As of mid-February, seven Southwest Virginia localities passed resolutions calling on the state’s federal representatives to support reauthorization of a funding program for reclamation of abandoned coal mines. In Pennsylvania, 20 counties and four municipalities have passed similar resolutions, and related efforts are underway in other Appalachian states.
Since 1977, coal companies have paid a fee on each ton of coal mined to the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, which funds the Abandoned Mine Land program. Through this program, the government distributes funds to states and tribes to reclaim coal mines that were abandoned prior to the 1977 federal surface mining law.
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. Despite this, an estimated $10.6 billion in reclamation remains, and that estimate is likely low.The fee funding the AML program is set to expire in September 2021 if Congress does not reauthorize it. In January, a House committee passed H.R. 4248, which would extend the program by 15 years. The bill, which is supported by Appalachian Voices, the nonprofit organization that publishes this newspaper, currently awaits a decision in the House.
One of the many sites that has benefited from the AML program is the Dessecker Mine Project in Tuscarawas County, Ohio. The land, which is owned by the nonprofit Camp Tuscazoar Foundation and the Boy Scouts of America, faced several threats from historic mining including open mine portals and water polluted by acid mine drainage. After being awarded $702,000 in AML funds, the state sealed the open portals, removed hundreds of tons of debris and more.
If the AML fund is not reauthorized before September 2021, more abandoned mine problems such as those at Squirrel Camp Branch in Dickenson County, Va., would go unaddressed. First reported to regulators in 1985, Squirrel Camp’s estimated $2.35 million in cleanup costs include removing a dangerous highwall and closing open mine portals.
“Reauthorizing the Abandoned Mine Land fee would undoubtedly benefit Dickenson County,” says Pierceton Hobbs of Clintwood, Va. “We have to support these efforts, or we’ll continue to have polluted streams, dangerous highwall cliffs and a plethora of other problems.”
To learn more, visit the website ReclaimingAppalachia.org/reauthorization.