Biden Plan Would Spend $16 billion on abandoned mines programs, old oil wells

April 1, 2021

President Joe Biden unveiled his $2.3 trillion plan to transform America’s infrastructure on March 31. While the plan focuses heavily on rebuilding the nation’s aging road, bridges, tunnels it also includes support for electric vehicles a clean energy boost and $16 billion to plug old oil and gas wells and clean up abandoned mines, a longtime priority for Western and rural lawmakers from both parties.

Biden’s plan, which needs approval by Congress, would jump-start a well-capping effort and expand it dramatically while also exponentially boosting an Abandoned Mine Land program run by Interior that uses fees paid by coal mining companies to reclaim coal mines abandoned before 1977. About $8 billion has been disbursed to states for mine-reclamation projects in the past four decades, but Biden’s plan would ramp up spending sharply, the Associated Press reported.

Sen. Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has long pushed to expand the mine-lands program, which he calls crucial to his state.

“It cannot be forgotten that West Virginia coal miners powered our country to greatness,” Manchin said. While many mine lands in coal communities have been reclaimed, “there is still much more work to be done to clean up damage to the land and water in those communities,” he said.

Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, the nation’s leading coal producing state, ridiculed Biden’s overall plan as “an out-of-control socialist spending spree.” Barrasso is the top Republican on the Senate energy panel.

The proposal “starts with the punishing policies of the Green New Deal and builds back worse from there,” Barrasso said in statement. The plan would hike taxes and “spend trillions of dollars on the left’s radical agenda,” he added.

A spokeswoman said Barrasso has “has been very active in trying to re-evaluate and improve” the Abandoned Mine Land program. Barrasso is working with Manchin and other committee members to “responsibly reauthorize AML fee collection and facilitate reclamation (of mine sites) across the country,” spokeswoman Sarah Durdaller said.

Environmental groups hailed the announcement, saying unplugged wells and abandoned mines pose a significant environmental threat. Some former drilling or mining sites have sat unattended for decades.

The National Mining Association said it supports the renewed focus on abandoned mine lands, but wanted to see more details. “We’re eager to work with Congress on legislation around the president’s initiative, while bringing reform to the coal AML program and standing up durable, bipartisan solutions on hard-rock” mining sites, spokesman Conor Bernstein said.

Environmental groups and Democrats have called for stronger bonding requirements for oil and gas companies that drill on public lands, as well as changes to bankruptcy law that make it harder for companies to evade responsibility for cleaning up old sites.

“Investing in orphan well clean-up would create good-paying jobs while helping reduce pollution, restore habitat and protect our climate,” said Sen. Michael Bennet, D-CO., who has introduced legislation to clean up federal sites and strengthen bond requirements for drilling on public lands.

 

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