Central Appalachian groups publish paper demonstrating economic potential of reclaiming abandoned mines
Kendall Bilbrey, The Alliance for Appalachia
Eric Dixon, Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center
The AML Policies Priorities Group, a multi-stakeholder group examining the abandoned mine lands fund is releasing The Abandoned Mine Lands Program: A Policy Analysis for Central Appalachia and the Nation, an assessment of the opportunity for Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) program. The paper provides recommendations for specific policy changes that would provide distribution of special funds to states based on criteria such as number of remaining abandoned mine lands sites, unemployment rates, and opportunity for economic development, rather than rates of coal production as the current law mandates.
The central aim of the research paper, which includes input from a broad range of stakeholders across the region, is to analyze the AML program and identify potential improvements.
As project advisor Betsy Taylor stated, “For this to work it’s really important that people in the community are able to help design what happens. You’ve got to have local creativity involved.” Taylor is a cultural anthropologist at Virginia Tech.
Some key findings of the paper include:
The AML program supported 1,317 jobs in Central Appalachian states, and delivered a value-added impact of $102 million in these states.
It will take at least $9.6 billion to remediate the remaining 6.2 million acres of lands and waters ravaged by abandoned mine problems.
Congress should initiate a five-year wholesale update of the federal inventory of AMLs so that complete, reliable data is available on the remaining size and geographical distribution of all coal AMLs—not just high priority AMLs—in the United States.
AML funding is not distributed according to need. Congress should enact legislation that replaces all AML sub-funds with a single distribution mechanism based on a state’s percentage of the updated federal AML inventory. This would distribute funding to states and tribes that have the largest AML problems and would simplify an unnecessarily complicated funding system.
This research paper comes on the tails of a major proposal to address the AML issue from the Obama Administration. In February, the POWER+ Plan was introduced as part of the FY 2016 budget. This plan would prioritize opportunity for economic diversification and development in coalfields communities.
“The POWER+ Plan is a step toward recognition for the potential for new and just economies to thrive in Central Appalachia, but it is far from the beginning of the conversation,” noted Kendall Bilbrey, AppFellow for the Alliance for Appalachia and co-coordinator of the AML Policy Priorities Group. “In recent years, organizations across the region have begun campaigns that look at economic diversification needed to re-establish thriving economies in the coalfields, and address the legacy costs that industry has left behind. Leveraging the AML fund to support our community needs has been a key priority for grassroots groups.”
One recommendation of the white paper is for Congress to seriously reconsider how the AML program could operate more efficiently, and to enact policy changes necessary to use the funds for communities most in need.
Besides engaging community members, policy experts, and organizers, the AML Policy Priorities Group has been engaging state and federal AML officials since the beginning of the project. The group developed a survey for AML state officials in 28 state and tribal programs, and the data is included in the report.
The AML Policy Priorities Group is a multi-stakeholder group 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 is 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 consists of over 200 members mostly from the Central Appalachian region representing impacted citizens, community organizers, activists, scholars, lawyers, civil society groups, and state officials.