Lawmakers have pushed two bills designed to help coal communities in West Virginia and throughout the country address abandoned mine lands a step closer to passage.
The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday advanced two pieces of legislation to the full House of Representatives sponsored by Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., that would provide funding for mine reclamation.
First, the Democratic-majority committee approved the RECLAIM (Revitalizing the Economy of Coal Communities by Leveraging Local Activities and Investing More) Act, H.R. 1733, which would release $1 billion from the remaining, unappropriated balance in the federal fund for abandoned mine lands to states to be spent on reclamation projects in communities affected by abandoned mines and the downturn in coal mining.
“With this money, we can support a cleaner environment, new jobs, a stronger economy, and clean up a legacy,” committee Chairman Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., said during the committee’s session Wednesday.
The RECLAIM Act would make about $200 million available from fiscal years 2022 to 2026, with funding required to create favorable conditions in economically distressed mining communities.
The committee subsequently approved the Abandoned Mine Land Fee Extension Act. The bill, H.R. 1734, would enact a 15-year extension of the fee levied on coal companies that funds the reclamation program for abandoned mine lands, which is set to expire at the end of September.
Federal regulators say it would take more than $10 billion of work to reclaim eligible abandoned mine land sites. The fee helps provide funding for eligible states like West Virginia to address hazardous conditions and pollution left behind by past coal mining.
The U.S. Department of the Interior announced $18.9 million for West Virginia to reclaim abandoned mine lands in March. More than $8 billion has been distributed to states for abandoned mine land reclamation projects since the passage of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act established the program in 1977.
None of West Virginia’s congressional representatives are members of the Natural Resources Committee, but the Mountain State’s House members have mixed opinions on the two bills.
Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., is a co-sponsor of the RECLAIM Act and has called it an economic revitalization and diversification tool for Appalachia and other coal-producing regions.
But West Virginia’s other two representatives in the House aren’t on board with McKinley.
Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va., does not support the RECLAIM Act, saying it would divert Abandoned Mine Land program funding from its original purpose. She advocates for modernizing and innovating coal mines, instead.
Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va., has been noncommittal on the RECLAIM Act, saying he supports its goals but would have to review the specific details of the legislation if it came up for a vote in the House.
Miller and Mooney have co-sponsored a bill introduced by Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., competing with Cartwright’s Abandoned Mine Land fee authorization extension proposal. Cheney’s bill, H.R. 2462, supported by the National Mining Association, would extend the program for seven years — as opposed to the 15 in Cartwright’s legislation — and reduce fees by 40%.
Mooney has argued that the seven-year extension would allow Congress the opportunity to revisit the policy so that it doesn’t become outdated. Mooney said the Cartwright bill’s 15-year program fee extension, with no reduction in reclamation fees, could negatively affect the coal industry over time.
The Natural Resources Committee approved the RECLAIM Act after signing off an amendment offered by Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif., that he said would ensure that states and tribes can direct funds freed by the legislation toward acid mine drainage treatment and match the Senate version of the bill introduced by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
“We need to reauthorize the abandoned mine land fee at its current levels, and certainly no lower, so that we can continue providing coal country with the investments it needs and deserves,” Lowenthal said.