Nearly $725 million in federal funding is available this fiscal year for 22 states and the Navajo Nation to rehabilitate abandoned coal mines and clean up acid mine drainage
CHARLESTON, West Virginia — Nearly $725 million in federal funding is available this fiscal year for 22 states and the Navajo Nation to rehabilitate abandoned coal mines and clean up acid mine drainage, the U.S. Department announced Monday. inside.
The funding is included in President Joe Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure package and part of an overall plan to spend $11.3 billion on the US abandoned mining lands program over 15 years.
The reclamation of closed coal mine sites is considered essential to prevent environmental pollution and restore the land to its natural setting. Contaminants can seep into waterways and harm wildlife if not properly handled after a mine closes.
The funding is seen as essential to removing toxic metals and bringing fish and wildlife back to waterways that haven’t been vibrant for decades.
“Community after community, this legacy pollution has been left behind by industry, and it’s negatively impacting our quality of life, from contaminated drinking water systems to playgrounds and schoolyards,” said the former New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu, chosen by Biden last year to oversee the president’s infrastructure plan, said on a conference call.
“And rather than pointing fingers, President Biden said let’s do something about it.”
The funding will help pay for projects that address acid mine drainage to improve water quality, restore mine-damaged water supplies, close dangerous mine shafts and reclaim unstable slopes. Land can also be converted to recreational and other economic redevelopment uses, such as manufacturing.
States will be required to prioritize projects that hire displaced coal workers. The funding is tied to hiring unionized workers, which Landrieu says is “not an absolute mandate under all circumstances, but there is a strong recommendation.”
Pennsylvania is eligible for $245 million and West Virginia around $141 million. Other significant amounts include $75 million for Illinois, $74 million for Kentucky, and $46 million for Ohio. The Department of the Interior will advise states in the coming weeks on how to apply for the funding.
Democratic US Senator Bob Casey said 43 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties are affected by abandoned coal mines. West Virginia, the nation’s second largest coal producer, has such sites scattered throughout the state. And Illinois has 590 unfunded mine restoration projects in its inventory, estimated to cost at least $156 million.
Thousands of coal jobs have been lost over the past decade as businesses and utilities explore alternative energy sources, and a growing number of mining companies have closed. The federal abandoned mine reclamation fund relied on fees paid by coal companies based on the tonnage of coal produced, but this has declined over time.
The problem runs so deep in West Virginia that state lawmakers have proposed an insurance program to cover cleanup costs. A bill in the state Senate would create a new private company to issue performance bonds to help companies pay for reclamation.
“For too long, our health, our waterways and our lands have been threatened by the toxic pollution left behind by coal companies,” said Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition.
Wyoming, the largest coal-producing US state, will receive just $9.6 million. Officials said the funding was linked to environmental degradation from before the 1977 Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act. surface mines in operation after the adoption of the law. Funding is based on tons of coal historically produced before the legislation.
The funding follows last week’s announcement that $1.15 billion is being made available to states under Biden’s infrastructure program to clean up orphan U.S. oil and gas wells.
Vice President Kamala Harris hinted at a federal clawback push last year in interviews with local news outlets in West Virginia. She got some details wrong, referring to “abandoned landmines” instead of “abandoned mining lands” in coal country.