2017-07-05 / Opinions

A one-sided relationship

A lot of Kentuckians and West Virginians plaster their vehicles and bodies with “Friends of Coal.” But the friendship is not mutual, as an industry group is proving by trying to sabotage U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers’s RECLAIM Act.

Rogers’s legislation would put unemployed miners back to work reclaiming abandoned mine sites by spending proceeds from an industry fee in communities where the money, by law, is owed. That is, places where health and safety are at risk from the damage left by mining.

Repeat: The $1 billion in outlays over five years proposed by Rogers is part of a $2.5 billion fund that has been collected from coal companies and is owed to states and tribes across the country, especially in Appalachia where the profitable coal reserves are tapped out and the danger from abandoned mines is most extensive.

Rogers’ bill cleared its first hurdle Tuesday, approval by the House Committee on Natural Resources, but had to overcome opposition from the National Mining Association, an industry group made up of coal companies and related interests, including the Kentucky Coal Association.

In a June 22 letter, National Mining Association President and CEO Hal Quinn urged Congress to defeat Republican Rogers’s RECLAIM Act.

The industry wants an overhaul of the 40-year-old abandoned mine lands program and an end to the fee of 28 cents a ton on surface-mined coal and 12 cents a ton on coal mined underground to restore damage from mining that predated a 1977 federal law. (For reference, per-ton coal prices range from $11.55 in the Powder River basin to $52.55 in Central Appalachia.)

Because Rogers’s bill does not deliver what the industry wants, Quinn is urging its defeat, while acknowledging that the point of the bill (or, as he put it, the “ostensible purpose”) is to promote “economic revitalization and diversification of distressed coal mining communities.”

Because it can’t have what it wants, the industry insists that money owed to desperate coal regions must sit idle. Is that any way to treat a friend?

The RECLAIM Act encourages partnerships that link sites that will be reclaimed to plans for economic development.

The committee approved a friendly amendment by Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., guaranteeing the public a chance to collaborate and participate in the economic planning.

Grassroots groups in Kentucky and surrounding states have worked for years to build support for RECLAIM in Congress and in local courthouses and city halls.

Since Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell signed on as a sponsor in March, this should be the Congress when all that hard work pays off.

— The Lexington Herald-Leader

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