April 12, 2019

Manchin Proposes Reclamation Fee Extension | E&E News

West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin put forward legislation today to extend a fee on coal mining to help clean up abandoned sites nationwide.

Manchin introduced the "Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Fee Extension Act" with fellow Democratic Sens. Doug Jones of Alabama, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, and Mark Warner and Tim Kaine of Virginia.

The Abandoned Mine Lands fund was created by the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) to pay for reclamation at thousands of sites abandoned before passage of the 1977 law. The per-ton fee is set to expire Sept. 30, 2021.

Despite 800,000 acres of reclaimed land and water nationwide, the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) estimates roughly $10 billion of work remains.

"The success of the AML fund is unquestionable," Manchin said. "I am proud to lead the charge to extend the AML fees to ensure we can continue restoring abandoned mine lands to make them safer and more inhabitable for our coal communities."

His bill would extend fee collection until Sept. 30, 2036. Rates would remain the same — 28 cents per ton on coal from a surface mine, 12 cents per ton from underground mines and 8 cents per ton for lignite coal.

Reauthorization took Congress nearly a decade the last time. As part of the compromise in 2006, rates were lowered from their original levels despite never being adjusted for inflation.

State regulators, who have primary reclamation authority under SMCRA, and conservation groups want the fee to continue.

But the industry's top trade group, the National Mining Association, has accused OSMRE of "squandering" a third of $9.5 billion collected since 1977.

"The eight extensions of the fee since it was created have only enabled the continuation of suboptimal, business-as-usual practices," NMA wrote in its latest lawmaker memo.

Of $8.5 billion spent since 1977, about $3.5 billion went toward reclamation construction and $1 billion toward project design, permitting and management.

Roughly half the remaining $3 billion was spent on emergency and federal reclamation work, while Congress diverted the rest to shore up health care benefits for retired union coal miners.

Only 8% of AML spending was for administrative costs, Pennsylvania Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation Director Eric Cavazza said at a recent House hearing (E&E Daily, March 29).

State programs "are doing excellent work out there to rid the coal fields of hazards to coal field residents across the country," said Tom Clarke, executive director of the Interstate Mining Compact Commission, the group representing state regulators.

IMCC recommended the 15-year extension but does not expect to complete the outstanding reclamation nationwide.

"There's a lot more of that work that needs to be done," Clarke said.


By:  Dylan Brown