WASHINGTON — With the passage of the Fiscal Year 2022 omnibus spending package, Congress has failed to address one of the most pervasive and visible problems caused by abandoned mine operations in the country: acid mine drainage (AMD).
Thanks to the bipartisan infrastructure act, $11.3 billion over 15 years is headed to coal communities via the Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) program. However, there is a limitation on this funding that does not exist in the current AML program – it cannot be placed in set-aside accounts for the long-term treatment of AMD. Spearheaded by U.S. Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, congressional leaders in Appalachian states pushed forward an effort to include that provision in FY22 appropriations legislation. Unfortunately, the provision was not included in the final package.
“This fix would not cost any additional money, but it would create thousands of jobs and allow communities struggling with polluted water to use the investments from the infrastructure act to address a problem that has been hurting our communities for decades,” said Chelsea Barnes, Legislative Director of Appalachian Voices. “We are grateful for the efforts of Sen. Casey to solve this problem and call on his colleagues to prioritize this simple fix as soon as possible. No community should have to suffer with polluted water when the resources and opportunity to clean it up are accessible right now.”
In many communities that relied on the coal industry, coal mines that have often been shuttered for decades are still polluting streams, rivers, creeks and lakes, turning them red or orange due to a chemical reaction that creates acid mine drainage. It’s not just an eyesore — it contributes to making the places millions of people call home less healthy, less safe, and less inviting for residents and businesses.
Moreover, acid mine drainage never goes away, and requires ongoing water treatment. That’s why the current Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) program allows states to set aside 30% of AML funding each year into accounts that accrue interest and can cover these perpetual costs. But when the infrastructure bill and its sizable AML investments were passed last year, it did not include a similar provision.
“It is vital for coal-impacted communities to be able to address acid mine drainage as they fight to recover from the decline of the coal economy,” said Rebecca Shelton, Director of Policy & Organizing of Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center. “Acid mine drainage damages ecosystems, puts human health at risk, and hurts the outdoor recreation economy. We urge Congress to follow the lead of Sen. Casey and tackle the acid mine drainage crisis as soon as possible.”
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.