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Kentucky State Representative Pleads Congress For Aid To Clean Up Coal Counties

Carol Guzy for NPR

Kentucky State Rep. Angie Hatton met with lawmakers in Washington D.C. this week to push for a bill that would bring home more than $100 million for hard-hit coal communities.

The RECLAIM Act would fast-track the distribution of $1 billion to clean up abandoned coal mines and promote economic development in communities across Appalachia, Colorado and Illinois — including $116 million for coal counties in the Commonwealth.

For decades, Kentucky has mined the coal that has powered the nation, but production and employment is less than half of what it was a decade ago.

Hatton, a Democrat, said the industry’s declines have led to a “mass exodus” and a drop in tax revenues that’s prevented coal counties from paying for basic services like paving roads and funding schools.

“We have so many people below the poverty line in the county where I live — in Letcher — that every single child in my county has free or reduced, well, completely free lunch at our schools,” Hatton said.

The U.S. has collected more than $2 billion from the coal industry over the last 40 years for abandoned mine cleanup, but that money is locked up inside a trust fund until 2023.

That’s why Hatton, Pennsylvania Rep. Matt Cartwright and advocates met with lawmakers Wednesday to push for the RECLAIM Act. Hatton, a coal miner’s daughter, said rural Kentuckians need that help now.

“My people are moving away in large numbers because we are unable to feed our families in the places we call home and have called home for generations,” she said.

The bill so far has 41 bipartisan co-sponsors in the U.S. House including Kentucky Representatives John Yarmuth, Hal Rogers and Brett Guthrie.

Hatton also met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s staff Wednesday to urge the senator to take up the legislation.

“We are pleading at this time for Mitch McConnell to join this fight for us, to be our voice and to move this legislation along,” she said.

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