Kentuckians tell McConnell time is up, pass RECLAIM now

Senator Mitch McConnell is in a position to direct more than $100 million to economic and community development projects in communities hardest hit by the decline in coal mining.

Kentuckians held an action outside his Lexington office today asking him to waste no more time in doing that.

“The time is now to pass the RECLAIM Act,” said Lyndsay Tarus, the Economic Transition Coordinator for the Alliance for Appalachia. “This is a jobs bill. The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement has estimated that 4,600 jobs could be generated through the RECLAIM Act across the country.

“This bill is an opportunity for economic development and a chance to accelerate the clean up of abandoned mine sites in our communities,” she added.

The RECLAIM Act would accelerate the release of $1 billion from the Abandoned Mine Lands reclamation fund and direct that the funds be spent to support local economic and community development projects tied to mine reclamation. More than $100 million of that would come to Kentucky over a five-year period.

Sponsored by U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, the RECLAIM Act already has the approval of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee. Rogers is working to have the legislation included in the appropriations bill that Congress must pass by March 23.

House leaders have shown a willingness to work with Rogers on this but want to know that the legislation will be welcome in the Senate. That puts the focus on McConnell.

“We want to fix some of the problems left behind by the coal industry by offering up solutions to fill the void left by job loss, coal job loss,” said Larry Miller, a retired UMWA miner from Ohio County and member of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth.

“We have such a tremendous opportunity to reclaim, revive and diversify our coal communities across Kentucky and the United State with the passage of the House version of the RECLAIM Act,” added Miller who has 23 years experience working underground.

Miller, his wife Hattie and other met with members of Kentucky’s Congressional delegation in Washington, DC last fall in support of the RECLAIM Act. Miller told them that it is important to allow the RECLAIM Funds “… to include not only reclaiming the land but to develop it in such a way that provide economic opportunity to our coal communities.”

“We can create new jobs. The RECLAIM Act is a step in the right direction, and now is the time to pass the RECLAIM Act.”

Also speaking was Jon Johnson, a native of Paintsville and currently a student at the University of Kentucky and a member of the Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition.

“Kentuckians have paid their dues when it comes to coal in this state and energy in this state,” Johnson said. “Mitch McConnell it is time to do something for the people that you represent. Support the RECLAIM Act now.

“I have so many friends that want to come back home, just like me. But we know that we can’t. We need new opportunities. This bill gives a billion dollars to that cause. We need that now, more than ever.”

The legislation has broad bipartisan support, both Tarus and Miller emphasized.

The group gathered outside of McConnell’s office unrolled a 20-foot scroll with documents showing support from more than 10,000 petition signers, 28 local governments that passed resolutions urging support for RECLAIM, op-eds written by county judge-executives and reclamation contractors, numerous letters to the editor from grassroots supporters, and the names of more than 40 bipartisan bill cosponsors in Congress.

"So where is Mitch McConnell? If he isn't listening to us and other RECLAIM champions which constituencies is McConnell serving?” asked Taurus. “Is it the people, the citizens and the mine workers, or is it the National Mining Association?

“All the pieces for RECLAIM to pass are in place. All that is needed is Sen. McConnell’s support to make that happen.”

Supporters are urging people to call 202-601-3839 “and tell him to pass the RECLAIM Act now.”