Abandoned mine lands and the hazards they pose to West Virginians are one of the most pressing environmental issues in our time. Thanks to Ken Ward’s recent series, the issue of abandoned mine lands is where it should be — in the headlines and on the minds of our state’s residents and congressional leaders.The Department of Environmental Protection has full-time staff dedicated to responding to AML emergencies, as well as dealing with day-to-day problems resulting from subsidence, landslides, acid mine drainage and tainted drinking water. The demand for work on abandoned mine lands exceeds the money available for reclamation. It is often disheartening to note the dire straits the program is in, not only in West Virginia, but also in mining states across the nation. Ward’s series is an accurate assessment of the complexities of the problems we face in the state.Abandoned mine lands are not only detriments to our citizens’ safety and our environment; they also affect our economy. Communities affected by these unreclaimed sites often sacrifice what is arguably their biggest competitive advantage in recruiting jobs in a diversifying economy — a wonderful quality of life.Renewal of the AML fund is critical to West Virginia’s economic welfare. The fund pays for projects that create the all-important infrastructure needed to make communities viable places to live and work and repairs the scars and dangers that detract from the many splendid advantages that our state offers.
Let’s not forget that West Virginia played a major role in supplying the energy needs for the United States during the world wars and for the economic well-being of many of the other states over the last century. In return, it’s not too much to ask for potable water and land free from AML hazards as West Virginia seeks economic prosperity for its citizens. Before the fund expires in September, let’s hope that West Virginia is given the opportunity to realize its potential as a safer place to live, work and play.Timmermeyer is secretary of the state Department of Environmental Protection.