “Revitalizing the Economy of Coal Communities by Leveraging Local Activities and Investing More Act of 2019,” or RECLAIM Act, was introduced in April in both the Senate and the House. This September, the New Democrat Coalition (NDC) announced the bill would be one of many related to climate change that the NDC would try to get passed in the House this session.
“The RECLAIM Act is an investment in the coal communities that have done the heavy lifting: that produced the energy that powered our country to greatness. These bills will provide a boost to struggling coal communities to help diversify their economies without a dime of taxpayer money,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV, said. The RECLAIM Act would give states and tribes $1 billion from the unappropriated funds of the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund. This money would be used to reclaim abandoned mine lands – and restore them to conditions that are decent and safe – in communities that relied heavily on coal mining and have been negatively affected by its decline in the last eight years. The projects would have toreclaim resources that were damaged by coal mining before 1977, when the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) was passed. Some of the environmental impacts of abandoned mine lands include water pollution, erosion,hazardous open shafts and acid drainage.
Aside from repairing the environment, the bill emphasizes the economic aspect of reclamation – funding will go to projects that would have economic benefits. Reclamation provides former miners with jobs, as they have the skills necessary, but the economic impact goes far beyond that. Former abandoned mines can become sites for agriculture, tourism, recreation (e.g., hiking), renewable energy and more.
The Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund is part of the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Reclamation Program, which was created by the SMCRA. The fund is made up of fees collected on each ton of coal mined in the US. The fees have been collected since the SMCRA was passed, though Congress has had to reauthorize this collection seven times since then, and the rates have changed: Congress lowered them in 2008 and again in 2013. Congress will have to reauthorize the collection again in 2021.
According to the Department of the Interior, Arkansas will have access to $2,814,000 in grants from the AML in Fiscal Year 2019 once the state applies for the grants; as of now, that money has simply been allocated.
This isn’t the first time that the RECLAIM Act has been proposed. A version of the bill was introduced in 2016 and again in 2017 in both chambers of Congress. In 2017, the bill made it out of the committee in the House but no further. It did not go even that far in the Senate, despite being introduced by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
The RECLAIM Act is unlikely to be enacted this session, either, especially since all six of the cosponsors in the Senate are Democrats. The bill has bipartisan support in the House, but the same was true when it died before.