Wv Senate Passes Resolution Calling on Federal Government $ 8 Billion for Mine Reclamation | Energy and environment
The West Virginia Senate on Thursday passed a resolution urging the federal government to allocate $ 8 billion to West Virginia to recover confiscated mine sites and support struggling coal communities.
The resolution had been presented to the Senate and House of Delegates by a joint legislative committee that state lawmakers formed earlier this month to seek federal stimulus funds for mine reclamation.
Lawmakers created the Joint Committee on Mine Recovery after state lawmakers learned that the federal government was planning to distribute $ 38 billion to communities affected by declining fossil fuel development.
The House was still in session and had not passed the resolution by press time Thursday night.
The resolution argues that the funding could help re-employ former coal miners and mine reclamation efforts while strengthening the current mine reclamation system.
A state legislative audit report released earlier this month found that West Virginia lawmakers and environmental regulators risked letting the state’s mining reclamation program slide into insolvency due to lax regulatory oversight and licensing.
The resolution touts a report released by a group created by President Joe Biden to fight climate change in April that identifies southern West Virginia as the region of the country most in need of targeted federal investment because of its heavy reliance on coal-related jobs.
The interagency task force responsible for the report highlighted the 25 regions of the country from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics most affected by coal-related declines.
Five of them are in West Virginia: southern non-metropolitan West Virginia (# 1); Roll (n Â° 3); Northern West Virginia Non-Metropolitan (# 11); Beckley (# 23); and Charleston (# 24).
The group’s report notes that existing federal programs, with potentially available funding totaling nearly $ 38 billion, could be used to provide immediate investments in priority areas for investment.
The resolution notes that there are 30,788 acres of confiscated mine sites in West Virginia, with only a fraction of the sites having already been recovered.
The measure suggests that the state is entitled to federal aid because of changes in federal regulations on coal emissions and coal-fired power plants in recent decades and the push to reduce carbon emissions, this which makes it more difficult for West Virginia coal companies to obtain loans from banks and insurance companies. industry.
Environmentalists welcomed the resolution.
“I am delighted to see West Virginia lawmakers address this issue of under-bond refurbishment,” said Erin Savage, senior program manager at Appalachian Voices. âThe people of West Virginia deserve an efficient and timely remediation of all mines. But at the same time, we need to make sure that the coal companies are held accountable for reclaiming the land that provided their profits. “
During a June 7 joint meeting of senators and state delegates at which a legislative auditor presented the report, West Virginia Senate Speaker Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, recalled discussing the 38 billion dollars available in federal funding with US Senator Joe Manchin, DW. Va., And Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm in Morgantown earlier this month.
“We need to be able to take your report and repackage it so that we can put it on Senator Manchin’s desk,” Blair told the auditor.
The resolution calls on Congress to review the Revitalizing the Economy of Coal Communities by Leveraging Local Activities and Investing More (RECLAIM) law, which would free up $ 1 billion of the unearmarked balance of the federal fund for mining land abandoned to states to spend. on reclamation projects in communities affected by abandoned mines and the slowdown in coal mining.
The resolution calls for $ 200 million of that $ 1 billion to be allocated to West Virginia.
Representative David McKinley, RW.Va., is a co-sponsor of the House version of the RECLAIM Act and called it an economic revitalization and diversification tool for the Appalachians and other coal-producing regions.
The resolution also urges Congress to extend fees levied on coal companies that fund the abandoned mining land reclamation program, which is due to expire in late September.
The US Department of the Interior announced $ 18.9 million for West Virginia to reclaim abandoned mining land in March. More than $ 8 billion has been distributed to states for abandoned mining land reclamation projects since the passage of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act which established the program in 1977.
“It will be disastrous if Congress does not act to re-authorize the Abandoned Mine Land Fund before it expires,” Rev. Robin Blakeman of West Virginia Interfaith Power and Light said in a statement. âThis fund is essential for job creation and the remediation of old mining sites.
Federal regulators say it would take more than $ 10 billion worth of work to reclaim qualifying abandoned mine sites. The fees help provide funding to eligible states like West Virginia to tackle the hazardous conditions and pollution left behind by old coal mines.
“We applaud our state’s legislature for coming together to eliminate these dangers to our communities and put people to work at the same time,” West Virginia Rivers Coalition executive director Angie Rosser said in a statement.
In a letter earlier this month to the West Virginia congressional delegation also supporting the expansion of the federal abandoned mining land reclamation program, Gov. Jim Justice cited a DEP estimate that 4, $ 2 billion is needed to clear the current inventory of abandoned mine hazards across the state.
The courts have called for an accelerated use of the money in the abandoned mining land trust fund, but opposes the RECLAIM law.
Representative Carol Miller, RW.Va., does not support the RECLAIM Act, saying it would divert funding for the Abandoned Mine Land program from its original purpose. Rather, it pleads for the modernization and innovation of coal mines.
Representative Alex Mooney, RW.Va., has been evasive about the RECLAIM law, saying he supports its goals but should revisit specific details of the legislation if it comes to a vote in the House.
Miller and Mooney co-sponsored a bill introduced by Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., In competition with the proposed extension of the royalty authorization for abandoned Cartwright mining lands. Cheney’s bill, HR 2462, backed by the National Mining Association, would extend the program by seven years – up from 15 in Cartwright’s legislation – and cut fees by 40%.
Senator Shelley Moore Capito, RW.Va., who co-introduced a previous version of the RECLAIM Act in 2017 with then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Did not responded to requests for comments on its position on current versions of the RECLAIM law.
“We are delighted to see the resolution of the West Virginia State Legislature calling on the federal government to pass the RECLAIM Act and re-authorize the Abandoned Mine Land program,” said Dan Taylor, Appalachian Regional Organizer for the BlueGreen Alliance between unions and environmental organizations. in a report. âPassing these bills will not only clean up mining lands in West Virginia and protect public health. They will help create good jobs for coal recovery while returning hundreds of sites to productive economic use. “