Senators looking to RECLAIM abandoned coal areas
WHEELING — Amid declining domestic coal production that’s leaving some areas of Appalachia void of economic hope, U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, are joining others in an effort to revitalize these areas.
Manchin and Brown join Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, both D-Va., and Robert Casey, D-Pa., to promote the RECLAIM Act, which they maintain will result in economic revitalization, diversification and development in economically distressed communities through the reclamation and restoration of land and water resources adversely affected by coal mining.
The legislation comes as new U.S. Energy Information Administration data confirm that coal production continued to fall from 2014 to 2015 — while preliminary statistics from the Mine Safety and Health Administration show an even more substantial drop from 2015 to 2016.
“Ohio coal communities helped build and power this country and they deserve our respect and attention,” Brown said. “This investment would provide a down payment toward creating new jobs and giving local communities across Appalachia the financial tools they need to grow.”
Approximately 40 years ago, numerous smaller coal mines dotted the eastern Ohio countryside. However, economic conditions and environmental regulations now leave the Murray Energy Corp. Century Mine near Beallsville as the only remaining underground mine in the Buckeye State, as Murray recently closed the Powhatan No. 6 Mine.
According to Brown, the legislation aims to support the development of new economic and community development opportunities in impacted coal communities by utilizing $1 billion in existing funds from the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund to direct toward these communities.
During the last several years, the coal industry has undergone a dramatic decrease in production, resulting in a disproportionate impact on communities that have historically relied on the industry for their economic livelihoods. Decreased coal production has led to significant job losses in communities with few other economic opportunities.
“This legislation will help the many mining communities throughout West Virginia and the country that have been devastated by the decline in the coal industry,” Manchin said. “The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement estimates that we can create 4,600 reclamation jobs across the country by putting these funds to work.”
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Murray was the nation’s fifth-largest coal producer in 2014 by grinding out 62.8 million tons. Peabody Energy led the U.S. in 2014 with 189.5 million tons, while Arch Coal finished second with 135.8 million tons. Cloud Peak Energy, with operations almost exclusively in Wyoming, finished third in the nation with 85.8 million tons, while Alpha Natural Resources came in fourth with 80.2 million tons.
New EIA data show all of these companies producing less in 2015 than in 2016: Peabody, 175.9 million tons; Arch, 130.6 million tons; Cloud Peak, 75 million tons; Alpha, 70.4 million tons; and Murray, 55.5 million tons.
The unofficial statistics provided by MSHA show an even more substantial collapse in 2016. For example, in 2015, Murray’s Century Mine yielded 5.25 million tons. So far in 2016, however, the number is only 3.62 million, down substantially from the 8.45 million tons extracted from the mine in 2012.
Similar declines are seen for Murray’s West Virginia mines, including the Marshall County Mine and the Ohio County Mine. As coal production falters, senators hope their legislation can help the areas that need an economic resurgence.
“While this investment is not all that is needed, it’s a start. I’m proud to join my Senate colleagues in introducing this common-sense piece of legislation and look forward to ensuring its passage,” Manchin said.
“Cleaning up abandoned mine sites and promoting economic development will create jobs and spur growth throughout former and current coal mining communities in Pennsylvania,” Casey added. “Every person in these communities deserves a fair shot in our economy, and cleaning up these abandoned sites is the first step.”