A bipartisan group of U.S. senators recently introduced legislation that would restore the money owed to coal-producing states from the federal Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Trust Fund, which takes in current fees on coal production and distributes money to states to fix unreclaimed coal mines.
In June, the House and Senate passed a two-year transportation bill which included a provision that “raided” trust funds used for reclaiming abandoned mine lands, the group said in an Aug. 3 statement. “The provision was inserted into the bill behind closed doors and without debate, hearings, or any input from the public, or the elected representatives of the impacted states,” they added.
The money in the AML Trust Fund comes from an agreement between coal-producing states and the federal government. Coal is taxed on a per-ton basis and that money is set aside and distributed annually to coal-producing states. Examples of these states and how much they could lose as a result of the transportation bill are Wyoming ($702m), Pennsylvania, ($178m) and West Virginia ($102m). At least 13 other states will also be affected by a loss of nearly $50m.
In 2011, Wyoming, home to the most prolific part of the Powder River Basin coalfield, paid into the AML fund more than every other state combined. However, according to the Interstate Mining Compact Commission, funding not paid to Wyoming will also have to be forfeited by uncertified coal-producing states.
“Trust funds set aside money for a specific reason and should not be raided to cover the costs of unrelated programs,” said Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo. “The AML money belongs to the coal-producing states and every penny owed should go back to the communities and states that produce our nation’s cheapest and most abundant energy source.”
“This money was generated in coal country and the people who live and work in those communities deserve to have it back,” said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo. “Our bill will ensure Congress honors its promises and returns this funding to the affected coal-producing communities and states across the country.”
“Cleaning up abandoned mine sites in West Virginia and around this country is one of our top priorities, and we cannot allow any setbacks in our efforts to reclaim these sites,” said Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who used to be in the coal business. “Not only does it make common sense to protect the health and safety of our mining communities, it’s also the right thing to do as a nation.”
The legislation was introduced by senators Enzi, Barrasso, Bob Casey, D-Pa., Manchin and Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va. It is identical to legislation that was introduced in the House by Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., and Nick Rahall, D-W.Va.