Healing the Land

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Appalachian Voices is dedicated to ending mountaintop removal and ensuring that no more mountains are destroyed for coal. But what about the thousands of acres across Appalachia that have already been scarred by mining? While there are a handful of “model reclamation” sites in the region, the vast majority of previously mined land — especially former mountaintop removal sites — linger as wastelands.

Appalachian Voices works alongside local residents toward a common goal of turning these sacred landscapes into healthy, vibrant ecosystems once more. And, where appropriate, we’re working to transform these abandoned mines into future sites of sustainable economic development activity.

There are two federal programs that we leverage to achieve our goals, both of which spend millions of dollars annually in Central Appalachia. We are working to make sure that funding is spent on projects driven by local engagement, and that will yield the best results.

Abandoned Mine Land Program

The Abandoned Mined Land (AML) fund was set up under the federal Surface Mine Reclamation and Control Act of 1977 and was designed to generate funds to clean up abandoned mine sites that predate the law. Currently, 28 cents per ton of surface mined coal and 12 cents per ton of coal mined underground go into the AML trust fund, which is administered by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. These funds are then distributed to state agencies to finance clean-up projects.

Priority is given to projects that address public safety or environmental concerns, and while this has reduced hazards and pollution, it’s done little to spur economic development in the communities near these sites. Under the proposed POWER+ Plan, $1 billion would be allocated over the next five years to fund projects that have a direct economic development benefit. This funding would be in addition to the approximately $2.4 million allocated in 2015 for abandoned mine land cleanup, and would be a huge boon to areas struggling to diversify their economies in the wake of the coal industry’s decline.

Brownfields Program

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfields Program funding is available across the country to clean up old industrial sites. Funding is distributed by grants to local governments or agencies, and priority is given to projects that demonstrate an economic development component as well as strong environmental justice and community involvement aspects. The 2014 federal budget included $163.7 million for brownfields grants nationwide.