Abandoned Mine Land Trust Fund

In 2006, Pennsylvania was almost left out on a rare opportunity to both protect and restore the environment and create needed jobs in the state’s coal mining counties, as the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) of 1977 was sun-setting.

“It will take action by Congress and the President to change that,” say members of a state-wide alliance of environmental groups, watershed associations, conservancies, and conservation districts that have joined a nation-wide campaign to speed up efforts to reclaim old abandoned mine land and thousands of miles of streams impacted by abandoned mine drainage, more commonly known as AMD.

“…and it did.” In December 2006, as one of the 109th Congress’ final acts before adjourning, the House and Senate passed legislation extending and revamping a federal law that mandates a reclamation fee on each ton of coal produced in the country. The new law will do a better job of directing reclamation fees to abandoned mine land (AML) problem areas, where funding is needed the most. Pennsylvania, for example, will receive a very substantial increase in the annual grant it receives through Title IV for abandoned mine reclamation.

The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 provides for the restoration of mine lands, abandoned or left inadequately restored before August 3, 1977. Production fees of 35 cents per ton of surface-mined coal, 15 cents per ton of coal mined underground, and 10 cents per ton of lignite are collected from coal producers at all active coal mining operations. The fees deposited into the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Fund are used to pay the reclamation costs of AML projects. The fund consists of fees, contributions, late payment interest, penalties, administrative charges, and interest earned on investment of the fund’s principal. From January 30, 1978, when the first fees were paid, through June 30, 2007, the fund had collected $7,013,239,421 and fund appropriations totaled $5,493,809,291.

Reclamation efforts in the coalfields across the country depend on this coal tax. This tax is justified because for decades they paid nothing back to the communities and lands that they scarred. Mining operations only last for so many years, but the hazardous effect it has on the land and water continue for decades afterwards, causing health and safety issues for those who live near former mines. Millions of Americans still live less than a mile from a dangerous abandoned mine site. By 2022, Pennsylvania will expect to see approximately $1.4 billion in funding to help reclaim an estimated $15 billion problem.      

AML Trust Fund Resources

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