Tribal Economies

Looming uncertainty over the future of cleaning up abandoned mining lands / Public Information Service


WHITESBURG, Ky. – Congress has authorized the expiration of the Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) program, and advocates nationwide have said on state and tribal lands residents are facing uncertainty about the future of environmental clean-up and economic recovery on land once used for coal mining.

The program was reauthorized in 2006 for fifteen years, but it expired on September 30, when lawmakers failed to pass President Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill.

Chelsea Barnes, legislative director of the Appalachian Voices group, said the AML program is the only source of income mining communities have to eliminate the health risks left by the coal industry.

“We have heard from leaders that it will be adopted in October,” noted Barnes. “But I think until that happens you will see a lot of state and tribal agencies waiting to see what happens.”

The bipartisan infrastructure bill would re-authorize the AML program and coal severance pay at a reduced rate, and include an additional $ 11.3 billion for mine cleanup that supporters say would create thousands of new jobs in the coal regions.

Rebecca Shelton, director of policy and organization for the Appalachian Citizens Law Center, pointed out that since the fund’s inception, states have received a total of $ 6 billion in AML grants.

“So what we have on the table in this infrastructure investment and jobs law is not just a reauthorization, but an additional $ 11 billion,” Shelton explained. “It is so necessary for our communities.”

She pointed out that in addition to restoring the natural landscape, reducing the risk of landslides and improving drinking water, the reallocation of former mining lands stimulates local economies.

“In Kentucky alone, we have over $ 900 million in liability for abandoned mining lands, and that mining lands are old mining lands,” Shelton said.

Experts said the total cost of reclamation of all the remaining abandoned mine sites in the country would likely exceed $ 20 billion.

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