The chief executive of the national trade association representing the US coal industry today told a congressional panel that the federal program funded by the coal industry to help clean up old abandoned coal mines has been plagued by an inefficient structure and lax management leading to billions of dollars spent for other purposes.
“Of the almost $11 billion that the coal industry has paid into the Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) fund since its inception in 1977, only $2.8 billion of the $8.5 billion spent to date from the Fund has resulted in the reclamation of priority coal abandoned mine sites,” said National Mining Association (NMA) President and CEO Hal Quinn. Testifying before the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, Quinn said the $5.7 billion gap between expenditures and actual reclamation reveals that only one of every three dollars has been spent on the priority coal AML lands.
From the information available from the Office of Surface Mining and Reclamation Enforcement, Quinn said “it is difficult if not impossible to account for this $5.7 billion gap. This is not only a financial gap but a credibility gap for the program.”
Quinn cited findings from the National Academy of Sciences, the Department of the Interior’s Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in summarizing serious and persistent shortcomings in a program failing to deliver better results on its core mission. Quinn noted that the program structure has been divided into too many competing buckets of money leading to the diversion of substantial sums to non-core purposes. “We need fewer buckets scooping up and diverting money and more focus on the top priority coal AML projects,” Quinn stated. Lax oversight has further enabled the sub-optimal results, according to Quinn.
With the 45-year old AML tax on the coal industry expiring in 2021, Quinn recommended that planning begin now for an orderly distribution of the remaining funds to non-certified states with assurances they are spent wisely on priority coal abandoned mined lands.