Appalachians – The abandoned mining lands program has expired, leaving mining communities grappling with environmental ruin and lost job opportunities.
In 1977, Congress established the AML fund under the Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA). Since then, the Abandoned Mine Lands program has eliminated more than 46,000 surface mine portals, reclaimed more than 1,000 miles of dangerous high walls, restored water supplies to countless inhabitants of coal mining communities, and created jobs and economic development opportunities. It has also protected 7.2 million people across the country from risks such as landslides and floods that result from damaged land not being treated.
The financing authorization for the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) fund officially expired at midnight on Thursday, September 30. gates and polluted waterways left by the coal industry across the country.
The last authorization for the AML program dates back to 2006. Since then, lawmakers have proposed numerous bills to re-authorize the program, before it ended in September, but the overall House decision decided not to reinstate the program. .
Specifically, the House considered a bipartisan infrastructure investment and jobs law, which would re-authorize the AML program and redundancy fees for coal at a reduced rate, and provide unprecedented AML funding of $ 11.3 billion for the creation of thousands of new jobs in coal mining communities.
“It is incredibly disappointing and frustrating that Congress has allowed the Abandoned Mine Land program to expire. It is the only source of income for mining communities to eliminate the dangers to the environment and human health left by the coal industry that put people at risk on a daily basis, ”said Chelsea Barnes, legislative director of Appalachian Voices. “These communities have fueled our nation for over a century – letting these people down is inexcusable. Congress must act immediately to re-authorize the AML program and provide long-term certainty to the state and tribal governments that administer the clean-up programs and the communities that depend on those funds. “
The full impact of the funding loss is unclear, but state and tribal agencies in the process of determining staffing and project funding levels for next year must reconsider their plans.
The expected funding for the bipartisan infrastructure bill would have been a massive increase over the current annual distribution for the reclamation and restoration of the LBA. Over the past 40 years of the AML program, states have received just over $ 6 billion in total grant distributions. The investment included in the Law on Investment in Infrastructure and Jobs is almost double that amount over 15 years.
While the total cost of reclamation of all remaining AML sites will likely exceed $ 20 billion, the proposed funding would roughly equal the reclamation costs currently in the federal database.
“The failure of the SMCRA reauthorization and infrastructure bill is a travesty for our coalfield communities who have suffered tremendously from the legacy of abandoned mining lands and acid mine drainage. [AMD]. It shows a lack of engagement and investment in the areas of the country that fueled the entire Industrial Revolution to help build our nation when there were very few environmental regulations in place, ”said Bobby Hughes, Director executive of the Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine. Rehabilitation (EPCAMR).
“Our children are going to have to continue living with polluted water and environmental degradation of land – it’s an injustice that I would have thought we would be much further into in the last 3 decades of my career. We deserve clean water, ”continued Hughes.
Reclamation projects have already shown positive impacts on local communities, and many more projects are poised to create jobs with federal investments.
Outside of Pennsylvania, West Virginia-based Downstream Strategies assessed the economic impact of new $ 11.3 billion AML funding from infrastructure legislation for Ohio, West Virginia and Virginia. uniquely. In West Virginia, 1,730 jobs would be created and $ 4.3 billion in economic output generated over 15 years. Ohio would add 680 jobs and $ 1.8 billion, while Virginia would add 300 jobs and $ 790 million. Overall, this analysis found that annual distributions in West Virginia, Ohio, and Virginia will increase by about 8-10 times. Similar benefits are expected in areas affected by coal from coast to coast. (See estimated distributions of state funding) Now all of these benefits are in jeopardy.
“Being so close to making a transformational investment in cleaning up abandoned coal mines and, instead, having the only source of funding for the cleanup to expire is heartbreaking. We are going backwards instead of moving forward. We’ve known this expiration date since 2006. There’s no reason we should have run into that deadline, ”said Rebecca Shelton, director of policy and organization at the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center.
AML sites pose risks to the health and safety of residents and act as barriers to economic growth. Supporting these critical infrastructure projects through the AML Fund will put people to work repairing land and waterways damaged by mining, treating polluted water, sealing and filling abandoned mine entrances, and developing erosion prevention measures to prevent dangerous lands and mudslides.