December 6, 2016 - Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service (KY)
A petition signed by nearly 10,000 people urges Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to pass legislation creating economic opportunities by reclaiming abandoned mine sites. (Vivian Stockman/Flyover SouthWing)
LONDON, Ky. – A grassroots message is being sent to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: it's time for swift action to pass legislation that would help both the economy and environment in distressed coal communities. Three organizers, including Katie Dollarhide of Letcher County, delivered a petition with nearly 10,000 signatures Monday to McConnell's district office in London.Dollarhide blames McConnell for stalling action on the RECLAIM Act, which would move $1 billion over five years from the Abandoned Mine Lands Fund into areas hit hard by the decline of the coal industry."He's the very person who could pick this up and lead it like a champion," she said. "I've been embarrassed, I've been let down, I've been mad. Step up is what we're saying to Mitch McConnell."Dollarhide said she is a registered Republican and has voted for McConnell in the past. Another Kentucky Republican, Representative Hal Rogers introduced the RECLAIM ACT in the House ten months ago. It proposes creating economic opportunities by reclaiming abandoned mine sites.A recent poll showed there is overwhelming public support for tapping into the federal fund to spur economic development in Appalachia, including Kentucky, where more than 11,000 coal-mining jobs have been lost since 2009. With Congress about to go on its long holiday recess, Dollarhide said the petition speaks to the coal region's urgent needs."It says to make this happen immediately," she added. "This is our chance. If they wait until next session or another time, it's weakening us more and it's making us more of a helpless community."Another petition has also been delivered to McConnell, urging him to allow the Miners' Protection Act to get to the Senate floor. That legislation would protect healthcare and pension benefits for tens of thousands of former coal miners and their families.