A bill aiming to disperse a billion dollars to help communities with coal mine reclamation has passed through the Natural Resources Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives. The RECLAIM Act would use funds from the abandoned mine land (AML) fund to clean-up mines abandoned from before 1977, as a way to revitalize communities that were once reliant on coal.
Pennsylvania Congressman Matt Cartwright introduced the bill. He said it's important to address long-standing environmental problems, "while creating economic opportunities and struggling coal communities throughout Appalachia and the West. There are thousands of abandoned mine sites which pose risks to our health and the environment while deterring economic growth."
Through fees paid on certain coal production, Wyoming generates a lot of the money within the AML fund, but wouldn't receive anything from this bill given the state has already reclaimed high priority mines. It's considered a "certified" reclamation state with no more orphan mines. The focus of the RECLAIM bill is on uncertified states.
That was a sticking point for Wyoming's Congresswoman and Natural Resources Committee member Liz Cheney.
"This means Wyoming coal production is paying to clean up sites in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and other states east of the Mississippi," she said. "Ninety-seven point five percent of the money will go to these uncertified states asking Wyoming coal miners to foot the bill."
Funds for certified states are separate. Cheney also said the use of funds focuses too heavily on economic development rather than public health.
"Under the bill's language, lower priority sites that typically would not be eligible for AML funds could be chosen based on economic or community development merits not on the risks to public health and safety," she said.
A fellow legislator called Cheney out for opposing the bill given the committee incorporated one of her amendments.