Nearly $725 million to made available in 2022 to clean up abandoned mines
The U.S. Department of the Interior announced that nearly $725 million in federal funding will be made available to 22 states and the Navajo Nation for the reclamation of abandoned coal mines and cleanup of acid mine drainage.
The funding is part of the $11.3 billion allocated to mine reclamation that is included in President Joe Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure package. The money is part of a 15-year plan to address the issues of abandoned mines throughout the United States.
The funding is considered key to removing toxic metals and returning fish and wildlife to waterways that haven’t been vibrant for decades.
“In community after community, this legacy pollution was left behind by industry, and it poorly impacts our quality of life, from contaminated drinking water systems to playgrounds and schoolyards,” former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, picked by Biden last year to supervise the president’s infrastructure plan, said during a conference call.
“And rather than point the finger, President Biden said let’s do something about it.”
The Associated Press reported that the funding will help pay for projects that treat acid mine drainage to improve water quality, restore mine-damaged water supplies, close dangerous mine shafts and reclaim unstable slopes. Land also can be converted for 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 union labor, which Landrieu said is “not an absolute mandate in all circumstances, but there is a heavy recommendation.”
Pennsylvania is eligible for $245 million and West Virginia about $141 million. Other significant amounts include $75 million for Illinois, $74 million for Kentucky and $46 million for Ohio. The Interior Department will advise states in the coming weeks how to apply for the funding.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey said 43 of Pennsylvania's 67 counties are affected by abandoned coal mining. West Virginia, the nation's second-largest coal producer, has such sites scattered across the state. And Illinois has 590 unfunded mine reclamation projects in its inventory with an estimated cost of at least $156 million.
The federal Abandoned Mine Reclamation fund relied on fees paid by coal companies based on the coal tonnage produced, but that’s been declining over time.
The problem is so profound in West Virginia that state lawmakers have proposed an insurance program to cover the costs of cleaning them up. A bill in the state Senate would establish a new private company to issue performance bonds to help companies pay for reclamation.
Wyoming, the largest U.S. coal producing state, will receive just $9.6 million. Officials said the funding is tied to environmental degradation from before the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977. Though Wyoming’s coal industry is over a century old and some underground mines in the state still need reclaiming, most reclamation work has occurred at the relatively new surface mines in operation after the act’s passage. The funding is based on tons of coal historically produced before the legislation.
The funding follows last week’s announcement that $1.15 billion is available to states from Biden's infrastructure package to clean up orphaned U.S. oil and gas wells.