Department Of Interior

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Office of the Secretary
CONTACT: Joan Moody
(202) 208-6416
For immediate release
August 30, 2004
Mike Gauldin, OSM
(202) 208-2565
Assistant Secretary Watson Warns of Consequences to States if Congress Fails to Reauthorize Abandoned Mine Land Fee Authority

(WASHINGTON) Millions of acres of dangerous abandoned mine lands could go unreclaimed if Congress fails to renew the government's authority to collect fees to pay for cleanup before September 30, according to a letter sent to Congress today by the Department of the Interior.

Rebecca Watson, Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Land and Minerals Management, addressed her remarks to Sen. Pete Domenici, chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources and Rep. Richard Pombo, chairman of the House Committee on Resources. She urged Congress to act quickly and warned about consequences to Americans living in hazardous coalfields if it does not.

"If the AML fee is not reauthorized before September 30th, the significant progress that has been made to date in reclaiming abandoned mine sites will soon come to an end," said Watson. "As a result, more than $2 billion worth of high priority coal reclamation in primacy states will remain unreclaimed, leaving millions of people who live, work and recreate in the nation's coal fields to continue to be exposed to the many dangers these areas present."

Impacts would be felt first and hardest in the Appalachian coal states, specifically Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois, Virginia and Indiana, where most of the work of reclaiming abandoned coal mines is left to do. If the AML fee is not reauthorized, grants to those states would decrease drastically. Funding in other states for emergency reclamation activities, Clean streams programs, maintenance for AML inventory, and technical training and support vital to the AML program, will rapidly diminish or cease to exist.

"These are consequences that can and should be avoided," said Watson.

The Assistant Secretary noted that the Administration earlier this year proposed legislation that would continue the program and fix a problem in the system that currently diverts funds away from states with the most serious problems.

"The Administration's proposal represents a fiscally responsible approach to accelerating cleanup by directing AML funding, based on historic production, to those areas most damaged by this Nation's reliance on coal while honoring the commitments made to states and tribes under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act," said Watson. "Shifting the program's resources based on historic production will allow us to spend the money where the problems exist and get the job done."

While the Administration's proposal is one of several proposals being discussed, she added, "I believe it offers the most effective means to achieve cleanup because it contains the essential elements for successfully completing reclamation in the areas most in need of attention by revising current legislation to focus on sites posing the most significant dangers to health and safety."

Note to Editors:

High-resolution photos of AML problems are available online at



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