Billions in funding to clean up abandoned mines could boost the economy in Appalachia while creating jobs that would be naturally suitable for coal miners, according to a new report.
Last week, the US Senate Energy Committee passed a sweeping bill with $ 95 billion for energy technology and infrastructure. To come into force, the bill would still have to pass through Congress as a whole. This is part of a larger, bipartisan infrastructure proposal that has started to move in the Senate.
“The energy provided by West Virginia has been the backbone of the U.S. economy for decades, and this significant investment will create new jobs and demonstrate the energy technologies needed to reduce emissions while maintaining our nation’s position. as a world leader in energy, ”said Senator Joe Manchin. , DW.Va., chairman of the committee.
Among many provisions, the bill includes $ 11.2 billion in new funds to clean up abandoned mining land and the re-authorization of the Abandoned Mine Lands fund. Annual distributions to West Virginia, Ohio and Virginia for cleanup would increase about 8-10 times.
States would have 15 years – until 2036 – to spend the money.
Downstream Strategies, based in Morgantown, assessed the economic impact in Ohio, West Virginia and Virginia. The research concludes that the legislation’s investments in the reclamation and cleanup of abandoned mines will create nearly $ 7 billion in new economic activity and 2,700 jobs in the three Appalachian states.
“This would provide crucial economic stimulus to communities hard hit by the coal decline,” said Joey James, director and researcher at Downstream Strategies.
He said the research shows “that not only would it go a long way in solving some of the legacy mining problems our communities face, but it would provide a crucial economic stimulus to communities hard hit by the coal decline.”
In West Virginia, 1,730 jobs would be created and $ 4.3 billion in economic output generated over 15 years, the research concluded. Ohio would add 680 jobs and $ 1.8 billion, while Virginia would add 300 jobs and $ 790 million.
“It’s a huge opportunity, a great infusion of resources. Here is a way to compensate for the loss of jobs and the displacement of our coal workers, ”said Angie Rosser, executive director of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition.
But she said big questions remain to ensure that the biggest benefit comes from the massive investment in spending.
“How do we prioritize the hiring of local workers so that the money stays in our communities? How do we plan to prioritize our coal miners for this job, who bring a transferable skill set to this type of job? “
James, Rosser and others participated in a live briefing with reporters last week on the likely effects of increased federal funding for abandoned mines.
They stressed that state agencies should start preparing as soon as possible to take on this task.
“It’s a jump for them,” she said. “Making sure our state agencies have the support they need to run the program is going to be critical. “
Earlier this year, the United Mineworkers union issued a “Preserving the land of coal” report which sets out recommendations for maintaining the livelihoods of populations in the era of energy transition.
In a section titled “Creating New Jobs,” the UMW report recommended full funding for anticipated reclamation needs for abandoned mining lands, forcing states to bundle contracts for reclamation of abandoned mining lands. and demanding the prevailing wages.
The Abandoned Mine Land Fund was established by Congress in 1977. Since then, the Abandoned Mine Lands program has eliminated over 46,000 surface mine portals, reclaimed over 1,000 miles of dangerous high walls and restored supplies. water for residents of coal-mining communities. It has also protected people from risks such as landslides and floods that result from damaged land not being treated.
Funding for the AML program is due to expire this year, and new estimates indicate that more than $ 20 billion in investment is needed to recover and restore the remaining abandoned mines across the country. The newly introduced legislation again authorizes the financing of the AML program for 15 years by extending a royalty on severance pay from coal.
“I see it as a big down payment to help us catch up,” Rosser said.