By Steve Valk
The RECLAIM Act, bipartisan legislation to help distressed coal communities, was passed in the U.S. House last week as part of a $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill, the Moving Forward Act.
The legislation — the Revitalizing the Economy of Coal Communities by Leveraging Local Activities and Investing More Act (H.R. 2156) — would fast-track $1 billion in funding to clean up abandoned coal mines, creating thousands of jobs in the process. The cleaned up sites would be connected to long-term economic projects in agriculture, renewable energy, wildlife habitat and recreational tourism.
The bill was reintroduced in the 116th Congress in April of 2019 by Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA) and accumulated 65 cosponsors, including 14 Republicans. A Senate version of the bill was introduced by Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-WV) and has 6 cosponsors.
Since June of 2019, Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteers have supported this legislation as a secondary request in lobby meetings.
“A broad coalition has been working to advance the RECLAIM Act,” said CCL Senior Director of Government Affairs Ben Pendergrass. “Two weeks ago, CCL volunteers took a message of support for the bill to Congress and, along with others in the coalition, helped push this over the finish line in the House.”
Listening & lobbying moved the bill forward
CCL’s support for the RECLAIM Act bubbled up from the grassroots level. When volunteers lobbied coal country lawmakers to put a price on carbon — which would eventually end the use of coal — the biggest concern expressed by congressional offices was for the miners and others who would be out of work with the demise of coal. Supporting legislation to replace those jobs, therefore, seemed like a natural fit for CCL.
“Basically, lobbying for fee and dividend in West Virginia was a waste of time,” said Jim Probst, co-state coordinator for CCL in West Virginia and co-leader of the Coal Country Action Team on CCL Community. In meeting after meeting, the refrain was always, “What about the loss of jobs?” When Jim learned about the RECLAIM Act, he started bringing it up in lobby meetings. The conversations about the RECLAIM Act had a positive effect on his engagement with congressional offices.
“Lobbying for RECLAIM helped us to build credibility and relationships as it showed that we weren’t a one-issue bunch, that we realized that carbon fee and dividend would have an adverse effect on coal workers and coal communities, and that we cared,” said Jim.
One relationship in particular that improved because of CCL’s support for the RECLAIM Act was with Sen. Manchin.
“The conversations with Joe Manchin’s office got better,” said Jim. “We’ve developed a great relationship. They’ve asked for input on pending legislation they’re working on.”
Although passed by the Democratic House, the Moving Forward Act has slim chances in the Republican Senate during this session. Hopefully, provisions with bipartisan support like the RECLAIM Act can find a path to advance.
Whatever happens next, we see the inclusion of the RECLAIM Act in the House-passed bill as a win for grassroots activism. CCL’s contribution to that effort impressed our allies and strengthened relationships with other organizations supporting the bill. We hope hitting this milestone excites our volunteers who have worked so hard on this legislation.
We’ll continue to bring grassroots voices to the table, building support across the political spectrum for this and other climate policies we need.