Dan Radmacher, (540) 798-6683), firstname.lastname@example.org
A new Reclaiming Appalachia report developed by Downstream Strategies evaluates the success of the first five years of the Abandoned Mine Land Economic Revitalization program, known as AMLER. Click here to watch a webinar with the report authors.
Established in 2016, the program provides grant money to states for projects designed to restore abandoned mine lands to use in ways that spur economic growth and benefit communities that have suffered from proximity to mines that haven’t been cleaned up.
The report concluded that, while projects funded by AMLER are helping local communities, many of these projects are taking a very long time and only a fraction of allocated funding has been spent so far. The report, Got Five On It: Economic Impacts and Observations of the Abandoned Mine Land Economic Revitalization Program Five Years In, also includes a number of recommendations to improve implementation of the program and speed the pace of project development.
The analysis focused on AMLER data from four states — Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. From 2016 through 2021, the program allocated $410 million to those states, but, so far, $324 million of those funds have been committed to individual projects, and only $109 million has actually been spent.
The report modeled the local economic benefits of AMLER grant expenditures and found that if all the allocated grant money had been spent, it would have resulted in $715 million in local economic impact and the creation of more than 4,000 full- and part-time jobs. Instead, the impact has been about a quarter of that.
“A sense of urgency in spending these funds would be appropriate,” notes the report’s conclusion. “The AMLER Program serves regions with high unemployment and poverty rates where immediate short-term jobs can provide hope, independence, and a bridge to the future. Also, completed projects are likely to benefit the health and safety of the communities in which they are located.”
By delving into four states, the report was able to examine differences to state approaches and how those differences impacted the amount of time projects take to complete.
AMLER projects go through four phases — application, vetting, planning and implementation. Downstream Strategies’ analysis found that the planning phase generally takes the longest to get through, and the conclusion offers several recommendations to speed that process while retaining adequate vetting procedures and oversight by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.
Those recommendations include:
• States should put more effort into the application phase to make sure projects are well thought-out and avoidable delays are foreseen
• State agency staff should play a more active role in the planning phase, using Ohio’s successful approach as a model
• Focus on smaller grants, which generally have faster implementation (with a side benefit of spreading the benefits of AMLER more widely)
• Provide information to project leaders about National Environmental Policy Act processes and how to anticipate or avoid delays that result from having to wait until a certain season of the year to assess the potential presence of threatened or endangered species.
Downstream Strategies also recommended that states ensure their project selection processes are as transparent as possible to ensure that projects are well thought-out, can withstand public scrutiny and will receive local community support. The report also stressed the importance of documenting additional benefits of completed projects and encouraged agencies to produce regular public reports outlining project progress and local economic benefits.
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.