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Still Cleaning Up After Coal

AP Photo / Mead Gruver, File

A decades old government plan to clean up abandoned Coal mines has never lived up to that promise. But a new proposal may have a shot at tackling that enormous task in coal states around the country.

As demand for clean energy rises, and coal power wanes, thousands of now abandoned mine lands still scar the landscape in Appalachia and other parts of the country.

The plan was to clean up and re-purpose those abandoned mine lands with money from a fee paid by coal companies, for each ton of coal they mined, but that has not covered costs.  And analysts say, it will not, unless something changes.

More than 11 billion dollars in new federal funding is being proposed in yet another attempt to clean up spent coal mines, left abandoned before 1977.

“But help may be on the way “says Joey James, of Downstream Strategies, an economic development firm in West Virginia.

He says, the $11.3 billion in 'innovative mine land spending' included in the infrastructure package that passed the senate energy and natural resources committee yesterday, -- and that, in addition to reauthorization of the abandoned mine reclamation fund--- would provide billions of dollars of economic stimulus to communities hard hit by the decline of coal.”

The package will create some 1700 jobs in West Virginia, 670 jobs in Ohio and 300 in the state of Virginia.

The average wage for these jobs; $60,000 a year.

“The rural towns in places that provided the rich, natural resources and manpower to build this country need support." says James.

"If passed by the House and Senate and signed into law, the package approved by the Senate energy and natural resources committee would be one of the biggest investments in coal country in decades, potentially ever."

And, he adds,  "Not only would that package go a long way toward addressing the legacy mining debts facing coal communities, but it would also provide crucial economic stimulus for communities to transform and diversify their economies."

Robbie Harris is based in Blacksburg, covering the New River Valley and southwestern Virginia.