West Virginia legislature interim committee passes resolution encouraging federal legislators to increase investments in mine land reclamation
Dana Kuhnline, RECLAIM Coalition Coordinator, firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-825-3262
Erin Savage, Senior Program Manager at Appalachian Voices, email@example.com, 206-769-8286
Charleston, WV — The West Virginia Legislature’s Joint Committee on Mine Reclamation passed a motion today that recommends adoption of a resolution by the WV House of Delegates and WV State Senate that calls on Congress to pass a bill that would allocate $8 billion to clean up mines forfeited by coal companies in West Virginia. The resolution was then adopted by the Senate by a voice vote and sent to the House.
The resolution also calls for Congress to reauthorize the Abandoned Mine Land Fund, which provides money to clean up mines abandoned prior to 1977, and to pass the RECLAIM Act, which would speed up distribution of $1 billion already in the AML Fund. The committee is made up of four Republicans and two Democrats.
This momentum comes shortly after Governor Justice sent a letter to the state’s Congressional delegation urging support for Abandoned Mine Land Reauthorization.
“We applaud our state legislature for standing up to clean up these hazards to our communities and put people to work at the same time. There is strong momentum for restoring and reclaiming abandoned mine lands because the benefits are so clear,” said Angie Rosser, Executive Director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition.
“It will be disastrous if Congress doesn’t act to reauthorize The Abandoned Mine Land Fund before it expires. This fund is essential for the sake of job creation and the cleanup of old mine sites. Nearby communities, which have sacrificed great amounts, deserve to gain the potential economic boost that these funds and a cleaner community with cleaner water could provide,” said Reverend Robin Blakeman, West Virginia Interfaith Power and Light Steering Committee.
Congressional legislation to enact the provisions supported by the committee’s resolution includes the RECLAIM Act (S. 1455/ H.R. 1733) and a bill to fully reauthorize the Abandoned Mine Lands fund (S. 1447/ H.R. 1734) both from Congressman Matt Cartwright (D-PA) and Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV). These two bills would work hand-in-hand to reclaim and restore abandoned coal mines and polluted lands and waters, and turn them into new economic development hubs without spending any taxpayer dollars. Together, these bills will create an estimated 13,000 new jobs in reclamation nationally.
However, in addition to the reclamation needs for pre-1977 abandoned mine lands, ongoing coal bankruptcies and insufficient bonding programs have jeopardized reclamation of modern mines in several states, leaving communities with a new generation of environmental and health hazards. The Blackjewel bankruptcy has already resulted in bond forfeiture of over 30 mine permits in Kentucky, and the state has determined bonds at those mines may fall short by as much as $28 million. In West Virginia, the state Legislative Auditor recently released an assessment of West Virginia’s bonding program, finding that bonds cover only 10% of the likely outstanding reclamation cost across the state. This audit has spurred calls for federal financial assistance from West Virginia state leaders, such as the committee’s resolution today.
“As coal companies continue to neglect and abandon reclamation responsibilities, restoring current mines poses a challenge at least as great as reclamation of pre-1977 abandoned mine lands. I’m pleased to see West Virginia lawmakers addressing this issue of insufficient reclamation bonding. The people of West Virginia deserve effective and timely mine reclamation at all mines. But at the same time, we must make sure that coal companies are held responsible for reclaiming the land that provided their profits,” said Erin Savage, Senior Program Manager at Appalachian Voices.
“It is refreshing to see our Legislature taking the crisis in mine land reclamation funding with the seriousness that it deserves,” said Jim Kotcon, Conservation Chair of the West Virginia Chapter of Sierra Club. “These federal investments can provide immediate jobs in coal communities. West Virginia’s existing burden of older abandoned mine lands is now expanding with increasing numbers of mines being forfeited by existing operators. It is immensely important for Senators Manchin and Capito to continue pushing for renewal of AML funding and for the RECLAIM Act, and to secure funding for new mine abandonments.”
The committee’s resolution coincides with a hearing held by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee today (view here). The committee, chaired by Senator Manchin, considered an Energy Infrastructure Act discussion draft bill that was released last week. The 400-page draft bill is the committee’s effort to address national infrastructure needs on programs under its jurisdiction. The bill is sweeping on many matters, but includes $11.2 billion to clean up the nation’s inventory of abandoned coal mines. During the hearing, Manchin noted a recent report by the Ohio River Valley Institute as evidence that $11.2 billion, while large, will not be enough to clean up all the mines, which is why reauthorizing the AML Fund, funded by coal industry fees, is also necessary.
Conservative estimates put the cost of clean-up of pre-1977 Abandoned Mine Land at over $11 billion. The reclamation of costs of modern mines that may fall to states remain unknown, as bankruptcies continue to unfold. But, the official cost to reclaim all of these lands doesn’t include the necessary costs to design and administer cleanup, nor does it account for inflation, and it will only get more expensive as increased rains anticipated with climate change make flooding, erosion, mine blow-outs, and landslides more common.
By accounting for these costs, new analysis from the Ohio River Valley Institute indicates the true cost of AML reclamation is at $21 billion and could rise to $26 billion by 2050. That means that even a 15-year extension of the AML Fund, combined with the remaining funds in the account currently, would address less than 20% of AML.
“This issue is urgent for several reasons: communities are reeling from the combined blows of mine closures and the pandemic, and the jobs from reclamation have never been more needed. We know how to do reclamation, and where it needs done. Investment in these jobs is a sure solution, and we’re excited to work with a growing, bipartisan group of West Virginia lawmakers to turn these proposals into good jobs in the Mountain State,” said Ted Boettner, Senior Researcher at the Ohio River Valley Institute.