What is AML?
Our Economic Transition Committee Co-Hosts the Abandoned Mine Lands Project
The challenges and opportunities in our region are shifting. We see the new realities of a dwindling coal market in the region, a phenomenon due, in some part, to our own regulatory enforcement successes and, in some part, to national and global resource economies. Our century-long model of a regional mono-economy, that has perpetuated many of the challenges below, is in need of powerful organizing to change our direction.
In late 2012, The Alliance for Appalachia’s Economic Transition Team began a process of exploring potential federal-level vehicles that could bolster and supplement ongoing economic transition work throughout the region. The coalition undertook a year-long listening process, where we connected with 40 stakeholders across the region. In the spring of that year, we hosted a delegation of Appalachian leaders that met with new potential national allies in Washington D.C. including the AFL-CIO, OSM Vistas, The Blue Green Alliance, The Department of Labor, The United Steelworkers and Mondragon Representatives, and The Appalachian Regional Commission.
Our campaign to address Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) began to take shape at our December 2013 economic transition event that followed our listening tour, where we decided to get concrete–we would hone in on specific agency campaign opportunities that address legacy costs of coal mining as well as provided economic transition opportunities.
With the support of the Highlander AppFellows program, we partnered with the Appalachian Citizens Law Center (ACLC) on exploring the potential of the Abandoned Mine Lands Fund to aid communities who see dealing with the toxic legacy of coal as a path towards a healthier economy.
There are several working pieces within the AML research project that have been successful including stakeholder engagement, writing thorough policy analysis and recommendations, the educational pieces that follow our research, and potential for advocacy. One thing to note about this research process is that it was a collaborative model between the two AppFellows, a research advisory team, and the AML Policy Priorities Group is the name of the multistakeholder group created to inform this research project, with over 150 members and growing. The AML Policy Priorities Group includes policy experts, citizens, organizers, academics, state and federal officials, lawyers, and beyond. The members mostly hail from Central Appalachia, but the group also includes regulators from Washington and organizations from other coalfields communities, such as Pennsylvania and Ohio. The research questions we asked were crowdsourced from this group.
In Fall 2014, our preliminary research and relationship building culminated in our first AML summit where 50 people from across the region came together to learn about the basics of the fund. For this meeting, the AppFellows created a number of user-friendly educational tools about the complex fund, and a presentation on the basics of the fund. The summit included breakout sessions where attendees were encouraged to think about their own communities and economic transition.
Our Economic Transition Team continues to build on the work of the AML Policy Priorities Project, which culminated with the July 2015 publication of the 172 page paper titled, “Abandoned Mine Land Program: A Policy Analysis for Central Appalachia and the Nation.” The AML fund presents a key opportunity to address the toxic legacy of coal that threatens not only our health, but also the potential for future prosperity in our region. Creating this paper has not only opened created important relationships and uncovered important information, it has opened many doors for us for work on economic transition in the region – from the federal level to community councils. The AML effort has allowed us to advance our dual goals of addressing the legacy costs of coal mining as well as creating alignment across diverse stakeholders in the region.
The next phase of this is our Shovel Ready Toolkit – this project was born from the perceived need for communities to have a guide of best practices for AML reclamation; this project seeks to share our learnings in a way that’s accessible and resourceful. Our goal is to provide a guide that will assist community leaders through the lifecycle of an AML reclamation project– from defining community needs to building partnerships for projects in their area.
The response to our AML effort has been astounding. Indeed, there is deep enthusiasm for this effort, with 50 organizational representatives attending the Fall 2014 AML Summit we co-hosted with ACLC, a growing list of interested stakeholders stretching well above 150 Appalachians, active interest and direct support from state AML officials, immediate assistance of the director of the Federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, Joe Pizarchik, and new ties with AML experts across the country, especially in Pennsylvania.
Our organizations have never understood the fund with the clarity we do now, nor have we had the knowledge or relationships to meaningfully participate in policy decisions about the fund. This new project is timely with changes to the fund pending, potential focus on the fund through the Obama Administration proposed Power+ Plan, and the increasing focus on addressing our region’s toxic coal legacy.