RECLAIM Act Cleans Up Coal Mines and Creates Jobs

I’m a coal miner from Nucla, Colorado, where I work for Elk Ridge Mining and Reclamation. We are currently reclaiming New Horizon North Mine.

In August of 2016, my coworkers and I were informed by Tri-State Generation and Transmission that the Nucla station and its coal supplier Elk Ridge Mining and Reclamation would shut down.

The shutdown is a result of a legal agreement between Tri-State G&T and U.S. EPA, Wild Earth Guardians and the National Parks Conservation Association over regional haze. How we became collateral damage in this issue remains a mystery as our plant was one of the first circulating fluidized bed combustion systems in the United States and is probably one of the cleanest burning coal plants in the country

The result of this is 93 employees will lose their jobs and our county government, schools and other public services that depend on tax money will be hard hit.

Recently, I was given the opportunity to go to Washington to support the RECLAIM Act of 2017. If this bill becomes law, it would invest $1 billion across the country in cleaning up abandoned coal mines and pollution in places with potential for new businesses. People like my coworkers and I with reclamation skills would get to work cleaning up those abandoned mine sites.

Maybe the best part of the bill is that it doesn’t use any taxpayer money. There’s a $2.4 billion fund sitting in Washington that is intended to clean up these abandoned sites. Under current law, that would be spent after 2023. Under RECLAIM, we’d spend $1 billion of it over the next five years, just as high-skilled coal workers across the country are looking for work in the rural places where we live. Colorado would see $45 million over the next five years for abandoned coal mine reclamation. That will put people like my coworkers and me to work in places that need it badly.

There are currently 39 cosponsors of the RECLAIM Act in Congress. They come from all over the country, and they come — about equally — from both parties. We don’t see a lot of that these days, but RECLAIM has true bipartisan support. It also has the support of my union, the United Mine Workers of America.

And why shouldn’t it? If it becomes law, the RECLAIM Act will clean up the environment, bring jobs and economic development to places that need it most, set us up for new businesses in the future, and won’t use a dime of taxpayer money.

I’m not pretending that RECLAIM is going to solve all of our problems. Our economy is changing in Western Colorado. We have to figure out a way to diversify the local economy in communities like Nucla. But RECLAIM is a step in the right direction. It’ll put people to work immediately and encourage new business to locate here using assets that we already have. Some of our members of Congress already support the bill. Representative Jared Polis is a cosponsor. But those whose districts would benefit the most — like my representative, Scott Tipton — have yet to sign on.

Here in Western Colorado, we could use their help.

Roger Carver is the President of UMWA Local 1281 in Nucla, Colo.

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