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PNS Daily Newscast - September 24 


The ground rules seem to have been set concerning the sexual assault allegations against nominee Brett Kavenaugh. Also on the Monday rundown: we will take you to a state where more than 60 thousand kids are chronically absent; plus the rural digital divide a two-fold problem for Kentucky.

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“Father” of Abandoned Mine Lands Fund: “It’s a Fight For Coalfields' Needs”

PHOTO: Even though $2.5 billion is in the AML funds and a huge backlog of needs in West Virginia that money could be used for, U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., says it's a constant fight to bring that money home to the state. Photo by Dan Heyman
PHOTO: Even though $2.5 billion is in the AML funds and a huge backlog of needs in West Virginia that money could be used for, U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., says it's a constant fight to bring that money home to the state. Photo by Dan Heyman
October 31, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Even with billions in the trust fund and hundreds of millions in coalfield needs, it's a fight to bring Abandoned Mine Lands funds back to West Virginia, according to the "father" of the AML program. Congressman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) helped get the AML fund established; he says he had to fight to defend it ever since.

The fund takes a small fee from each ton of coal produced and uses it to pay for old damage from mining. The AML fund has $2.5 billion in it, and West Virginia's needs exceed even that. But Rahall says he has to fight to get even $50 million a year for the state.

"We have to go to the appropriators every year, as I do, and try to get more of that money released to come back in to meet a lot of these unmet needs that we have in the coalfields," says Rahall.

Much of the money goes for things such as water system infrastructure for public water systems impacted by old mines. Many argue the fund should also help southern West Virginia diversify its economy. Some say the state could help its case if the Legislature mandated an audit and priority list of AML projects.

A law Rahall sponsored means the interest from the AML trust fund goes to pay health costs for retired miners whose former employers have gone bankrupt. Since western coal states have much less in abandoned mine land damage, the fund has paid for things such as basketball stadiums in Wyoming. But Rahall says he runs into resistance when getting the funding for the backlog of West Virginia needs. He says much of that comes from members of Congress obsessed with deficits and cutting taxes.

"The money is being held up by the appropriators in Washington," Rahall says. "We have this problem because they want to use that money to make the overall deficit look smaller than what it actually is."

The industry doesn't typically object to paying the per-ton fee, in part because coal companies and their miners are often hired to do much of the reclamation work. But Rahall says the program is constantly embattled, because some of Congress' more strident anti-tax members actually fight it more than the industry.

"Certainly that's grown in recent years with the advent of the Tea Party," says Rahall. "So yeah, it's going to be difficult to reauthorize this program, no question about it. No matter whether the industry wants the taxes raised or not."

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV