Wyoming Could Get Millions for Reclamation from Infrastructure Bill

Wyoming Could Get Millions for Reclamation from Infrastructure Bill

Written by on August 12, 2021

Wyoming will have millions of dollars to put towards mine reclamation thanks to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act making its way thru the US Congress.

After intense negotiations, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 narrowly passed in the U.S. Senate on August 10. It is expected to pass in the U.S. House of Representatives and be signed by President Joe Biden. Once this happens, it could mean a big benefit for Wyoming.

The bill includes a massive boost – $11.3 billion in Abandoned Mine Land (AML) funding for reclamation and restoration of open mines. These billions of dollarss would be a massive increase compared to the current annual distribution.

Congress established the Abandoned Mine Land fund under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) of 1977. Since then, the Abandoned Mine Lands program has eliminated over 46,000 open mine portals, reclaimed over 1,000 miles of dangerous highwalls, restored water supplies to countless residents of coalfield communities, and created jobs and economic development opportunities

Over the last forty years of the AML program, states have received just over $6 billion in total grant distributions. This investment is nearly double that amount in just 15 years. While the full cost of reclaiming all remaining AML sites will likely exceed $20 billion, this funding would roughly equal the reclamation costs currently in the federal database.

If passed into law, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act would be one of the largest investments in coal communities in decades.

25 states and three Native American tribes are set to benefit from this act. The money each state receives will be based on historic coal tonnage versus current unfunded inventory. As a result, states like Kentucky, Ohio, and Pennsylvania will receive over a billion dollars each.

Wyoming is set to receive its fair share: hundreds of millions of dollars – significantly more than its current unfunded inventory for mine reclamation.

  • Current unfunded inventory: $44,234,764
  • Estimated Annual Allocation: $10,033,317
  • Estimated Total Allocation over 15 years: $150,499,752

These dollar amounts aren’t finalized. Regardless, Wyoming could eventually have an additional $106 million to put towards reclamation projects throughout the state.

Many state leaders and reclamation advocates are promoting the passage of this act. Amongst them is Wyoming’s Powder River Basin Resource Council. Based out of Sheridan, the P.R.B.R.C. promotes itself as “the only Wyoming-based group that works to protect our land, water, and way of life from the impacts of the largest coal strip mines in the nation.”

But there’s frustration amidst the celebration. Critics of the act may say that this is an unnecessary use of American taxpayer money – and advocates nationwide agree.

“Coal reclamation is supposed to be funded by the coal industry, not taxpayers,” says Shannon Anderson, staff attorney, and organizer for the Powder River Basin Resource Council. “It is deeply frustrating to see a departure from the commitment that was made to coal communities when the AML fee was first created more than four decades ago. This is a dangerous precedent that leaves taxpayers and communities at risk, as the coal industry is increasingly walking away from mines, and this retreat signals Congress could be ready to continue to let them off the hook,”

In addition to making the AML funding available, many hope Congress will fully reauthorize the AML fee. The tax on current coal production has been used to fund AML reclamation since SMCRA was enacted but has since been allowed to languish.

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