Thompson introduces bill to address legacy mining cleanup

Staff Writer

U.S. Representative Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson is leading efforts to accelerate $1 billion from the Abandoned Mine Reclamation (AML) Fund over the next five years. The purpose of this funding is for the restoration of legacy abandoned mine sites that were never reclaimed. Pennsylvania’s 5th Congressional District has more AML sites than any other congressional district in the country.
The RECLAIM Act: Revitalizing the Economy of Coal Communities by Leveraging Local Activities and Investing More, H.R. 1731, focuses on reclamation of the nation’s remaining six million acres of abandoned mine land, while also enabling economic development on those sites through agency support from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC).
While the Department of Interior’s AML program has distributed over $8 billion to these communities for reclamation and other purposes since 1977, approximately $2.4 billion currently remains in the AML Fund’s existing, unappropriated balance. Estimates of the bill will accelerate funds from the AML trust in the amount of $58.2 million per year above and beyond what Pennsylvania is already receiving each year.
This bill will release $1 billion from the fund to stimulate new Abandoned Mine Land cleanup and economic development projects where it is needed the most.
“The RECLAIM Act is critical to Pennsylvania, especially the Fifth Congressional District, which is home to more abandoned mine sites than any other place in the country,” Thompson said. “Ensuring that we have adequate resources to clean up these locations will provide great economic and environmental benefits, especially to our watersheds and streams. I am pleased that we can advance this environmentally sound policy in fiscally sound manner, by using existing funds that will make a big difference in communities across Pennsylvania’s coal region.”
“Pennsylvania has the largest inventory of scarred mine lands leftover from the legacy of coal,” said R. John Dawes, Executive Director of the Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds. “This bill represents a huge opportunity to accelerate the restoring of those lands while creating jobs and providing economic opportunity in the communities where they exist. Providing ecosystem functions to these lands – whether it’s for replanted forests or agricultural purposes – is a huge benefit to quality of life issues for citizens of Pennsylvania. We look forward to helping the congressman get this over the goal line.”
In addition to Thompson’s support, this bill has been introduced in both chambers by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W. Va.), Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-W. Va.), and Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-Va.).
As the lead sponsor in the Senate, Leader McConnell worked diligently to ensure the bill focuses on reclamation of the nation’s remaining six million acres of abandoned mine land, while also enabling economic development on those sites through agency support from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC).
“I thank Congressman Hal Rogers for his leadership, and I look forward to continuing our efforts to bring relief to Kentucky’s struggling coal communities through the RECLAIM Act. 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,” Senator McConnell said. “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. The RECLAIM Act of 2017 would build upon the successful pilot program that Congressman Rogers and I championed to bring assistance to coal communities, and I am proud to sponsor this legislation in the Senate.”
Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) led robust conversations in the U.S. House over the last year to ensure the revised RECLAIM Act gives each state the flexibility they need to utilize available funding through a fair and transparent process.
“Over the last eight years, we’ve lost more than 13,000 coal mining jobs in Kentucky alone, and 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. “I applaud Senate Leader McConnell for leading the charge in the Senate to help this worthy bill make headway in the new Congress.”
Under the plan, $200 million will be distributed to participating states annually for five years for the reclamation of priority AML sites, which in turn will empower States and Indian tribes to work with local communities to identify and fund economic development projects on AML sites.
The RECLAIM Act follows the successful implementation of the AML Pilot Project, which was enacted in the 2016 Omnibus Appropriations bill. The $90 million pilot – spearheaded in Kentucky, Pennsylvania and West Virginia – provided coal communities with grants to reclaim abandoned mine lands with economic development purposes in mind, create new job opportunities and stimulate the local economy. 
The bill requires the public to be notified during the project planning process and be given the opportunity to comment at public meetings near proposed project sites.  
The RECLAIM Act requires the Secretary of the Interior Department to report to Congress about all RECLAIM projects and the resulting economic benefits.