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Editorial: Federal RECLAIM Act could still help coal region

 From the Bluefield Daily Telegraph:

While the coal industry may be showing renewed signs of life here in the mountains of southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia, efforts to diversify our regional economy and create new jobs must continue. A federal measure that has been reintroduced in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate can help in accomplishing that goal.

The RECLAIM Act would release $1 billion from the existing Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund balance to help communities that have traditionally relied on coal production for jobs or have recently experienced significant coal job losses. Through the proposed bill, nearly $200 million would be designated for West Virginia alone over five years, and the state would work with local communities to identify and fund economic development projects on abandoned mine sites.

The RECLAIM Act has been co-sponsored in the House by U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.Va., U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., and U.S. Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa. The companion to the House bill has been introduced in the Senate by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

The measure was originally introduced into Congress in 2016. Jenkins, and other lawmakers, are working to get the new bill out of committee and to the House floor for a vote.

Jenkins says the House Natural Resources Committee’s Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee heard testimony last week from experts about how the bill would help spur reclamation and development of abandoned mine lands. One pilot project that was highlighted, the Patriot Guardens, involves the restoration of an old surface mine and combines agriculture and job training aimed at helping West Virginia veterans develop agriculture businesses.

“Our towns, counties and states need the resources to rebuild, diversify our economy, attract new employers, create jobs, and give hope to the people who call Appalachia home,” Jenkins said.

We agree. And we believe the RECLAIM Act could still be a big help for coal-producing communities across our region. Of course there would need to be an appropriate plan in place to ensure that the funding is fairly and adequately distributed to the most hard-hit communities and toward well-intended economic development projects.

Congress should act soon on this important measure.

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