By Rep. Evan Jenkins
West Virginians want to work, and West Virginia wants to attract new businesses to our great state. However, the war on coal has caused more mines than ever to be closed or idled. Coal towns throughout southern West Virginia and Appalachia have been devastated by mounting job losses, and we need to get West Virginians back to work here at home.
Kickstarting our economy will be a two-fold process: we must stop this administration’s job-killing regulations while also investing in redeveloping our abandoned mines sites to attract new employers. By reclaiming these lands, we can give them purpose once again, bring new companies and industries to West Virginia, and provide more jobs for our people. I’m proud to be working with my colleagues to make this a reality by cosponsoring the RECLAIM Act to diversify our economy, attract new employers, and revitalize communities devastated by the war on coal.
Now, the RECLAIM Act doesn’t mean we’re giving up on coal – far from it. Coal is our heritage and must play an important part in our state’s future. I believe in the ability of coal to grow our economy and provide good jobs for thousands of West Virginians, and I am fighting the EPA every step of the way and voting to block their job-killing regulations. But while we are defending our way of life and our coal jobs against this administration, we must also look at how we can put our resources to work for us, and that includes these abandoned sites.
The RECLAIM Act will use existing funds without raising taxes or fees. Since 1977, coal companies have paid a fee on every ton of coal mined. The fees, collected by the federal government, have gone into the Abandoned Mine Land Fund, which has a surplus of about $2.5 billion. The RECLAIM Act will speed up the release of $1 billion of these funds – $200 million per year over the next five years – to help coal communities redevelop abandoned mine sites.
Many of these sites are currently sitting vacant, and our towns and counties just don’t have the funds to redevelop and reclaim these sites to give them new purposes. The RECLAIM Act would bring nearly $39 million a year to West Virginia for five years to attract manufacturing, agriculture, tourism, and other industry. The RECLAIM Act will prioritize hard-hit states like West Virginia and help employ hundreds of laid-off West Virginians to prepare these sites for new developments and industries. In addition, once these sites are open for business, new employers will create hundreds if not thousands of jobs.
For this to be successful, it will take all of us working together. I’m proud that the RECLAIM Act is a bipartisan bill. Republicans and Democrats alike support this plan and are working together to make it a reality. I am hopeful that House leadership will bring this important bill to the floor soon for a vote and we can carry this momentum into the U.S. Senate.
Our small towns and families need the resources to rebuild, attract new employers, create jobs, and give hope to the people who call Appalachia home. The RECLAIM Act can be and should be part of the solution to revitalize our coalfields while we fight to reclaim our coal traditions.