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By Stephen Lee
Sept. 30 — Environmental groups are satisfied with a congressional lobbying push earlier this week on a bill that would send federal dollars to communities pummeled by the sinking coal market.
The Revitalizing the Economy of Coal Communities by Leveraging Local Activities and Investing More (RECLAIM) Act (H.R. 4456) would take $1 billion from the existing Abandoned Mine Lands fund, in five yearly chunks of $200 million, and distribute it to states and tribal lands for economic development projects.
The fly-in effort saw some 25 coal-state citizens, along with D.C.-based environmental advocates, meeting with House members in Appalachian states like West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio, as well as Illinois and Indiana.
As part of its House groundwork, the groups persuaded three more members—Reps. Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) and Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.)—to sign on as co-sponsors. H.R. 4456 now has 22 co-sponsors.
The Sierra Club and other environmental groups are seeking to soften some of the employment impacts of the move away from coal as an energy source by boosting cleanup jobs and funneling help to mining communities.
But the bill doesn’t have a Senate sponsor yet. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) have all signaled interest. During the lobbying week, the groups met with Manchin and Capito, as well as Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Manchin supports the goals of the RECLAIM Act, one of his staffers told Bloomberg BNA.
“He is still reviewing the legislation to ensure that it does not adversely impact the funding that would be dedicated to our miners’ health care and pensions under the Miners Protection Act, but he is committed to finding a path forward for economic development initiatives like this,” the staffer said.
Momentum has been strong for the Miners Protection Act (S. 1714), which protects miners’ health care and pension benefits. The bill has passed the Senate Finance Committee and a companion version is broadly expected to move swiftly through the House.
“I still think there’s a window to get [the RECLAIM Act] passed in the Congress this session,” Bill Price, senior organizing representative at the Sierra Club and a participant in the lobbying push, told Bloomberg BNA.
“We understand it’s a narrow window, but as soon as they get back from recess, they could start acting on passing it through the House, and then we’ll see what happens in the Senate,” Price said.
The office of Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), the bill’s sponsor and chair of the House Appropriations Committee, is expected to work on markup language during the recess, Price said.
“They’re continuing to negotiate that, and we feel confident that that language will be something we will be able to support,” Price said.
Most of the resistance to the bill has come from Western states that don’t want AML funding spent disproportionately by Appalachian states.
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The text of the RECLAIM Act is available at http://www.congress.gov/114/bills/hr4456/BILLS-114hr4456ih.pdf.
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