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H.R. 1731 (115th): RECLAIM Act of 2017

It isn’t just Republicans who support reviving coal mines. Even dozens of Democrats have cosponsored a bill to potentially bring back certain abandoned coal mines.

Context

The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Program was created in 1977, using per-ton fees collected from current coal companies to improve environmental and health conditions at coal mines abandoned before 1977.

As of September 2017, the fund’s total balance was $2.4 billion. The top five recipient states in order are Wyoming, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Illinois.

What the bill does

The Revitalizing the Economy of Coal Communities by Leveraging Local Activities and Investing More (RECLAIM) Act would “fast track” $1 billion of that fund over the next five years.

The money would go towards the approximately six million of abandoned mine land that still exist in America.

The legislation was introduced in the House in March 2017 as bill number H.R. 1731 by Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY5), and in the Senate the same day as bill number S. 728 by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

What supporters say

Supporters argue the legislation provides a much-needed economic boost for an industry that has been famously hard-hit over the past few years and decades — a fact often mentioned by President Trump.

“Over the last eight years, we’ve lost more than 13,000 coal mining jobs in Kentucky alone,” Rep. Rogers said in a press release. “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.”

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,” Sen. McConnell said in that same press release. “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 would build upon the successful pilot program that Congressman Rogers and I championed to bring assistance to coal communities.”

What opponents say

Opponents who support coal mining argue that the legislation fails to tackle the true root issues causing the coal industry to become economically uncompetitive.

“As appealing as the name sounds, the RECLAIM Act would be a billion-dollar boondoggle that shifts coal-tax funds from their intended purpose of remediating abandoned mine lands and reducing public health and safety risks to economic revitalization projects in distressed coal communities,” conservative energy and environmental policy writer Nicholas Loris wrote for the Heritage Foundation.

“Moreover, the act would exacerbate the well-known problems that already exist with federally funded efforts to stimulate certain regions of the economy,” Loris continued. “If Congress truly wants to help coal communities, it should move away from the tried-and-failed approach of taxpayer-funded economic revitalization, and reduce ineffective, burdensome regulations that drive up the costs for mining and using coal as an abundant, affordable power source.”

Odds of passage

The House version has attracted 40 bipartisan cosponsors: 23 Republicans and 17 Democrats. It was approved by the House Natural Resources Committee in June 2017, but has yet to receive a vote in the full House since then. That’s further than the previous 2016 version of the bill, which didn’t even make it to a committee vote.

The Senate version has attracted just one Republican cosponsor, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV). (It’s not immediately apparent why the Senate version has seemingly attracted so much less support, considering it’s controlled by the same party as the House.) The Senate version awaits a potential vote in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Last updated Nov 26, 2018. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Oct 19, 2017.


Revitalizing the Economy of Coal Communities by Leveraging Local Activities and Investing More Act of 2017 or the RECLAIM Act of 2017

This bill amends the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA)to make specified funds available to the Department of the Interior through FY2021 for distribution to states and Indian tribes to promote economic revitalization, diversification, and development in economically distressed communities through the reclamation and restoration of land and water resources adversely affected by coal mining carried out before August 3, 1977.

The bill prescribes general requirements for projects to reclaim abandoned mine lands and waters that are likely to create favorable conditions for the economic development of the project site or promote the general welfare through economic and community development of the area in which the project is conducted. Any such project shall be located in a community affected by a recent decline in mining.

A state or Indian tribe that receives funds under this bill may retain a portion of them as necessary to supplement its acid mine drainage abatement and treatment fund for future operation and maintenance costs for the treatment of acid mine drainage associated with individual projects.

The bill increases the minimum amount of funds that Interior must provide annually to states and Indian tribes for reclamation and restoration projects.

The Government Accountability Office must conduct a study on the use of funds authorized by this bill.

The Appalachian Regional Commission may provide grants to individuals or entities in the Appalachian region for projects that have been or that are eligible to be reclaimed or restored under SMCRA.The commission must relocate its headquarters from Washington, DC to the Appalachian region.