Reclaiming Abandoned Coal Mines

NOTE: This page is about reclaiming coal mine sites that were abandoned prior to the 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) went into effect. Read about reclaiming post-1977 coal sites.

Abandoned Mine Lands Fund

The history of coal mining in Appalachia goes back to the late 1700s — and until 1977, there was no federal law mandating that companies fix land and water damaged by mining. Today, thousands of open mine shafts, crumbling highwalls and contaminated waterways remain, leftovers from coal mining operations that were abandoned prior to the passage of the 1977 Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act.

This federal law established minimum requirements for coal companies to reclaim land and water at mine sites going forward. To address the massive backlog of abandoned mine problems and ensure that the industry as a whole takes responsibility for mining’s legacy, lawmakers instituted a per-ton fee on new coal production and directed that fee toward cleanup of existing sites.

Over the last four decades, this fee provided $5.7 billion to clean up mine sites that threaten public health and safety, including open mine shafts, highwalls, mine fires, acid mine drainage, erosion and subsidence.

But the abandoned mine lands fee was set to expire in September 2021. Appalachian Voices and many groups in Appalachia and across the country successfully advocated for reauthorization of the Abandoned Mine Land Program and, crucially, an influx of $11.3 billion over 15 years for vitally needed cleanup of abandoned coal mines. President Joe Biden signed these investments into law as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021, more commonly known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

Image of the Abandoned Mine Lands story map website

Mapping the Legacy of Coal

Visit our special ARCGIS project that charts the legacy of coal mining in the United States.

View the Story Map

Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition

Established in 2017, the multi-state Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition provides expert resources to identify, develop, and fund innovative reclamation projects in Appalachia. The coalition also advocates for a more just and equitable implementation of federal funds and supports shared learning among regional reclamation practitioners and stakeholders. The Reclaiming Appalachia Coalition is composed of Appalachian Voices, Coalfield Development Corporation, and Rural Action, with technical assistance and added capacity provided by Downstream Strategies

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