Dixon, E & Bilbrey, K. Abandoned Mine Land Program: A Policy Analysis for Central Appalachia and the Nation. Report: AML Policy Priorities Group, Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center, The Alliance for Appalachia. 8 July 2015.
The AML Policy Priorities Group was a multi-stakeholder group formed in the fall of 2014 to inform the research released in The Abandoned Mine Lands Program: A Policy Analysis for Central Appalachia and the Nation. This group was co-coordinated by Kendall Bilbrey and Eric Dixon, working for The Alliance for Appalachia and The Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center, respectively as a part of the Appalachian Transition Fellowship Program through the Highlander Research and Education Center. The group consisted of over 200 members mostly from the Central Appalachian region representing impacted citizens, community organizers, activists, scholars, lawyers, civil society groups, and state officials.
July 8, 2015 – Eric Dixon and Kendall Bilbrey
Over $9 billion worth of abandoned coal mines remain across the United States. These abandoned mines pollute the places where citizens of coalfield communities live and work, and they pose serious impediments to local economic development, especially in poor, rural areas such as Central Appalachia. In 1977, Congress created the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) program to reclaim abandoned coal mines. Based in part on previously unreleased funding data and data from a new survey of AML officials, this paper provides an unprecedented analysis of the policy, economic, financial, and environmental repercussions of the AML program over its history. The paper also provides a set of policy recommendations that, according to our research findings, are necessary for the AML program to achieve its core purpose of reclaiming America’s abandoned coal mines.
The paper is the culmination of a year-long participatory research process in collaboration with The Alliance for Appalachia and the AML Policy Priorities Group. The research process was guided by a range of stakeholders, including affected citizens, community members, policy experts, organizers, government officials, and others.
While great strides have been made in reclaiming America’s abandoned coal mines, it will take at least $9.6 billion to remediate the remaining 6.2 million acres of lands and waters ravaged by AML problems. Many abandoned mines will remain after the current 2021 sunset of the AML program.
Despite the massive scope of the nation’s remaining AML problem, funding for AML reclamation is decreasing. In addition, AML funding is distributed according to current coal production rather than AML reclamation need, posing serious problems for areas such as Central Appalachia where many abandoned mines remain but coal production has fallen sharply.
The POWER+ Plan, proposed in the White House’s FY2016 budget, would disburse $1 billion of existing money from the AML Fund, creating an estimated 3,117 jobs in coalfield communities across the country and contributing a total of nearly $500 million to the US economy annually. Approximately 35% of these impacts would accrue in Central Appalachian states in FY2016.
In addition to the immediate economic boost of the POWER+ Plan, funding would be targeted toward AML projects that create long-term economic opportunities and local jobs. Projects like these have already been leveraged to create thousands of jobs in agriculture, recreation, tourism, renewable energy, retail, and more on AML sites in pockets across the country and world.