Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation: Who Needs It Most?
The federal government has about $2.5 billion set aside to reclaim lands damaged by mining. With the coal economy shrinking, a new proposal would attempt to get more of that funding to coal-dependent communities and tie restoration to economic development.
A proposal to release an additional $1 billion from a fund that pays for reclaiming land damaged by mining could affect more than 500 counties in 25 states.
The proposal calls for releasing an additional $200 million a year for five years from the Abandoned Mine Land Fund. It would also allow states to focus the new money on projects that could have an economic benefit for hard-hit coal communities. The new funding would nearly double the amount of money allocated annually from the fund.
A look at an inventory of abandoned mine-land projects shows three major regions were restoration projects are on the books:
- Appalachia, stretching from Pennsylvania’s northern tier all the way down to central Alabama.
- The Midwest, including parts of Indiana and Kentucky on the east side, all the way over to Iowa, Kansas, and Oklahoma in the west.
- And the West, with a wide swath stretching through the mountain states from Canada to Mexico .
Click on a county in the interactive map to get that county’s total “unfunded cost of reclamation.” That’s an estimate of the estimated cost of reclaiming damaged mine lands. The numbers change as new lands are identified and placed on the inventory or as reclamation work is completed. We pulled the data for our map in July 2015 from the inventory maintained by the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement. The current data will be a little different, but the bottom line remains stable over that time.
We sorted the counties into four groups or quartiles– from the ones that needed the most funding down to the ones that needed the least. The darker red the county, the higher its funding needs are.
Eight of the top 10 counties needing reclamation work are in Pennsylvania. Cambria County, in central Pennsylvania, has the highest cost of unfunded reclamation, coming in at nearly $1.7 billion. Cambria and its neighboring county of Schuylkill account for about a quarter of all $9.7 billion in reclamation needed across the country.
It’s no surprise, then, that Pennsylvania, with about $5 billion, has the largest inventory in the nation. West Virginia comes in a distant second with $1.7 billion. After that, the state tallies drop to $500 million and below. (See the bottom of the story for a state breakout.)
The legislative proposal to release additional reclamation money would also allow states more flexibility in how they spend it. Under the current law, the top priority is to reclaim land that is the most dangerous or environmentally damaged. The new priority for projects will be the potential of the reclaimed land to contribute to economic development through activities like agriculture, forestry, tourism, or recreational uses.
U.S. Representative Hal Rogers (R-Ky-5th) announced the legislation in a press release. Rogers was joined by Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.-17th), Evan Jenkins (R-WV-3rd), Don Beyer (D-Va.-8th), and Morgan Griffith (R-Va.-9th), who say they will co-sponsor the bill.