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Abandoned Mine Lands Reclamation



1970s unreclaimed contour mine

Since enactment of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act in 1977, Interior has partnered with States, Tribes, local governments, and others to reclaim over 225,000 acres of damaged and dangerous mine lands. Despite these accomplishments, dangerous abandoned coal mines remain within one mile of the homes of more than 3.5 million Americans. In Pennsylvania alone, at least 45 deaths and 19 injuries at abandoned mine sites have occurred in the past 30 years.

The primary impediment to completing reclamation of abandoned mines is the fundamental imbalance between the goals of the 1977 Act and the requirements for allocating funds under the Act. The statutory allocation formula limits the ability of the Office of Surface Mining to meet its primary objective of abating the highest-priority abandoned coal mines. The majority of funding in the program is distributed to States on the basis of current production. Yet there is no relationship between current coal production and the number of priority clean up sites in each State, which is a function of pre-1977 production.

Reclamation of an abandoned steep-slope mine under the AML program

Over the past 25 years, the allocation formula has enabled some States and Tribes to complete reclamation of all abandoned coal mines. Others are decades away from completing work on the most critical, high-priority sites. It is estimated to take 60 years to reclaim dangerous abandoned mine sites in Pennsylvania and 50 years in West Virginia under the current formula.

The Office of Surface Mining has proposed to correct this problem. Through proposed legislation, we will direct reclamation grants to sites where the danger is greatest. The proposal will allow all States to eliminate significant health and safety problems within 25 years and would remove 142,000 people from risk annually. At the same time, by shifting funds to speed resolution of serious health and safety problems, the proposal will reduce fee collections and spending by more than $3 billion over the life of the program.

Under the proposal, States and Tribes that have certified completion of high-priority projects will be paid their accumulated State share balances in the abandoned mine lands fund as of September 30, 2004. These payments will be made over a ten-year period. Going forward, the grants would be distributed for high-priority mine reclamation projects.

-June 2004