Feds Release $274 Million for Cleanup Projects

By Beacon Staff

PIKEVILLE, Ky. (AP) – The federal government has released $274 million to clean up abandoned coal mine sites that are posing a threat to the public and the environment, twice the amount that had been available in the previous fiscal year.

The appropriations announced Monday and are higher thanks to a 2006 federal amendment. Earlier, some of the money raised through a per-ton fee coal companies pay had been used for other purposes; now it must be used for reclamation.

The increase also includes money owed to states that was unappropriated over the years.

Wyoming, the nation’s top coal producer, is getting the largest chunk this year — $82 million — followed by No. 2 coal state West Virginia, which is slated for $39 million.

Kentucky, which ranks third in coal production, is getting $31 million — nearly three times the $13 million for fiscal 2007. And Montana is slated to receive $8 million — more than double the $3 million for fiscal 2007.

U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said the changes to the abandoned mine land program were supposed to direct more money to traditional coal-producing states, including Kentucky, which have the greatest need for restoration.

“Now we’re seeing the fruits of these changes,” he said.

Over the next 17 years, coal-producing states will get an estimated $6.3 billion for abandoned mine cleanup and another $1.6 billion to pay for health care for retired miners who worked for coal companies that no longer exist, according to the federal Office of Surface Mining. Pennsylvania is getting the most at $1.3 billion.

Steve Hohmann, director of Kentucky’s Division of Abandoned Mine Lands, said the money will go toward several high-priority proposals, including $20 million in tentative water line projects in areas that lost their water supply do to mine activity. Kentucky has roughly 150,000 acres in abandoned mine property.

State officials and environmentalist have pushed for more federal funding for the past decade, citing concerns over erosion, water pollution and safety. Particularly in eastern coalfields, toxins from abandoned mines pollute streams.

“You have the highest priority where there are public health and safety and significant environmental impact. There can be acid mine drainage, damage to aquifers and water supply affected,” said Tom Fitzgerald, executive director of the Kentucky Resources Council.

Also of concern to federal and state officials is the dangers of people hiking, four-wheeling and swimming at abandoned mine sites.

Last year, 22 fatalities at abandoned mine sites were reported to the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration — the vast majority were drownings.