Appalachian Voices: U.S. Senate-Passed Infrastructure Bill Includes Largest-Ever Investment In Reclaiming Coal Lands

Following the U.S. Senate’s passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act on August 10, advocates from coal communities across the country celebrated the legislation’s historic investments in creating jobs by cleaning up abandoned coal mines.

In addition to the $11.3 billion investment over 15 years in the bill, the legislation also reauthorizes the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fee for 13 years at 80 percent of its level. Without reauthorization, the AML program will expire at the end of September this year.

The $11.3 billion in Abandoned Mine Land (AML) funding would be a massive increase compared to the current annual distribution for AML reclamation and restoration.

Pennsylvania is estimated to receive an annual allocation of $253.3 million totalling $3.8 billion over 15 years.  Read more here.

Over the last forty years of the AML program, states have received just over $6 billion in total grant distributions.

This investment is nearly double that amount in just 15 years. While the full cost of reclaiming all remaining AML sites will likely exceed $20 billion, this funding would roughly equal the reclamation costs currently in the federal database.

All told, this investment represents one of the largest investments in coal communities in decades if passed into law.

The successful passage of this new funding for abandoned mine lands represents a major victory for advocates from coal communities who have been fighting for years to spur economic development in the places they live and work through coal mine reclamation.

AML sites pose health and safety risks to residents and stand as barriers to economic growth. These crucial infrastructure projects will put people to work repairing land and waterways damaged by mining, treating polluted waters, sealing and filling abandoned mine entries, and developing erosion prevention measures to prevent dangerous land and mudslides.

Reclamation projects have already shown positive impacts on local communities, and many more projects are poised to create jobs with federal investments.

In 1977, Congress established the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) fund under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA).

Since then, the Abandoned Mine Lands program has eliminated over 46,000 open mine portals, reclaimed over 1,000 miles of dangerous highwalls, restored water supplies to countless residents of coalfield communities, and created jobs and economic development opportunities.

It has also protected 7.2 million people nationwide from hazards like landslides and flooding that result from leaving damaged lands unaddressed.

This legislation provides $11.3 billion in clean-up funding over 15 years for 25 states and three Tribes, including Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wyoming, and the Crow, Hopi and Navajo tribes.

Funding will be distributed based on a state or tribe’s coal production prior to the passage of the SMCRA in 1977.

For years, coal community advocates have pushed for AML investments and the RECLAIM Act to turn abandoned mine liabilities into economic hubs. By equaling the scale of the current official AML liability, these investments represent major success for their efforts that can be built upon in future policymaking.

Given the growing estimates for the cost of fully reclaiming AML sites, advocates urge Congress to pass this bill but also to build in full reauthorization of the AML fee, which is a tax on current coal production that has been used to fund AML reclamation since SMCRA was enacted.

“The Abandoned Mine Land fee was created in order to hold the coal industry accountable for its historic damage to community and environmental health. The reduction of the AML fee now lets the industry off the hook at a time when companies are also shirking their reclamation responsibilities for modern mines through bankruptcy and by idling mines. Congress needs to ensure that coal-impacted communities are taken care of without shifting reclamation responsibilities from coal companies to taxpayers,” said Chelsea Barnes, Legislative Director for Appalachian Voices.

To ensure maximum impact for communities, the legislation should also ensure local labor is used in these projects, set clear project labor agreements, and prioritize local input so that funding goes to cleaning up the sites that pose the most serious risk to community health and safety.

The U.S. House must still act on the bill.

Click Here for the entire Appalachian Voices announcement.


-- AP: Key Details Of U.S. Senate’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Plan [Abandoned Mine Reclamation, Plugging Abandoned Wells, Water Infrastructure]

-- ReImagine Appalachia: Bipartisan Senate Infrastructure Good Down-Payment On Our Crumbling Infrastructure

-- PA Sen. Bob Casey: Delivers Key Infrastructure Wins For PA In Bipartisan Senate Bill

-- WESA: Regional Leaders Say Senate Infrastructure Bill Is, Mostly A Win For Western PA

-- Chesapeake Bay Foundation: On Passage Of Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill By U.S. Senate

-- PennFuture Responds To Passage Of Bipartisan Infrastructure Package By U.S. Senate

Related Article:

-- Guest Essay: What Is The Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal?  By Divya Desai, The Energy Co-op, Philadelphia

[Posted: August 10, 2021]


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