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Pandemic Spurs Renewed Abandoned-Mine Cleanup Efforts

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It's estimated the United States is saddled with around $11.4 billion in costs to clean up abandoned coal mine sites nationwide. (Adobe Stock)
It's estimated the United States is saddled with around $11.4 billion in costs to clean up abandoned coal mine sites nationwide. (Adobe Stock)
 By Nadia Ramlagan - Producer, Contact
March 23, 2021

WHITESBURG, Ky. -- This week, state officials announced the start of several new grant-funded, abandoned-mine land projects in Eastern Kentucky.

Advocates say two bills in Congress, the RECLAIM Act and the Abandoned Mine Land Reauthorization Act, would nearly double the money Kentucky gets for repurposing land.

The projects include developing a new water-treatment plant in Perry County, and turning an old mine site in Harlan County into a welcome center for motorsports tourism.

Marissa Lautzenheiser, Northern programs director for the nonprofit Rural Action, said reclamation is critical to revitalize local economies left behind by the mining industry.

"No one would think of abandoned mine lands as infrastructure, but we definitely need infrastructure to address the challenges that abandoned mine lands pose to economic development," Lautzenheiser asserted.

The legislation would reauthorize the Abandoned Mine Land program, which is slated to expire this fall, for another 15 years, and would distribute $1 million in currently unused funds to coal communities across 20 states.

Rebecca Shelton, director of policy and organizing for the Appalachian Citizens' Law Center, explained the bills would provide funding to invest in new uses for mine sites that can grow regional jobs in sectors like tourism, agriculture and renewable energy.

"We have the equipment in the region, we have workers with the skills to use the equipment, and we can really get to work, relatively right away," Shelton emphasized.

Shelton added abandoned mine sites pose serious environmental threats. They often pollute waterways and cause erosion and increased risk of dangerous landslides and mudslides.

"Materials have been seeping into water for many years, but ultimately it's all a part of the same issue, which is that we have mine lands in our communities that need to be cleaned up," Shelton remarked.

It's estimated Eastern Kentucky needs more than $900 million for abandoned mine cleanup.

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