Congress fails to re-authorize abandoned coal land program before deadline, creating new uncertainty and threatening job creation – Appalachian Voices

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Community advocates call for swift approval of AML reauthorization and $ 11.3 billion to boost AML Fund’s long-term stability and job creation

APPALACHIA – The funding authorization for the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) fund officially expired at midnight on Thursday. This lack of funding brings a new level of uncertainty to the AML program, which is responsible for cleaning up dangerous high walls, surface mine gates and polluted streams left by the coal industry across the country.

Lawmakers have known since 2006 that the AML program must be reauthorized by September 30, 2021, but have refused to prioritize the cleanup of abandoned mines despite numerous bills to reauthorize the program in recent years. The latest was the failure of the US House to pass the bipartisan infrastructure investment and jobs law before the anti-money laundering fund expired last night. This bipartisan infrastructure bill re-authorizes the AML program and coal redundancy fees at a reduced rate, and contains unprecedented $ 11.3 billion AML funding that would have created thousands of new jobs in coal communities . This is now under threat as local communities and state and tribal agencies grapple with what the next step is.

“It is incredibly disappointing and frustrating that Congress has allowed the Abandoned Mine Land program to expire. It is the only source of income for mining communities to clean up the dangers to the environment and human health left by the coal industry that put people at risk on a daily basis, ”said Chelsea Barnes, legislative director of Appalachian Voices. “These communities have fueled our nation for over a century – letting these people down is inexcusable. Congress must act immediately to re-authorize the AML program and provide long-term certainty to the state and tribal governments that administer the clean-up programs and the communities that depend on those funds. “

The full impact of the unprecedented failure to re-authorize funding is unclear, but state and tribal agencies in the process of determining staffing and project funding levels for next year are once again faced with to uncertainty. The funding expected from the bipartisan infrastructure bill would be a massive increase over the current annual distribution for AML recovery and restoration. Over the past 40 years of the AML program, states have received just over $ 6 billion in total grant distributions. The investment included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is almost double that amount in just 15 years. While the total cost of reclamation of all remaining AML sites will likely exceed $ 20 billion, the proposed funding would roughly equal the reclamation costs currently in the federal database.

“The failure of the SMCRA reauthorization and infrastructure bill is a travesty for our coalfield communities who have suffered tremendously from the legacy of abandoned mining lands and acid mine drainage. [AMD]. It shows a lack of engagement and investment in the regions of the country that fueled the entire industrial revolution to help build our nation when there were very few environmental regulations in place, ”said Bobby Hughes, Executive Director of the Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation (EPCAMR). “Our children are going to have to continue living with polluted water and environmental degradation of land – it’s an injustice that I would have thought we would be much further into in the last 3 decades of my career. We deserve clean water.

Reclamation projects have already shown positive impacts on local communities, and many more projects are poised to create jobs with federal investments. West Virginia-based Downstream Strategies assessed the economic impact of new $ 11.3 billion AML funding from infrastructure legislation for Ohio, West Virginia and Virginia alone. In West Virginia, 1,730 jobs would be created and $ 4.3 billion in economic output generated over 15 years. Ohio would add 680 jobs and $ 1.8 billion, while Virginia would add 300 jobs and $ 790 million. Overall, this analysis found that annual distributions in West Virginia, Ohio, and Virginia will increase by about 8-10 times. Similar benefits are expected in areas affected by coal from coast to coast. (See estimated distributions of state funding.) Now all of these benefits are in jeopardy.

“Being so close to making a transformational investment in cleaning up abandoned coal mines and, instead, having the only source of funding for the cleanup to expire is heartbreaking. We are going backwards instead of moving forward. We have known this expiration date since 2006. There is no reason we should have run into this expiration date. noted Rebecca Shelton, Director of Policy and Organization for the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center.

AML sites pose risks to the health and safety of residents and act as barriers to economic growth. Supporting these critical infrastructure projects through the AML Fund will put people to work repairing land and waterways damaged by mining, treating polluted water, sealing and filling abandoned mine entrances and developing erosion prevention measures to prevent dangerous lands and mudslides. In 1977, Congress established the AML fund under the Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA). Since then, the Abandoned Mine Lands program has eliminated more than 46,000 surface mine portals, reclaimed more than 1,000 miles of dangerous high walls, restored water supplies to countless inhabitants of coal mining communities, and created jobs and economic development opportunities. It has also protected 7.2 million people across the country from risks such as landslides and floods that result from damaged land not being treated.
“What will happen to the 300 or more existing AMD treatment systems in Pennsylvania that have restored hundreds of miles of waterways when we don’t have the source of funding for their future operation and maintenance?” I will tell you what will happen: every kilometer of restored waterway will again be lost and polluted, putting us back to square one before the adoption of the SMCRA ”, declared Hughes of the EPCAMR. “All of our efforts have been wasted in recent decades where, in many cases, even the native trout populations that have been restored. The number of AMD altered stream miles is only going to increase by 5,500. I don’t even want to imagine what that number will become right now. I am very upset that our leaders in Washington DC have not been able to do what is right for our coal communities which continue to suffer. The fact that my children and grandchildren are going to have to continue living with this heritage makes me very angry. I have stood up for everything I could, to the best of my ability throughout my career and I feel defeated at this point. However, I will continue to speak on behalf of our Appalachian coal communities who deserve more attention and priority from our leaders across the country we have helped build. “

While advocates are eager to see the proposed investment passed into law, there have been several concerns noted with the proposal. Given rising estimates of the cost of fully recovering AML sites, advocates urge Congress to pass the $ 11.3 billion bipartisan infrastructure bill, but also incorporate a full re-authorization of AML fees, which are a tax on the current production of coal that has been used. to fund the rehabilitation of the LBA since the enactment of the SMCRA. Biparty infrastructure legislation re-authorizes 13-year abandoned mine recovery costs to just 80% of their current level – a 20% reduction in the per tonne coal charge that companies pay for the cost of mine recovery. Advocates would also like to see better arrangements for the treatment of acid mine drainage and other water pollution issues commonly associated with old coal mines, as well as arrangements to encourage local hiring for waste recovery work. mines.

“Anyone who lives in the coal region knows what is at stake with the decisions of Congress today. Our landscape has been altered for too long, and it’s time to come together and find solutions that work for everyone. The re-authorization of SMCRA means cleaner water, safer communities and better jobs for communities across our country. We look forward to working with our elected officials to continue to defend this important legislation, ”said Marissa Lautzenheiser, Director of Nordic Programs for Rural Action. “Rural Action has spent nearly three decades working on projects supported, in part, by SMCRA funds. We know that funding is efficient, necessary and well spent. We are disappointed that the progress we have seen is being compromised by the failure to re-authorize funding. It is imperative that we come together, as a nation that was built with the energy of our hills, and find solutions to support this important legislation. While the SMCRA reauthorization is just one of many pieces of legislation that Congress is debating today, it is having a disproportionate effect on the Appalachian region of our country. We have worked with these funds for decades and firmly believe that every dollar invested in cleaning up our waterways and stabilizing our mining region is money well spent. We need to find a way to re-authorize this legislation before restoration progress is halted – we’ve worked too hard to see our recovery drift away. Reauthorizing SMCRA must be a priority for our entire elected body.

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