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Panel Discusses Path Forward on the Abandoned Mine Lands Program

WASHINGTON, D.C., June 7, 2017 -

Today, the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held an oversight hearing on the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement’s (OSMRE) Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) Program.

The Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement Act of 1977 (SMCRA), which created the AML program, is the primary federal law regulating the environmental effects of coal mining in the United States.  The AML program, financed through fees levied on coal production that are redistributed to the states and tribes for reclamation purposes, expires in 2021.

The panel, consisting of the OSMRE Acting Director, state officials, and industry and philanthropic associations, discussed the best path forward and possible legislative changes as Congress debates reauthorization of the program.  

[A]ny conversation about fee extensions or reauthorization cannot happen without or before examining the effectiveness of the AML program,” Subcommittee Chairman Paul Gosar (R-AZ) said. “We must consider the ways the AML Program and the problems associated with cleaning up AML sites have changed.”

[T]he SMCRA AML Program approaches a significant crossroads. SMCRA provides AML-impacted States the resources and authority they need to counteract the massive and costly coal AML problems within their borders,” Robert Rice, Chief of the Office of Abandoned Mine Lands and Reclamation in the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, stated.

OSMRE Acting Director Glenda Owens reinforced the agency’s commitment to working with stakeholders to improve AML program implementation.

[W]e strive to constantly improve the programs managed under the auspices of SMCRA and acknowledge their remains a significant inventory of AML problems,Owens stated.

Data brought forward or elicited through questions from members of the subcommittee disclosed a very important, yet unanswered, question: Why has more not been accomplished given the vast sums spent over the past 40 years?President and CEO of the National Mining Association Hal Quinn asked.

While there has been strides in reclaiming AML sites across the country, Rice stressed the issue of funding to deal with the large reclamation inventory.

[T]he main priority must be to ensure the States and Tribes are equipped with the resources necessary to complete their mission. The progress made by the States and Tribes in reclaiming their respective inventories has been substantial, but maintaining consistent, adequate funding has been a perennial struggle,” Rice said.

As we carry out our mission, we do so with the understanding that it must be done in a balanced manner, protecting our natural resources while maintaining the State’s economic strength and stability,” Todd Parfitt, Director of Wyoming’s Department of Environmental Quality, stated.

Click here to view full witness testimony.

Contact: Committee Press Office 202-226-9019

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