Seven local governments in Southwest Virginia have passed resolutions calling on the state’s congressional delegation to support federal legislation that would reauthorize funding program to reclaim abandoned coal mines. The town of Pound, in Wise County, passed a resolution last night, becoming the 7th Virginia locality to do so in less than two months. The others are St. Paul, Norton, Big Stone Gap, Dungannon, Haysi, and Appalachia.
The resolutions are in support of H.R. 4248, which passed the House Committee on Natural Resources last week. The bill would extend by 15 years the Abandoned Mine Lands Fund, which is set to expire in September of 2021. The fund provides money to states and tribes to reclaim coal mines that were abandoned prior to 1977, and is funded by a fee paid by coal companies per ton of coal mined.
“I support AML reauthorization because the coal industry should clean up the mess it left behind. H.R. 4248 would keep the Abandoned Mine Land fee in place for 15 more years, and those funds will address environmental and safety issues caused by abandoned mines in our communities,” said Judy Needham, of the town of Appalachia.
The AML program has paid for more than $5.7 billion worth of projects nationwide, reclaiming nearly 800,000 acres of damaged land and waters. But an estimated $10.6 billion in reclamation needs remains.
“There is clearly a major need for ongoing cleanup of AML sites, and these resolutions show that local leaders get that. Not only will renewal of the AML program help address dangerous and polluting sites, it will create jobs throughout the region,” said Thom Kay, Senior Legislative Representative with Appalachian Voices.
Virginia has more than $400 million in AML cleanup work remaining:
- Buchanan: $152 million outstanding
- Lee: $27 million outstanding
- Russell: $19 million outstanding
- Dickenson: $80 million outstanding
- Wise: $110 million outstanding
- Tazewell: $17.4 million outstanding
- Scott: $215,000 outstanding
“The money Virginia gets from the Abandoned Mine Land fee is insufficient to deal with all the abandoned mine problems we have, but we can’t let that funding go away altogether. We need to reauthorize the AML fee and keep funding reclamation in Virginia,” said Norton resident Ben Hooper.
“Reauthorizing the Abandoned Mine Land fee would undoubtedly benefit Dickenson County” said Pierceton Hobbs of Clintwood. “We have to support these efforts, or we’ll continue to have polluted streams, dangerous highwall cliffs, and a plethora of other problems.”
In Pennsylvania, which has roughly $5 billion in cleanup work remaining, 24 localities have passed similar resolutions urging Congress to reauthorize the AML fund.
“I was appalled when I saw the map of all the abandoned mines in this region. H.R. 4248 is a way to hold the mining companies responsible to help clean these sites up, and address ongoing hazards,” said Norton resident Lauren Albrecht.