Reclamation work on mine sites to expand across southwest Virginia over next 15 years
Virginia is getting a boost of funding to repair sites that were damaged from coal mining before 1977. The state is expected to receive an additional $22.7 million each year for the next 15 years for its Abandoned Mine Lands Program, or AML, as part of a bipartisan infrastructure bill that Congress passed last year.
For comparison, Virginia usually receives about $3 to $4 million per year, said Tara Kesterson, with the Virginia Department of Energy. The state is planning to complete about 80 percent of the projects on its AML inventory with this funding. “Which is a huge dent. A lot of the projects we’ve had just sitting there that we couldn’t do anything with because we didn’t have the money before,” Kesterson said.
Virginia’s AML Program has been at work since 1981 cleaning up land and water that was polluted by coal mining before 1977. Every year, coal mining companies pay fees that help fund the AML program, but many of these projects are costly and have therefore gone unfinished for years, said Francis Piccoli, with the U.S. Department of the Interior Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement.
The money from the infrastructure bill will come from the U.S. Treasury. Other coal-producing states are also receiving grants—a total of $11.293 billion over 15 years.
“This funding is going to definitely help states and the Navajo nation correct deficiencies that’s been on their books for awhile,” Piccoli said. “Is it enough? Time will tell for sure.”
The Virginia Department of Energy will use its money to pay contractors for reclamation work on former mine sites, including infrastructure projects on water systems, repairing leaks and containing pollution which could be a health risk to people. Contractors and coal companies are invited to bid to work on the projects, and those with mining experience will be given preference for these jobs.
“We want them to have good paying jobs to be able to support their families and boost the economy,” said Kesterson. “Most of these people know how to reclaim these sites, and so they're already trained, they have the equipment necessary.”
A majority of the AML projects will take place in the southwestern area of the state.