2017-02-15 / Opinions

We must demand that McConnell support RECLAIM

By GARY BENTLEY

As citizens of the United States of America and the state of Kentucky we must make educated decisions when electing the officials who ultimately make decisions that affect our daily lives, our future, and the future of our children. In order to make these decisions we must have trustworthy, accurate, and factual information on what is happening within our country, our state, and most importantly our communities.

The truth and the facts are often hard to come by without doing our own research. Big media has become a tool for sensational stories that give us sound bites and headlines to catch our attention but never giving the in-depth details of what is really happening. Our senators, governor, president, and even state representatives are often voting on legislation, sponsoring new bills, and making decisions that affect us without us ever knowing about it. When we do learn about these events taking place, it is often after the fact and we do not receive the details needed to make educated decisions on our own or the opportunity to make our voices heard.

We are the people who elect people into these positions; they are there to represent our voices, and when making decisions we have the right to know all of the details and the role that these decisions make on our lives as well as the future of our family and community. There is one piece of legislation — a bill that was sponsored in 2016 — that would have a positive impact on the people of southeastern Kentucky and coal communities across our state.

On February 3, 2016, U.S. Representative Hal Rogers presented the RECLAIM Act, a bipartisan bill that would put to use $1 billion in funds from the Abandoned Mine Lands Fund at no cost to the taxpayer, as the money comes from an already-existing fund that is owed to the coal communities who have been devastated by the loss of coal jobs.

Under Rogers’s plan, $200 million dollars would be released to each participating state over the course of 5 years to fund economic projects on abandoned mine lands. This will put laid off miners back to work and create new jobs in a time when they are desperately needed.

In Kentucky alone we have lost more than 12,000 coal jobs since 2009. However, we cannot overlook the numbers that show the loss of coal jobs dating back to 1950. Due to automation, technology, and market changes our coal jobs have been in a steady decline for more than 60 years, and our government has done nothing to help us find a backup plan or an additional industry to offset the loss of jobs — until now.

Congressman Rogers says, “Now is the time to help our coal producing states reinvest in the coalfields with projects that can create new jobs and reinvigorate our economy, many coal communities in Appalachia simply do not have the resources to reclaim the abandoned mine sites within their borders. This bill allows these communities to be proactive in restoring these sites and utilize them to put our people back to work.”

This $90 million project would be implemented in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, with an opportunity also existing for other states affected by the downturn in coal production. This gives coal communities an opportunity to repair the abandoned mine lands, create new economic opportunities, and see new job growth.

So far, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has failed to give his support to the Rogers bill. Senators from other states have shown their support in sponsoring this bill, but we as Kentuckians and members of coal communities need and deserve the same support from our own senator, whose position in office is one of the most powerful in the world.

This bill has been on the table for more than one year and Senator McConnell has done nothing but avoid the subject. Kentuckians have been calling his office, visiting his office in person, writing letters, and sending e-mails with no response. There is no reason for McConnell denying this opportunity to the people of coal communities. After he campaigned on the promise to bring jobs back to the region it should be demanded by us, the people of Kentucky, that he sponsor this bill.

I recently spoke with 94th District Representative Angie Hatton and she made it very clear that she was in support of the RECLAIM Act and would work diligently to push this to her colleagues in Frankfort.

I encourage you to visit www.congress.gov to learn more about what is happening in our government and make educated decisions on what is happening around us today. Please contact your local representatives, Senator Mitch McConnell, and Governor Matt Bevin to demand support of the RECLAIM Act.

Letcher County native Gary Bentley now lives in central Kentucky, where he moved to find work after being laid off from his job as an underground coal miner.

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