KFTC members travel to D.C. to lobby for the RECLAIM Act

 

Hattie, Larry, Sarah, and Judge Executive Jim Ward meet with Megan Bell and Jake Johnson of Congressman Hal Rogers' Staff

 

This October, KFTC members Sarah Bowling, Larry Miller and Hattie Miller spent time in Washington, D.C. lobbying their congresspeople to pass the 2017 RECLAIM Act.

Larry is a retired coal miner from western Kentucky. “I worked underground for 23 years and very proud of that work,” he said.

“I believe, however, that coal will never again be Kentucky's primary economic engine. I am concerned that investments in mining operations here will eventually end. I take no pleasure in saying that, because I made a good living in coal for a long time, but it just looks like a reality to me.

“Legislation has been introduced in Congress to help coal communities address this problem. The  RECLAIM Act H.R.1731 is pending in Congress right now. It utilizes federally mandated, industry-funded fees – not taxpayer money – from the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund to provide much-needed jobs and economic development throughout the coalfields.”

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The RECLAIM Act, introduced in Congress by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, would help coal-mining communities make a just transition by disbursing $1 billion over five years from an already-existing federal fund to reclaim abandoned strip mine sites. Up to $100 million of that money could come directly to Kentucky to repair land and water in places that are struggling with the decline of the coal industry.

Hattie, Larry, and Sarah traveled to D.C. to talk to Kentucky legislators about why the bill must pass with strong provisions for economic development and community participation related to the reclamation of the abandoned sites. The bill that McConnell introduced in the Senate has not yet included this language – which is exactly why KFTC members are taking grassroots action to pressure McConnell and other Congresspeople to pass the bill, the right way.

While in the capital, their delegation met with the staff of Representatives Andy Barr, Rogers, and Thomas Massy, as well as with Senators Rand Paul and McConnell. The aides of some representatives, like Rogers and Barr, were friendlier than others, and Larry, Sarah, and Hattie were able to make a direct case for including provisions for economic development and community participation to Rogers’ staff. They also made it clear to Barr’s staff that the version of the bill introduced by McConnell in the Senate had a long way to go before it would be just.

Larry, Hattie, and Sarah also had the opportunity to link up with other RECLAIM advocates around the country and to be trained by the National Wildlife Federation on the most effective ways to grassroots lobby. “I felt informed, I felt prepared and I was encouraged to make the ask,” Larry noted.

According to Hattie, most representatives they met with in D.C. were receptive to their message, especially in comparison to previous lobbying trips that she had done. “This time, they had a whole page of notes about what we said,” she reflected.

Larry also felt that there was more interest in discussing RECLAIM this time around, and Sarah expressed that having the presence of Judge Ward, from Letcher County, added a lot of credibility to the coalition and changed the whole dynamic of how the group was received by staffers.

At the same time, all three KFTC members agree that there is a lot more to be done. Despite the increased interest, “Kentucky legislators aren’t coming out in support of this like we want to see them,” Sarah reflected. “[They’re] not committed like we need them to be.”

Mitch McConnell, in particular, will need more grassroots pressure to make the right choice. McConnell was not present in person during the meetings with his staffers, but he did send the delegation a card expressing his support for (his version of) the RECLAIM Act.

Sarah reflected that despite this, the bill doesn’t seem like a priority for McConnell, who hasn’t done much to advance it since introducing it. “We want to see Mitch McConnell actively pushing this,” she explained. “He hasn’t put teeth in it. He’ll show he cares by the work he does on it.”

Larry expressed a similar hesitation. “I want to be encouraged by what [McConnell] said, but at the same time I’ve seen him in action.”

Larry and Hattie in the Capitol

With this in mind Sarah, Hattie, and Larry all emphasized the same thing: they need the help of KFTC members to keep up the pressure.  Having been voted out of committee, the next procedural step is for it to be introduced on the House floor. KFTC members and allies are now asking legislators to do what they can to see the bill, which has a remarkable amount of bipartisan support, brought to the floor for a vote.

What they need folks to do is to keep contacting their legislators, and to ask their local elected officials to reach out to McConnell urging him to act to move the the RECLAIM Act forward, with the right provisions for economic development and community participation.

If you would like to get involved, sign KFTC’s petition calling for a strong RECLAIM Act at kftc.org/reclaim. Then, call your representative and senators and share your support of the RECLAIM Act. 

According to Larry, “KFTC is a power-center on my side.” Let’s show up for him, and Hattie, and Sarah, by showing just how strong that grassroots power can be.