DOI Announces Major Funds for Abandoned Coal Mine Cleanup
The Department of the Interior has announced $725 million for states to reclaim abandoned mine lands polluted by the legacy of coal mining; funds that will support significant job creation and critical environmental remediation.
Following on the heels of $1.15 billion for orphaned oil and gas well cleanup, the Department of the Interior (DOI) has announced the availability of $725 million in FY2022 for states to spend on reclaiming abandoned mine lands polluted by the legacy of coal mining. Currently, 22 states and the Navajo Nation will qualify for payments that will support significant job creation and critical environmental remediation.
The legacy of coal mining across this country has left physical scars in the landscape, a legacy of toxic pollution, and continual threats to human health and well-being. And despite legislation passed nearly 50 years ago requiring coal companies to remediate their environmental harms—this legacy has continued to grow as the industry enters its twilight and bankruptcies and layoffs mount. In the East, states like Pennsylvania and West Virginia have dealt with the environmental degradation and persistent hazards that more than a century of coal mining have wrought on communities and ecosystems. And in the West, where attempts were made to head off these harms as coal mining expanded in places like Wyoming and Montana, the same threats to precious groundwater, fragile ecosystems, and the entire landscape have sadly persisted.
In just the latest example of many, the Navajo and Hopi Nations in Arizona are watching as this familiar history plays out and threatens their livelihoods and general well-being: despite promises of quick remediation following closure of the Navajo Generating Station and its associated Kayenta Mine, support for this essential work has failed to materialize.
This week’s announcement from DOI will hopefully mark a shift where the funds necessary to undertake this work are finally available. The funds announced mark the first of 15 years of investments authorized by Congress aimed at creating jobs cleaning up this toxic legacy that would otherwise persist as abandoned coal mines sit, unreclaimed, on the landscape. They will be allocated based on each state’s historic production of coal and guarantee a minimum of $20 million available for this work over the time period funded.
And while there is no question that federal funds can and will jumpstart the long overdue process of cleaning up coal’s horrifying environmental legacy in the U.S., far more must be done to hold companies responsible to account. Existing laws must be enforced and if they prove insufficient to the task of holding these polluters responsible, further action from Congress and DOI will be essential.