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Renewable Energy

Dept. of Interior Announces $11 Billion for Mine Reclamation

Tanya Dusett

When developing policy, the desired outcome is almost always one that brings a multitude of benefits. Whether it’s a group of high school seniors on the student council deciding next semester’s lunch menu, or a cluster of U.S. senators negotiating an infrastructure bill, the decisions historically deemed as political “wins” are those that benefit many interest groups all at once. To “kill two birds with one stone” is a brutal phrase but is the primary goal of legislators at the highest level of American politics.

The federal government’s new abandoned mine lands (AML) program is a prime example of this philosophy. Formed on the premise that coal mining sites throughout much of the U.S. are now sitting unused, this subset of the landmark bipartisan infrastructure bill will direct millions to reclaim these lands for alternative uses. 

The aim will not only be to repurpose these spaces and create jobs, spurring economic growth,  but many of these new projects will increase the supply of renewable energy across the country.

In a dramatic turn of face, sites that were once some of the single most significant sources of domestic pollution will now be dedicated to developing technologies to lower emissions.

Photo Courtesy Adriano Ruiz

The Department of the Interior will release as much as $725 million in federal funding for these projects in 2022. A total of $11.3 billion is expected to be deployed over 15 years. The hefty price tag is mainly due to the comprehensive nature of the program and the wide range of proposed projects. 

Though the renewable energy projects might take the headline, a significant amount of the redevelopment will focus on undoing varying environmental damage caused by decades of coal mining. These projects include closing more dangerous mine shafts, reclamation of slopes deemed unstable, improving freshwater quality through the treatment of acid mine drainage, and restoring other water supplies that saw similar mining-induced damage. Beyond this, specific spaces will act as recreation facilities and advanced manufacturing sites.

Lawmakers expect to see much of this funding pay dividends in the economic stimulus generated due to these projects. One common factor among states with heavy coal positions is the unfortunately precipitous spot that general divestment from fossil fuels has left them. Just as a decline in automotive manufacturing negatively impacted cities like Detroit, states like West Virginia have seen a similar loss of available work once the coal mines became inactive. A core aspect of the AML program involves federal officials working closely with mining and labor unions to prioritize jobs for former mineworkers. 

Photo Courtesy Guilherme Cunha

Representatives from the parties involved seem hopeful about what the funding could do over the next 15 years. “The administration is committed to helping working families, often in rural and Tribal communities, who face hazardous pollution, toxic water levels, and land subsidence both during mining and long after coal companies have moved on,” said Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. “The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s historic investments will help revitalize these local economies and support reclamation jobs that help put people to work in their communities, all while addressing environmental impacts from these legacy developments.”

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