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Poll: Strong Support Across Appalachia for RECLAIM Act

Public News Service

A new Sierra Club poll shows nearly nine out of every ten people living in Appalachia support a Kentucky congressman's plan to help communities impacted by America's shift away from coal.

The RECLAIM Act, introduced in the House by Somerset Republican Hal Rogers, proposes using one billion dollars from the Abandoned Mine Lands Fund on economic development and diversification projects.

Sarah Bowling, who grew up in Pikeville and is now in graduate school in Lexington, said it would help both the environment and the economy.

"It would clean up the mess that's left by mining and then it would enable the population to get back to work, first, reclaiming the land and then any economic opportunities that are provided on that reclaimed land site," Bowling explained.

Registered voters polled in Kentucky and six other coal-region states (Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia) showed support across party lines, including 93 percent of Democrats, 89 percent of Republicans and 84 percent of independents.

Congressman Rogers currently has 20 co-sponsors, but Louisville Democrat John Yarmuth is the only other Kentucky representative. There is no companion bill in the Senate. Recently, Bowling and three other citizens from environmental groups went to Washington to lobby Kentucky's congressional delegation.

"I'm definitely hoping that this may have changed the dialogue around RECLAIM and gotten some more people to consider jumping on," Bowling said.

Bowling also said there's a misconception that using Abandoned Mine Lands Fund money could be in conflict with the Miners Protection Act. When he filed the RECLAIM Act earlier this year, Congressman Rogers noted AML funds go unused because communities don't have the resources to reclaim abandoned mine sites.

Kentucky has lost more than 11,000 coal-mining jobs since 2009. Tom Sexton, an economic transition consultant to the Sierra Club's Kentucky chapter, said that's why support for the RECLAIM Act is overwhelming.

"Hopefully it'll also encourage some of these absentee landowners, who have just been sitting on a lot of these properties for a long time, to maybe do something with them so that some of these struggling coal-counties can see some property tax revenues, other things like that," he said.

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