Thursday, May 02, 2019

Bill to use accumulated coal-tax revenue for Central Appalachia moving again in House, under Democrats

U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky.
A bill to bring more than $100 million to the Central Appalachian coalfield passed the House Committee on Natural Resources Committee Wednesday. The Revitalizing the Economy of Coal Communities by Leveraging Local Activities and Investing More (RECLAIM) Act Of 2019, "written by U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky’s 5th Congressional District, would pay for the reclamation of abandoned mine lands and, advocates hope, would foster growth in areas suffering from a sharp decline in coal production in recent years,"  Will Wright reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. 

The bill would distribute $1 billion of unappropriated money from the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund to coal-producing states and Native American tribes over five years for mine reclamation projects, Wright reports. One of the bill's sponsors, Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., noted, "This is money that’s already collected and sitting in the federal treasury."

Though the bill has bipartisan support, it may face the same obstacles it did when introduced in years past. The idea was originally part of President Obama's PowerPlus plan, included in his 2016 budget proposal, and most Republicans were leery of supporting it. Rogers, a Republican, filed the RECLAIM Act as a stand-alone bill in 2016. It failed to pass the Natural Resources Committee that year; in 2017 it passed the committee but didn't get a full vote in the House, Wright reports.

But now the House is controlled by more free-spending Democrats, and the Senate is managed by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who introduced his own version of the legislation last year but has been cagey about whether the other bill. Spokesperson Robert Steurer said McConnell "remains committed to ensuring funding is secured to reclaim abandoned mine lands as well as for economic development efforts in Central Appalachia" and said McConnell's office "continues to discuss the issue with constituents and colleagues," Wright reports.

The bill has been blocked by representatives from Western coal states. Wyoming, which produces 40% of the nation's coal and thus pays a plurality of the taxes for the AML Fund, and Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming is in the Republican leadership with McConnell. But some of the states that get AML funds don't have any more eligible coal sites to reclaim and are spending the funds on non-coal projects. That could trigger resentment, since that means high-producing coal states like Wyoming aren't getting money they need to spend on their greater share of mine reclamation projects.

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