Tuesday, May 24, 2022

U.S. Dept. Of Interior Invites Comments On Draft Guidance For New Federal Abandoned Mine Land Grant Program Under Bipartisan Infrastructure Law

On May 23, the U.S. the Department of the Interior
released draft guidance for eligible states and the Navajo Nation on how to apply for the first $725 million in funding available for reclaiming abandoned mine lands (AML) as part of the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. 

The law provides a total of $11.3 billion in AML grant funding over 15 years, to eligible states and Tribes to help communities eliminate dangerous environmental hazards and pollution caused by past coal mining while creating jobs and providing opportunities to revitalize coal communities.

AML reclamation projects support vitally needed jobs by investing in projects that close dangerous mine shafts, reclaim unstable slopes, prevent releases of harmful gases, including methane, improve water quality by treating acid mine drainage and restore water supplies damaged by mining. 

AML reclamation projects also enable economic revitalization by rehabilitating hazardous land so that it can be used for recreational facilities or other economic redevelopment uses like advanced manufacturing and renewable energy deployment.

“President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law makes historic investments in coal communities that will help revitalize local economies and support reclamation jobs that put people to work locally, including current and former coal workers, all while addressing harmful environmental impacts from these legacy developments,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. “The Biden-Harris administration is committed to addressing legacy pollution and helping working families who face hazardous pollution, toxic water levels, and land subsidence both during mining and long after coal companies have moved on.”

The draft guidance provides instructions to eligible states and the Navajo Nation on how to apply for fiscal year 2022 AML grants under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. 

It also provides guidance to applicants to ensure that activities funded under the program are putting people — especially current and former coal miners —to work protecting the environment, investing in disadvantaged communities consistent with the President’s Justice 40 Initiative, and safeguarding taxpayer money in a transparent and responsible manner.

Comments on the guidance can be emailed to getinfo@osmre.gov by 11:59 PM ET on June 13, 2022, and will help inform any changes moving forward. 

The Department will host a public comment webinar on the guidance, details to follow.


The Ohio River Valley Institute released this statement on behalf of several groups reviewing the draft guidelines--

“Communities impacted by the coal mining industry and its decline represent the exact types of communities the Justice40 initiative is targeting — those dealing with both legacy pollution and related health impacts, the future threats from climate change such as increased flooding, and the loss of community wealth,” said Chelsea Barnes, Legislative Director for Appalachian Voices. “We applaud the Office of Surface Mining’s prioritization of Justice40, and encourage the office to collaborate with stakeholders to ensure that this abandoned mine land funding is reaching the most disadvantaged communities.”

The guidance also requires states and tribes to incorporate public engagement to help prioritize abandoned mine land sites for clean-up. 

A coalition of groups — including ReImagine Appalachia, Ohio River Valley Institute, Appalachian Citizens Law Center and Appalachian Voices — held a series of discussions with labor partners and state agencies across the region to explore how the new funds could maximize the creation of good jobs. 

The results of this extensive research were summarized in this recommendation document, which was shared with DOI leadership in advance of the guidance release. 

“If implemented properly, this new funding will be a stunning win-win-win for our workers, the environment, and for the economy.” said Dana Kuhnline, Campaign Manager, ReImagine Appalachia. “We were heartened to see so many of our priorities for efficient, just and worker friendly implementation included in the draft guidance.  In the coming years, the reclamation field will see incredible growth. We are looking forward to working with the DOI and state agencies to help ensure that these new jobs turn into good, family sustaining careers for workers.”

For example, the guidance recommends the use of project labor agreements (PLA) or unionized project workforce for projects over $1 million, and bundling together smaller projects into aggregated contracts. These measures were recommended by the coalition because of their proven track record in other industries. 

Another example of a significant change from prior AML implementation is that the new guidance will ensure that contractors do not reduce wages in order to win contracts. 

The hopes are that these new guidelines will attract more contractors to help meet increased demand for AML construction services, grow a qualified AML reclamation workforce, pay family-sustaining wages to AML construction workers, and decrease AML construction costs and time. 

"President Biden and Secretary Haaland continue to tout the BIL investments in mine cleanup as a marquee generator of 'good, union jobs' across rural America. This draft guidance document signals a shift toward prioritizing the reclamation workers — from backhoe operators to field scientists — who make mine cleanup possible," said Eric Dixon, Senior Researcher with the Ohio River Valley Institute. "I look forward to working with the Department to see that the final version of this guidance includes rules clear and strong enough that the new emphasis on workers actually leads to more union jobs and improved job quality. To that end, I'm encouraged that the agency is considering whether rule-making is needed to bring some aspects of the program into the twenty-first century."

Related Articles:

-- Federal Office Of Surface Mining Awards PA $26.63 Million For Mine Reclamation Projects Related To Economic Development

-- Casey, Cartwright Introduce Bipartisan Bill To Fund Abandoned Mine Treatment O&M Costs

-- PA Abandoned Mine Reclamation Conference June 22-23

[Posted: May 24, 2022]  PA Environment Digest

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