May 01, 2019

Senate Democrats Fight To Speed Mine Land Cleanup Funds | Bloomberg

Six coal-state Senate Democrats reintroduced a bill April 30 that would speed the delivery of $1 billion to states grappling with abandoned mine lands.

The Revitalizing the Economy of Coal Communities by Leveraging Local Activities and Investing More (RECLAIM) Act has the support of congressional Democrats and many Republicans, because the money it provides would help clean up polluted lands and waterways, create cleanup jobs, and lay the groundwork for new businesses to move into blighted communities.

The $1 billion would be delivered to states over five years so they can clean up their most polluted or dangerous old mines. The money would come from the unappropriated balance in the Abandoned Mine Land reclamation fund, and would not require raising new revenue. The AML funds come from a tax on coal production.

But the legislation’s passage in the Republican-controlled Senate is far from certain. The powerful National Mining Association came out against the RECLAIM Act in the last Congress, arguing the federal Abandoned Mine Land reclamation fund should be shut down altogether.

The bill also didn’t move in the Senate during the last Congress, despite two versions having been introduced by Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). 

Under the bill, each cleanup project must also include a plan for spurring the local economy.

Clock Ticking

Tom Clarke, executive director of the Interstate Mining Compact Commission (IMCC), said the RECLAIM Act’s progression through Congress could draw lawmakers’ attention away from the more fundamental issue of reauthorizing the underlying fees that pay for the AML fund.

The commission, a government organization representing 26 states, is neutral on the RECLAIM Act, but supports the extension of the fee for abandoned mines, which is the tax on coal production. Without this fee, which expires in September 2021, the fund for abandoned mines will stop receiving new money.

Senate Democrats introduced a bill April 11 to extend the fee until 2036. But the RECLAIM Act is “more legislatively mature,” Clarke said, since it passed the House Natural Resources Committee in the last Congress, and was brought before the House in the Congress before that.

“With the magnitude of the AML issues that remain to be addressed, the central focus has to be continuing the program,” Clarke said.

The Senate RECLAIM Act is a companion version of a House bill introduced April 11. The House Natural Resources Committee version is scheduled to mark that up by May 1, and the legislation is widely expected to pass.

The bill was brought forward by Sens. Manchin, Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.).


By:  Stephen Lee