Coal Mines
Cleanup efforts are underway on the Federal, State and Tribal levels. Significant attention is being focused on potential future uses of these lands.

About Coal Mines

Most abandoned coal mines are found in the East and tend to be small to medium-sized. Sixty percent of these mines can be found in just three states: West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky. Larger sites are found in the West, though in much smaller numbers. Most abandoned coal mines are located on State-owned land. These sites also tend to be in closer proximity to populated areas. Many times, homes and other buildings have been constructed on top of underground mine workings and subsidence can become a problem.

The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM), within the Department of the Interior, is the primary Federal agency responsible for abandoned coal mine reclamation. A national program, established by 1977 law, is in place that includes an inventory of high priority sites, a reclamation fee paid by the coal mining industry, and a funding mechanism comprised largely of grants to States and Indian tribes with approved programs. Priority focus is on sites posing health and safety hazards.

There is an inventory of high priority abandoned coal mines maintained jointly by OSM and program States and Tribes.

Cleanup Efforts

FEDERAL AGENCY LEADS

  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
  • U.S. Department of Justice

OSM was established with the passage of the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) of 1977. Most of OSM’s AML program involves collection of reclamation fees from current coal mining operators and awarding reclamation grants to the following States and Tribes with approved programs: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wyoming and the Crow, Hopi and Navajo Tribes. The program has reclaimed almost 240,000 acres of hazardous high-priority coal-related problems. Safety and environmental hazards have been eliminated on almost 315,000 acres containing coal or non-coal problems. Almost 8,000 emergencies have also been addressed.

Cost

Since 1977, OSM has provided $4.06 billion in grants to its partners in 24 States and three Indian Tribes to clean up dangerous abandoned mine sites. Since 1999, OSM has funded 161 Watershed Cooperative Agreements with local non-profit watershed organizations totaling $14.1 million. This funding has been leveraged with other resources by these organizations to undertake projects valued at over $45 million. In December 2006, Congress passed the SMCRA Amendments of 2006 (P.L. 109-432). The amendments modified the AML grant allocation formula so that approximately 83% of coal reclamation fee collections will now be available annually for States with remaining high-priority coal problems. The amendments also extended the coal reclamation fee through 2021, which OSM estimates is long enough to complete the current level of remaining high-priority reclamation work.

Priorities

Priorities are given to sites involving protection of public health, safety, property and restoration of adjacent degraded land and water resources. State governments establish their priority sites consistent with the law and implementing regulations and policies.

Despite enormous progress, many hazards addressed by the AML program still exist. There are nearly 5,200 coal-related abandoned mine sites that have yet to be fully reclaimed, amounting to an estimated $3.0 billion worth of health and safety problems and more than $2.0 billion of general welfare, environmental and non-coal problems.