A bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced legislation this week that would restore the money owed to coal producing states from the Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Trust Fund. 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 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.
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 ($702 million), Pennsylvania, ($178 million), West Virginia ($102 million), Illinois ($55 million), Kentucky ($54 million), Ohio ($34 million), Indiana ($18 million), Virginia ($16 million) and Alabama ($15 million). At least 13 other states will also be affected by a loss of nearly $50 million.
In 2011, Wyoming 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 Senator Enzi. "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 Senator Barrasso. "Our bill will ensure Congress honors its promises and returns this funding to the affected coal-producing communities and states across the country."
"Pennsylvanians already bear a significant burden with abandoned mine land clean-up and could suffer unfairly without even the opportunity for debate," said Senator Casey. "This measure would ensure that the Commonwealth will continue to receive the funding they were expecting to clean-up abandoned mines and keep our communities safe."
"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 Senator Manchin. "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."
"Making sure abandoned mines are properly cleaned up is essential for the people in nearby communities, and it makes it possible for the land to be used for other purposes," said Senator Rockefeller. "In West Virginia, we have had much success with these efforts, and this bill would help such projects continue."
The legislation was introduced by senators Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va), 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).