Our region of southern and eastern Kentucky is blessed with a unique landscape abounding in scenic beauty, valuable natural resources, and recreational opportunities amongst some of the world’s oldest mountains. I have long believed our nation and governing laws can carefully balance the protection of our natural resources with vibrant economic development and prosperity.
Throughout my time in Congress, I have worked to ensure the natural environment of our region is preserved by supporting legislation that protects our National Parks, federal lands and designated wildlife habitat. The pristine forests and natural beauty of our region are blessings for which we all have the responsibility to act as stewards, ensuring their preservation for future generations. With this in mind, I have worked hard to make our rivers and hillsides cleaner with programs such as the Eastern Kentucky PRIDE program. PRIDE is a massive federal, state and local joint effort that, to date, has:
· Rid our region of over 2,885 illegal trash dumps,
· Removed nearly 190,000 tons of trash from roadsides, forests, and waterways,
· Reduced straight pipe discharge by installing 7,389 septic systems, and
· Provided over 33,000 homes with access to sanitary wastewater treatment.
PRIDE has also established a PRIDE Community Grant Program to provide funds for environmental improvement projects, with over 1,652 approved so far. In addition, PRIDE is an important community outreach program, increasing public awareness of the need for responsible environmental stewardship and providing valuable volunteer opportunities to our region’s youths. So far, over 925,000 students at all age levels have gotten involved, and over 445,000 volunteers have selflessly combined for over 1.4 million man-hours to improve their communities and restore the natural habitats surrounding them.
I am also proud to help protect the National Parks in our region. Not only are they beautiful national treasures our residents can enjoy, but, statewide, our parks enjoy roughly 1.7 million visitors annually. This clearly helps drive economic growth in our region. The year 2016 marked the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, and as Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, I supported a number of grants to support specific projects and programs at national parks, including school outreach programs, trail improvements and new educational exhibits.
I also spearheaded legislative efforts to add the Mill Springs Battlefield, located in southwestern Pulaski County, to the national park system. In 1862, Mill Springs was the site of a critically important battle and the first major Union victory of the Civil War. After years of work preserving this site, the Mill Springs Battlefield Association expressed its desire to turn the site over to the National Park Service. To make this a reality, I introduced legislation that would do exactly this. This legislation passed in Congress in early 2019, and was signed into law by President Trump on March 12, 2019. I proudly participated in the opening ceremony for the Mill Springs Battlefield National Monument in October of 2020, and am honored to welcome all to come experience the rich history available at the Mill Springs Battlefield.
In 2016, through my role as House Appropriations Committee Chairman, I also established a pilot program for a new approach to abandoned mine land (AML) cleanup. Since 2016, this program has made $655 million available for reclamation and economic development projects on unreclaimed or previously reclaimed abandoned mine land, with $155 million specifically for Kentucky. Funds received under the pilot program can be used for reclamation work and construction related to the economic development aspect of an approved project, such as erecting a building or laying a water line. In order to take advantage of this funding, municipal entities should work with local partners to develop a project proposal intended to create jobs by utilizing AML land. More information can be found here.
By working together through efforts like these, we can ensure the protection of our region’s rich natural resources while growing businesses, expanding communities, and creating jobs and opportunities for our children.