CHARLESTON – Last week, Gov. Jim Justice sent a letter to West Virginia’s congressional delegation, urging immediate action to reauthorize the Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) program.
“West Virginia coal has powered the country for decades and paid for the reclamation of thousands of AML sites,” Gov. Justice said. “Not only does this funding provide a tremendous environmental benefit, but it is an amazing economic driver for our local communities.”
The fees paid by the coal industry since 1977 to fund correction of hazards left behind by mines operated before 1977 is set to expire in September of this year. A federal inventory of the work yet to be done by the AML program estimates that more than $11 billion-worth of AML work remains across the country. The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s (WVDEP) own inventory estimates that $4.2 billion-worth of this work needs to be done in West Virginia.
AML work funds millions of dollars in good paying jobs that are well-suited to the skills of West Virginia’s coalfield workforce. In his letter, Gov. Justice asked members of West Virginia’s congressional delegation to take immediate action on legislation to extend the AML fee at current rates for another 15 years, conveying his support for an extension of the fees paid by industry so this important work can continue. The Governor also voiced his support for the acceleration of the use of monies in the existing federal AML Trust Fund – currently about $2.2 billion through the channels of the existing AML program – so abandoned mine hazards can be corrected sooner rather than later.
The West Virginia AML program also has a history of working with landowners and developers in situations where the performance of AML work can facilitate real economic development. Well-known examples include the Summit Bechtel Reserve in Fayetteville, home to the National Boy Scout Jamboree and the National High Adventure Base (one of four adventure bases in the country), and Beech Bottom Industrial Park near Wheeling, among many others.
Economic studies estimate that for every $1 spent on AML reclamation projects, $1.59 is contributed to the economy. By that measure, the State AML program has contributed $1.2 billion into West Virginia’s economy over the past 40 years.
About the AML program:
The federal Surface Mining Control Reclamation Act (SMCRA) was adopted on August 3, 1977. Title IV of this Act established the AML program under which mine operators pay a fee on each ton of coal mined to fund the reclamation of lands and waters affected by coal mining before that date. The current rates paid by industry are 12 cents per ton for underground mined coal, and 28 cents per ton for surface mined coal. The West Virginia AML program has reclaimed thousands of abandoned mine features, provided thousands of West Virginia citizens with potable water, and revived hundreds of miles of rivers and streams impacted by acid mine drainage.