APPALACHIA – Today, the Biden Administration announced that nearly $725 million in Fiscal Year 2022 abandoned mine land (AML) funding secured in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will be available to 22 states and the Navajo Nation. With these significant new federal investments in abandoned mine land clean up headed to coal communities, a coalition of advocates from these regions released a new set of recommendations today for the implementation of this spending. Over a dozen groups from across the country, including Appalachian Citizens Law Center, Appalachian Voices, and the Ohio River Valley Institute, contributed to detailed policy recommendations that lay out best practices to ensure these dollars are as impactful as possible in cleaning up and restoring damage while supporting local economies.
“Our groups have two key goals — the first is to help ensure that quality mine reclamation occurs where it’s needed most to eliminate hazards and restore the environment,” state the groups in the recommendations. “The second is to examine how these new funds can be best leveraged to help support communities in economic transition.”
Last year, President Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, including an unprecedented $11.3 billion in Abandoned Mine Land (AML) funding to be administered by U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. This represents a massive increase compared to the current annual distribution for AML reclamation and restoration. Over $8 billion in total grant distributions have been made from the AML program in the last 40 years. This new law secures nearly double that amount, to be distributed in just 15 years. While the full cost of reclaiming all remaining AML sites will likely exceed $20 billion, the new funding would roughly equal the reclamation costs currently in the federal database.
“We applaud Congress for making this transformative investment, and the Office of Surface Mining for taking swift action to distribute the funding to the state and tribal programs,” said Chelsea Barnes, Legislative Director for Appalachian Voices. “However, the impact of these dollars will depend on how OSMRE interprets the law and the guidance it provides to the implementing agencies.”
In their policy recommendations, coal community groups note that with these unprecedented investments comes an opportunity to focus on creating further positive benefits from the AML program. The group recommends new approaches to implementation to achieve these benefits, including:
• Recommendations to ensure that funds are targeted to the states and tribes with priority AML sites, including how unspent funds should be reallocated and how the distribution formula could be evaluated based on the updated inventory.
• Recommendations to improve the quality and scope of the AML inventory to ensure that more accurate remediation costs are developed and that new factors are included in assessment of sites, including the amount of methane emitted from a site.
• Recommendations to guarantee that jobs created through AML spending are good-paying jobs that create family-sustaining careers for people in impacted communities.
“Historically, implementation of the AML program has not prioritized workforce impacts. We think the time has come for a shift in the AML program to include the AML workforce as a key stakeholder in implementation, and to prioritize job quality and other workforce components of AML reclamation as core to the program,” the groups state.
In addition to these recommendations that OSMRE can consider, it is crucially important that Congress take action to ensure resources are available to clean up acid mine drainage and other water issues over the long-term. Under current law, states are permitted to construct facilities to treat acid mine drainage but are not permitted to set aside funds for long-term maintenance of water treatment facilities. If there are no funds for continued operations and maintenance, it undermines the purpose of constructing these facilities in the first place.
The Department of Interior indicated in today’s announcement that guidance for states and Tribes to apply for this funding will be forthcoming. This chart contains the amounts of funding the Department of Interior announced that states are eligible to receive in FY 2022 compared to the amounts distributed in FY 2021.
Appalachian Voices is a leading nonprofit advocate for a healthy environment and just economy in the Appalachian region, and a driving force in America’s shift from fossil fuels to a clean energy future.