Last week, Congress passed the omnibus budget bill. The RECLAIM Act was not attached. It is infuriating and it is a cowardly decision on the part of the leaders in Congress. After all the sweat and passion that hundreds of people– including many of you– have thrown into this campaign, it’s not easy to accept. That’s the headline, the bad news but let’s dig first into some small victories that give us hope.
In the last month, this campaign has seen some achievements that we’ve been seeking for months. These victories are evidence of the power of the people. First, we’ve been wondering for months what Congressman Rogers, lead sponsor of the bill, would propose as an offset and were worried he might propose something damaging, like cuts to EPA or something of that ilk. Quite the opposite: Rogers is proposing to offset the RECLAIM Act by extending the current black lung tax past 2018. Given the resurgence of black lung disease, it’s imperative that tax continues.
Our friends at the Appalachian Citizens Law Center released this statement on the proposed extension, which is necessary for a just transition in our Appalachian communities and is worthy of a legislative campaign on its own merits. The fact that Congressman Rogers, a nontraditional ally for the likes of many of us, is willing to fight the National Mining Association and other industry lobbyists in support of RECLAIM and the black lung fee extension, is noteworthy.
In addition to that, another mini-win is related to another Kentucky “leader.” Senator Mitch McConnell has now indicated that he would support and accept the House version of RECLAIM if/when it crosses over to the Senate. McConnell had introduced his own version of the bill that we felt was woefully inadequate, and he’d been silent on the issue for over a year up until that point.
It feels important to pause and celebrate victories along the way, especially in a multi-year campaign like this, it’s easy to get discouraged. These wins are evidence of the power of grassroots organizing and partnerships across the political spectrum. Things will likely not get easier from here for RECLAIM in 2018, but many believe it’s a fight worth continuing.
There are a number of ways to rationalize why House leadership did not find it a priority to attach the RECLAIM Act. Most evident is that the coal industry really ramped up their opposition to the bill in the past month. Murray Energy lobbyist (yeah, that Bob Murray) even got involved in the effort to kill the bill. Coal industry pushback was a huge reason House leadership didn’t make it happen even as members of this coalition and Congressman Rogers continued to push for the attachment to the spending bill. It’s sad and it is ridiculous that when given a clear choice, the leaders of the US Congress chose the interests of coal corporations over the future in coal communities and the health of disabled miners. There’s no getting to used to that betrayal, however unsurprising.
The RECLAIM Act remains an overwhelmingly popular bill in coal-impacted communities across the country, and it has committed champions in Congress. Moving forward, we can now also vocally fight for the black lung component of the legislation, which also strengthens our efforts behind RECLAIM. To continue these efforts, we’ll need a new path to victory as we continue shifting power towards a just transition and get this bill passed. Are you in?
Stay tuned for an Alliance-wide call coming up in April where we will discuss opportunities for moving forward.
*Per rules of Congress, any money going out the door (even if already paid for like RECLAIM) must have an offset of income or revenue from another source.